Tag Archives: Luso-African rhythm

The Moving Blog


It´s not possible to write a series on houses of African music for dancing in Lisbon without giving a special place to the most emblematic and internationally known place: B.leza, the survivor of the tradition of live music. Following the tradition that started in the seventies with Bana´s place, live music is the main raison-d´être of this mythical house.

The name chosen, “B.leza”, has an extraordinary symbolic meaning for Cape Verdean music: B.leza is the artistic name of Francisco Xavier da Cruz (1905-1958), a composer and musician who inspired the musical genre called morna (Cidra, 2010a). His house became the meeting point of artists, and he trusted in Bana to keep by heart his last poems (Cidra, 2010b). If we take into account that Alcides, Bana´s son, is one of the co-owners, we can understand how strong and deep is the relationship of B.Leza to the transnational links between Cape Verde and Portugal.

For all these reasons and more, B.leza can be considered an institution in Lisbon and it deserves an in-depth ethnography: the symbolism of the space, the artists that wrote the history of music, the personages that circulated and still can be found there, the dancing bodies that still respond to the ritual call of music… If we look carefully at B.leza´s dancefloor, we can see how all this long and deep history is embodied through the most pleasant and smooth of movements.

The tradition of live music in Lisbon

Bana was probably the first musician who opened a space in Lisbon for displaying his art and inviting other artists to play. It was in 1976, and the first name given to it was “Novo Mundo”, that later gave place to “Monte Cara” (Cidra, 2010b, INET-MD). Its final name was “Enclave”, the most remembered nowadays. Anyway, it was popularly known as “Bana” on behalf of the famous owner´s name. He put together live music, food and a dancefloor: this formula met with great success. Other well-known artists opened live music venues, such as Tito Paris and Dany Silva. In this context, José Manuel Saudade e Silva, a Portuguese gentleman who worked as a lawyer, fell in love with African music and enjoyed socializing with musicians. One day, he decided to gather some friends to open a new space devoted to this music and dance culture: in 1987 the dance club Baile was born in the ballroom of an ancient palace (XVI century) to give it new life. We are speaking about the emblematic Palácio Almada de Carvalhais. Previously, it had hosted the mythical Noites Longas (Long Nights) organized by Zé de Guiné, one of the fathers of Lisbon´s African nightlife. Among the legends that circulate around the dancing rooms, it is said that it was the place where Marquês de Pombal designed the reconstruction of the city of Lisbon in the eighteenth century! It was some years later, in 1995, that the house would be reopened with a new name: B.leza was born to become an icon that is still alive today.



Entrance to old Bleza
Entrance to old Bleza
Backyard of old Bleza
Backyard of old Bleza

B.leza, an icon of African-ness in Lisbon

Those who were lucky to live during those times describe the old days with emotion and agree that there are no words to define what it meant: the ancient candelabras hanging from the high ceiling, the corridors where you could find the big stars of African music chatting and smoking, the impressive dancefloor, the mix of solemnity and decadence because of the passing of the years, and the magic of the ambience. It was the meeting point for artists of every genre and intellectuals, and it became the university of African music and culture for those who were interested in it. All the big names of African music played in B.leza: Bana, Bonga, Justino Delgado, Tabanka Djaz, Tito Paris, Don Kikas, Sara Tavares, Lura, Nancy Vieira, just to name a few. DJ Sabura, one of the DJs that you can find there making people happy every Sunday, speaks about the old B.leza as his place of initiation into dance:

“B.leza is a cultural icon of African-ness in Portugal, in Lisbon (…) It was a place that had a mysticism that transpired the walls. There were verses written on the walls, there were red giant candelabras of high value, there was a dancefloor in darkened wood, there was a giant ceiling (…) and apart from the main hall, there were all those narrow corridors where people went to smoke and chat. It was a place where you could find painters, writers, singers, musicians, everyone spoke about it…it was a really special place, and it had a spectacular energy. Everyone was there, look, my initiation into dance took place there, with the friends I met at B.leza.” (Interview with DJ Sabura)

Nevertheless, it was not only about music: from the first day, the vocation of the house was the promotion of African culture (and not only) in all its dimensions: there were also poetry recitations, film exhibitions, visual art exhibitions, and more. Although it has always been open to art from all PALOPs, Brazil, and beyond, B.leza’s fame rests on its special relationship with Cape Verde, to the point that the President of Cámara Municipal de Lisboa (local government of the city) said once that the house can be considered “one more island of Cape Verde”. The owners insist that B.leza is not a disco: it is a house of culture. In fact, the first thing that strikes any lover of African culture is that the house offers a luxury cultural programme for inexpensive (sometimes even merely symbolic) prices.

B.leza, a love story

If we go to the dancefloor, we can read this message on the wall: “In 1995, B.leza was born from a love story. In the noble hall of Almada Carvalhais Palace, the music from Cape Verde danced in Lisbon. Recognising the city as a natural space of encounter of the people that History joined together, B.leza hosted artists from Mozambique, Angola, Brazil and many others that made of the stage the pretext for life to take place. The Palace closed but the history didn´t end. B.leza (re)encounters now the river Tejo and its audience to receive old friends with a new house, and sing the poetry and magic of lusophone culture with them. Good evening, welcome to B.leza!”


What is this love story that this welcoming message tells us about? An interview with Sofia, one of the co-owners of the place, leads us to the answer. The magic of D. Jose Manuel Saudade e Silva´s dream was imperilled when he unfortunately passed away in 1994. It was then when his two daughters, Sofia and Magdalena, two strong-minded and determined Portuguese ladies, decided to carry on with their father´s dream as an act of love for him. The musician Alcides (Bana´s son) joined them in the adventure. And they succeeded, there´s no doubt! Now we know the mysterious love story that the walls of today’s B.leza tell us about…

The opening of B.leza was kind of a risky adventure, as the two ladies were quite young and they didn´t have much experience in the field. They didn´t know whether the house would come to life again. The inaugural night was a difficult moment for them. Fortunately, the success went beyond expectations. This is the way Sofia, one of the current co-owners of B.leza, remembers that day:

“We opened in 1995, with a bit of fear because it was something new for us to some extent (…) it was kind of surprising how it became so successful (…) Baile had been falling down in its final years, and we wanted to do something that represented a continuity while making it also clear that there had been a change. (…) I remember the inauguration day, it was 21st December 1995, we went back home to change clothes and come back, and before I phoned Fernanda, a lady that worked there with us in that time. I asked her: “how is it going, Fernanda, how is the house now?” because I was afraid that nobody would come in, those anxieties…she said: “girl, come quickly or you won´t be able to get in”. It was absolutely crowded, things went just great.” (Interview with Sofia co-owner of B.leza)

Exiled from the palace

Unfortunately, nowadays we cannot experience a night in the palace because the owner finally decided to sell the property and B.leza´s soul had to pack up and look for another home. The search was hard, as it was rather difficult to find a new place that could keep up with such high standards. During the period between 2007 and 2012, trying not to leave the B.leza community homeless, the co-owners organized parties that they called B.leza itinerante (itinerant B.leza) in diverse places such as Teatro de São Luis, Teatro da Luz, Maxime or Teatro do Bairro. After some years roaming around the city, B.leza found its new home: an industrial block beside the river Tejo. How to invoke the spirits of the ancient iconic B.leza in a cold and empty diaphanous industrial box with metal serpents running on the ceiling? The staff worked hard to feed the imagination of their loyal members and help them get over the trauma of palace exile.

“Our idea was bringing some elements that could bring people back to the former B.leza. (…) This space was too modern, too cold, and we tried to find elements that could bring in a bit of warmth and a bit of history to the place. So we went to look for velvet for the curtains in a warm colour (…) and old furniture (…) And it seems that we made it, because people say: “oh, those candelabras are from the former B.leza” and they are not! But we got to build that bridge.” (Interview with Sofia, co-owner of B.leza)

Smokers´ sofa area
Smokers´ sofa area
Bleza dance floor
Bleza dance floor
 Area of chairs
Area of chairs

Yes, if we go to nowadays´ B.leza, we don´t find ourselves in a palace. Anyway, we shouldn´t feel sad about it because the crystal wall that looks at the Tejo provides us with other kind of luxuries. For example, while dancing in a Sunday matinée we may be amazed by a sight like this one.

Sunset from Bleza
Sunset from Bleza

As the sun goes down, the lights that let see the silhouette of the bridge 25th April remind the dancers that critical episode in the history of Portugal that changed definitely the destiny of former Portuguese colonies. On the left of the bridge, the illuminated Christo Redentor (Redeeming Christ) seems to look at B.leza and protect the dancing community with his opened arms.

During the day, the walls recently re-painted in deep pink make the new B.leza impossible to remain unseen in a walk by the shore of Tejo in the area of Cais do Sodré. There´s no doubt you will find it if you´re looking for it!

Pink Bleza from the outside
Pink Bleza from the outside

But the most important ritual space is the stage: here the resident band plays every Friday and Saturday, and the living legends and new artists of the Portuguese-speaking countries (and beyond) jump on to display their art. The resident band of B.leza makes people dance every Friday and Saturday: Vaiss Dias (guitar), Cao Paris (drums), Paló Figuereido (bass), Kalú Ferreira (keyboards) and Calú Moreira (voice).

bleza resident band by samuel sequeira (from www.lisboafricana.com, by Samuel Sequeira)
bleza resident band by samuel sequeira
(from www.lisboafricana.com, by Samuel Sequeira)

On Sunday there is an extremely popular Matinée that starts with a dance workshop by some of the best-known teachers of Lisbon, followed by a session guided by DJ Oceano and DJ Sabura.

DJ Oceano and DJ Sabura Matinees Bleza
DJ Oceano and DJ Sabura Matinees Bleza

The organizer of these dancing Matinées is Magda, an incredibly nice and busy young woman (originally from Poland) and a source of never-ending original ideas for new events. She combines her role as producer of music and dance events with her role as doctoral researcher on African music at ISCTE (University of Lisbon).

She was responsible for some extremely interesting activities, including a series of colloquia with the main kizomba teachers of Lisbon. Another initiative that she developed and deserves special attention was the series of workshops named Kizomba com Elas (Kizomba with them, a feminine “them”) that intended to bring under the spotlight the work of these female teachers that are usually regarded as secondary actresses in a context where male dancers rule.


kizomba com elas Catarina Paniagua
kizomba com elas Catarina Paniagua

B.leza, the democratic dancefloor

One of the most striking aspects of this house is the extraordinary heterogeneity of its clientele. The dancefloor is inhabited by people of all ages, colours, looks, social classes, professions, origins and lifestyles. Indeed, this openness and diversity is one of the main characteristics of B.leza, and it is so because the politics for entering are not restrictive:

“We let everyone in, we don´t have any dress code to get in, people come as they want. If you come from the beach and you wear flip-flops, you get in wearing flip-flops. If you want to come with a shiny dress from head to toe… you just come as you want to come, as you like to come and as you have money to do it (…) There are car parkers, who got some coins today and come to drink their cup of red wine and dance all the night long and everything is ok, or even ministers, judges, the prince of Monaco came here one year ago to dance as any other client, Robert De Niro, Catherine de Neuve…everyone as long as they want to have fun are allowed in.” (Interview with Sofia, co-owner of B.leza)

Bleza matinee dancefloor
Bleza matinee dancefloor

In this way, the dancefloor becomes a democratic ritual space where social inequalities of everyday life are temporarily suspended. In the words of the classical author Victor Turner, the hierarchical social structure becomes a horizontal communitas during the ritual (Turner 1967). At B.leza nights, the time of the dance is the moment to dream of a better world where everyone is the same…



Cidra, Rui (2010a) “B.leza”. In Castelo-Branco, Salwa (dir.) Enciclopédia da Música em Portugal no século XX A-C. Lisboa: Temas e Debates/Círculo de Leitores.

Cidra, Rui (2010b) “Bana”. In Castelo-Branco, Salwa (dir.) Enciclopédia da Música em Portugal no século XX A-C. Lisboa: Temas e Debates/Círculo de Leitores.

Turner, Victor (1969) The Ritual Process. Structure and Anti-structure. New York: Cornell University Press.

Livia Jiménez Sedano is currently member of INET-MD (Instituto de Etnomusicologia-Centro de Estudos em Música e Danca) and her work is being funded by FCT (Fundação para a Ciencia e Tecnologia) of Portugal. She is a collaborator of the Modern Moves Project and will become a full member in September 2015.

The Moving Blog


After last week’s visit to one of the classical African houses of Lisbon, A Lontra, today I propose taking us to a newer one. The landscape of houses for dancing African music in Lisbon is so dynamic, and the craze for dance is so strong that we can find new clubs opening even in the hardest times of financial crisis in Portugal. A good example of this is Kalema Club: each disco has its own personality, and Kalema attracted my attention from the first time I stepped into the house.


Kalema Club is a warm and welcoming house with a capacity of a bit more than 100 people. It is situated in the northern zone of Lisbon, at Avenida Frei Miguel Contreiras 18C. The golden and earthy colours of the lights and furniture, the comfortable sofas where you can sit freely and the non-huge but crowded dancefloor make you feel at home since the moment you arrive.

PICTURE 2. General view 1


Whenever you decide to go to the bar and ask for a drink, you will always find the beautiful smile of Zanatt, barwoman and co-owner of the club with Ricardo Rodrigues.


One night in Kalema: ethnographic description

“Raluca, the promotor of Friday nights of Kalema Club is waiting at the door to welcome us with her shiny smile as we arrive. She is a really nice Romanian young woman who became a lover of African music in Lisbon. As she has great social skills, she has been recently included in the team of promotors of Fridays nights in Kalema. It means that we are on her guestlist and she invites us to sit on her table. The security man gives us a paper card of consumption. This is the most extended system in this kind of clubs in Lisbon: you don´t need to pay when you enter, and everything you ask for will be marked on your card. To anyone who is used to pay right in the moment of serving, this card system makes you feel that you are not spending money at all (until the moment of leaving, of course!). Before you leave, you pay the total amount and your card is stamped. This is the proof of payment that you must show to the security staff to be allowed to leave.


After crossing the entrance door, as you go downstairs you can feel the beats of kizomba reverberating closer with each step. Once at the level of the dancefloor, we go to the table where some friends are sitting. After being introduced to the rest through the smile-and-kiss ritual, we can sit down as part of the group. We can now be considered part of the collective social subject “our table”. I look around and see that all the sofas are occupied by groups of people that chat together and lean their drinks on the tables beside. Everyone is dressed in a weekend fashion, in varying degrees of formality that don´t go to the extremes (neither suits-and-ties, nor sport shoes-and-jeans). All the tables and sofas are oriented looking at the dancefloor and, as the space is not big, it is possible to observe almost every corner from any seat. The dancefloor is never totally empty but never totally packed up, leaving space for dancing without accidents. Most people come back to their original tables of reference after each dance.” (Fieldwork Diary)

This continuous cycle of going to the dancefloor when favourite songs are played and coming back “home” afterwards made me remember what I had witnessed in other African houses such as Mwangolé or Sussussu. But…this is not what I was used to see in any of the typical kizomba parties I have attended here in Lisbon…

The riddle of Kalema

Kalema became a mystery for me since the first night I went there: I was very curious about was what I perceived as a striking mix of ambiences. As far as I have witnessed in my fieldwork until today, in a “typical African disco” of the old style (80s and 90s), we will find people drinking and chatting in groups sitting on sofas beside tables around a dancefloor. Most of the time they will be talking and watching people dance (what is usually called convívio), and only in certain special moments they will jump on the dancefloor. By contrast, in the houses and parties that kizomba school people prefer, most of the time they are not sitting: instead, they are dancing or standing around the dancefloor, so that chatting and drinking is much of a secondary activity. In these contexts (such as Barrio Latino on Thursdays or, more recently, B.leza on Sundays), chairs and sofas become an obstacle for the dance or an improvised bengaleiro (place to leave their coats and bags). Apparently, Kalema broke that rule: being frequented by a mix of kizomba school people and Africans, all of them shared the habit of sitting on the sofas in groups and talking. Why? What was going on? I decided to resolve this intriguing fact that made Kalema such a special place. An interview with the co-owners, Ricardo Rodrigues and Zanatt, finally led me to the answer.

THE DANCEFLOOR ON FRIDAY (from facebook, courtesy of Kalema Club)
THE DANCEFLOOR ON FRIDAY (from facebook, courtesy of Kalema Club)

History of Kalema 

Kalema Club opened just a few years ago, the 8th November of 2013, as Ricardo remembered immediately. The place already existed, and it was known as Terra da Música. To give it a new life, it was essential to change the name, the decoration, and the ambience. Interestingly, Ricardo spent a part of his life in Cape Verde and opened a house that called RClub. He used to go to another disco that was called Kalema, and the name inspired him. “Kalema” is the name given to a strong swell that beats the Western African coast (what could be considered a metaphor for the emotional state in which people get into through dancing.) Apart from the beautiful sound of the word, one of the reasons why Ricardo chose this name is because, according to him, we can find this term everywhere in the PALOPs: a general reference of Portuguese-speaking Africa that is not specific of any country. In this way, it could make people from diverse African countries feel identified with it. The two co-owners are well knowers of the African nights of Lisbon: Zanatt, from São Tomé, has lived in Lisbon for a long time, and Ricardo, Portuguese, has a quite interesting history of relations with Africa. Their intention was opening up a new African disco with a special personality that could make it different from the others. The boom of kizomba changed their plans: school kizomba lovers started to come and introduced their social rules. As the house started receiving more and more clients of this kind, it became an unexpected social mix and it had to adapt to the needs of both types of public: a good balance of recent hits and old music, a combination of living-room-like space with kizomba workshops some nights. As a result, today we can find a quite interesting mix of nightclub cultures, social rules and dance styles that develop through crossed influences in a small-medium space.

Nevertheless, these cultural diversity provide with some difficulties to keep everyone happy. The first key point is the music: how can the DJ guide such a heterogeneous community through the night?

DJ KLAUS, THE RESIDENT DJ (from facebook, courtesy of Kalema).
DJ KLAUS, THE RESIDENT DJ (from facebook, courtesy of Kalema).

For this reason, the solution found was the following: Kalema offers the possibility of experiencing a night more focused on kizomba on Fridays and a more “African night” on Saturday. At this moment, on Friday night we can find some of the DJs most appreciated in the world of kizomba schools and festivals joining DJ Klaus, the resident DJ. On Saturday, the invited DJs are specialists in African audiences; for example, DJ Zauzito was there for a noite do semba (semba night).

PICTURE 9. Workshop on Friday

FLYERS OF FRIDAY PARTIES (from facebook: courtesy of Kalema Club)
FLYERS OF FRIDAY PARTIES (from facebook: courtesy of Kalema Club)

Summing up, if you go on Friday, you may find a kizomba workshop or a show by a well-known teacher; if you go on Saturday, you may find something more similar to the nostalgic African discos of the 80s and 90s. Or you may find a surprise, as new realities are being created every weekend. What are the new shapes that African-ness is taking in Lisbon´s nights? Are we helping the blending of social groups and night cultures through the love for music and dance? The answers are waiting on the dancefloor of discos like Kalema in the next years, starting from tonight. We´d better not miss it!

Livia Jiménez Sedano is currently member of INET-MD (Instituto de Etnomusicologia-Centro de Estudos em Música e Danca) and her work is being funded by FCT (Fundação para a Ciencia e Tecnologia) of Portugal. She is a collaborator of Modern Moves Project and will become a full member on September 2015.

The Moving Blog


The first time I heard about A Lontra disco was the night that Luísa Roubaud, one of the best experts in the dance scene in Lisbon and a great colleague and friend at INET-MD (Instituto de Etnomusicologia), talked to me about it. We were enjoying a night out with some of her friends who used to go to African music clubs since the eighties. Having witnessed all the transformations of the last decades, they were making a contrast between nowadays´ kizomba fashion night life and the golden times they remembered in the 70s and the 80s. As memories started popping up, their eyes shone when talking about A Lontra, a mythical dance club that opened in Lisbon after the outbreak of the independence wars of Portugal’s former African colonies. The owners were a married couple that came from Luanda and landed in Lisbon in 1975, running away from the war of independence in Angola, like other more than 500.000 people after-25th April 1974 (see Machado 1974). These frequent visitors of A Lontra remembered that the couple consisted of an incredibly beautiful Black African lady (Dinah) and her husband, a White Portuguese gentleman (Carlos Correia). Just like in fairy tales, the beauty of Dinah was well-known and admired in the kingdom of the African nights of Lisbon. They insisted that I should go and speak to her to know the whole story from her lips. Since that day, I had been looking forward to meeting her and making her an in-depth interview. I had seen the front door with the old metal sign representing an otter (that´s the meaning of “Lontra”) many times when passing by Rua de São Bento, and it was the night of Saturday 28th February that I decided to visit the place.

1_A Lontra´s door


2_A Lontra´s metal icon


As I entered and approached the bar to ask about the politics of consumption, an ageless beautiful lady dressed in an elegant black suit came along walking slowly to attend. At that very moment, I said to myself: “no doubt, there she is”. Indeed, she was the legendary Dinah. I was lucky enough to get an appointment for an interview to know more about the history of the place and its secrets.

A Lontra was opened in 1977, right after Angola achieved its independence. This means that it was one of the first African discos of Lisbon. Like all the people who went to Portugal running away from the African wars of independence, they had to restart their lives from zero. Until they could find a way to make a living, they depended on public subventions aimed at “retornados” (“returned people”) and on the hospitality of their extended family. As they were experienced in managing discos in Luanda (such as the ones they owned, Cave Adão and Veleiro), they decided to start up a new business in the same branch. It was directed in principle to an audience of “retornados” that missed Africa and their lifestyle there. Gathering for listening to their beloved music became an urgent need, and A Lontra came to offer a home to alleviate homesickness through dancing together. The following images show some of the original spaces of A Lontra.

3-First Bar A LontraFIRST BAR, A LONTRA

4_Second Bar A Lontra[1]


5-Dance Floor A Lontra


A Lontra is situated in an emblematic place (Rua de São Bento 157), less than 5 minutes from the Assambleia da República, the most emblematic political institution of Portugal. It was not long time before some deputies, as well as intellectuals and artists heard of A Lontra and came to satisfy their curiosity. This nucleus of the political, artistic and intellectual elite of Lisbon became a faithful group of clients: these were the golden times of A Lontra, between the 80s and the 90s. In those days, DJing was combined with live music. Among other treasures, Dinah still keeps a large chest full of old vinyl discs of African music:

6_A Lontra chest of vinyls

THE CHEST OF VINYLS7_Some old vinyls


Dinah also possesses  a beautiful collection of art handcraft bought during travels to Angola, which are also displayed in the disco.

8_Elephant wooden chair


9_Wooden African female with baby


10_African mask


Another jewel that she keeps carefully is a collection of pictures of those days. Some deputies used to gather in A Lontra for a drink after their sessions in Assambleia da República. Sometimes, they held meetings in a private room that Dinah gently opened for them. It means that important decisions for the future of Portugal were taken inside A Lontra´s walls.

11_A lontra antiga 2


Through the 70s and 80s, more African houses opened up in Lisbon. Dinah and her husband Carlos opened a second house in 1980, “Cave Adão”, following the style and fame of the disco they had opened in Luanda, and in 1989 Dinah opened the disco “Rainha Njinga” (an epical Angolan queen known for her fierce resistance to the Portuguese colonizers). The clientele changed through time, and A Lontra started being visited by more and more people from Cape Verde. Vinyl music changed to CD, and later to digital files in the DJ´s computer, and the styles and ambience of the house changed too. With the recent boom of kizomba music and dance throughout the world, A Lontra adapted to the new times and DJs started introducing the most recent hits of kizomba. This is an excerpt of the fieldnotes I took that night:

“The night starts with loud afrohouse music, what indicates that the audience will probably be mainly people in their twenties. As expected, young boys and girls start coming since approximately two o´clock at night. The first beats of recent kizomba hits make some couples jump to the dancefloor. There is a pair of couples doing school-like steps, but the rest are dancing free style. Two boys leaning on the bar encourage themselves and finally leave their glasses on the counter to go and invite some of the girls that gather in groups by the edge of the dancefloor, but they refuse. Only when one of them insists and pulls a girl´s arm she accepts with a facial expression of resignation. Anyway, she abandons him in the middle of the song. It seems that it´s a hard job for boys. Then the DJ turns to Brazilian and international commercial music, such as Enrique Iglesias´ “Bailando” hit. Girls go crazy dancing in groups and having fun. The moment of funaná creates a new atmosphere: there are not many people dancing in couples, but mostly girls dancing among themselves and joking with and through the music. There is a girl dressed in a stripped blue and white tight dress who dances in an amazing and crazy way, moving her hips and feet in every possible way without ever losing the beat. Dinah is looking at her from the counter and smiling with pleasure. Then the DJ moves to batuque and people get even crazier, shaking hips and bumping navels on the dancefloor. Popular music from Cape Verde, mostly from Santiago, is played for a long time and intertwined with musical blocks of kizomba and afrohouse.” (Fieldwork diary, 28th February 2015) (To know more about batuque music and dance in Lisbon, see the work of Ana Flávia Miguel and Jorge Castro Ribeiro, INET-MD)

In conclusion, A Lontra can be proud of being one of the oldest African houses of Lisbon still open today and of having witnessed the recent history of Lisbon. It has resisted the changing times through adapting to the social and cultural transformations of the city. The dance steps of artists, politicians, intellectuals, curious visitors and people of all ages and from every corner of the PALOPS, have written on its dancefloor the history of relations between Portugal and Africa for at least the last 38 years. But, unlike an old museum, music has kept A Lontra young and alive. When asked about the secret for this, Dinah smiles and says: “this is something you do because you love it”.

Livia Jiménez Sedano is currently a member of INET-MD (Instituto de Etnomusicologia-Centro de Estudos em Música e Danca) and her work is being funded by FCT (Fundação para a Ciencia e Tecnologia) of Portugal. She is a collaborator in the Modern Moves Project and will become a full member of the team in September 2015.


Machado, Fernando Luís (1994) Luso-africanos em Portugal: nas margens da etnicidade. Sociologia: Problemas e Práticas 16: 111-134

Featured image: Archival photo of A Lontra, a night in 1996

Moving Stories

Following the Luso-Afro beat across the oceans: by Ananya Kabir

At the European University Institute in Florence in 2012, I had asked the Vasco da Gama Professor of History Jorge Flores about research on the movements of people from India through the Portuguese-speaking world. After all, the Portuguese Empire had stretched from the East Indies to Brazil and Vasco da Gama himself had been the first European to round the Cape of Good Hope to touch the shores of Western India. And when people move, their music and rhythms move with them: was there any evidence of rhythmic travels between India and Africa through the Portuguese imperial web? Well, the short answer from the expert was— of course people had moved. The archives had enough evidence for these movements especially of civil servants, school teachers, and other such bureaucratic personnel. But in 2012 it seemed that no one had done much research on this topic yet. And as for their music— well, that concern was not even on the general research radar.

That was over two years ago and all sorts of work on this transoceanic world is now in progress. The work of Pamila Gupta and the Facebook group Indo-Portuguese History are only two such examples. But we’re waiting for work on the musical and kinetic connections between the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean routes shaped by different European empires– especially the Portuguese imperial world, whose fast caravel ships that had first opened up those routes as early as the sixteenth century. In Anglophone scholarship, in the meanwhile, there seemed nowhere to start, no prior historiographic or ethnomusicological exploration to base my own investigations on.

What has been studied is the music that evolved as the Portuguese moved across the Atlantic Ocean, transporting African slaves from one side of the ocean to another, with transit points in Lisbon, Cape Verde, and even islands in the Caribbean belonging to other powers, such as the Dutch-controlled Curacao. As elsewhere in the Black Atlantic world, the horrific act of human trafficking has left, paradoxically, a rich legacy of music and dance forged through the forced displacement and interaction of peoples to feed the machines of capitalism and empire. From trauma and physical suffering emerged a paradoxical exhilaration of the body that moves to enjoy itself in a social space.

For some reason, the Portuguese empire’s musical legacy is particularly sweet, haunting and rich. We just have to listen to music from Cape Verde, often considered the first creole society in the world, to get this fact. But not just Cape Verde: Brazil and Angola, too, have given us the finest music of the Black Atlantic world. Depending on the trends in ‘world music’ marketing, some of these musical traditions and their representatives are better known globally than others: Cesaria Evora from Cape Verde and Brazilian Bossa Nova come to mind. The rest is the work of aficionados to discover or indigenes to appreciate.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltIRbnYw3Qg

As for the dances associated with these traditions, they call for another level of discovery, enjoyment and analysis altogether. ‘World dance’ cannot be marketed in the same way as ‘world music’. One cannot be an armchair enthusiast of dance, cultivating a rarefied appreciation of unusual music in the solitary comfort zone of one’s armchair with the help of a music system or fancy headphones. Understanding dance requires contact with other bodies, dance floors, and the willingness to share your sweat with random strangers—both exhilarating and not to everyone’s taste (sadly).

Nevertheless, there is a lot of scholarship on salsa (both the music and dance), which is now an unambiguously globalised leisure form. Salsa developed through the intermingling of rhythms, body movements and musical instruments from Africa and Europe within the Spanish-speaking Americas, and it is now danced socially almost everywhere in the world. During the last six or seven years, couple dances from Angola, namely kizomba and semba, have infiltrated the transnational spaces where salsa reigns, particularly in France, Eastern and Central Europe and the UK. This transformation of a salsa-ruled dance floor by social dance from Portuguese-speaking Africa became part of my research agenda.

However, to focus on the Atlantic side of music and dance from the Portuguese-speaking world is only half the story. Geography and history both create these webs of cultural contact and transmission, particularly for those processes that were set in place when human beings still moved around in ships rather than aeroplanes. The southern half of Africa narrows to where two oceans meet, and the Portuguese (ex)colonies of Angola and Mozambique, one facing the Atlantic Ocean and the other, the Indian, are not so far flung as eastern and western African coasts further up on the continent. Not only that— Mozambique has been part of an Indian Ocean world of trade and cultural contact long before the Europeans came to Africa. Indians, Arabs, Africans and Malays moved around this world, sharing commodities, languages, religions, and knowledge of seasonal winds (the ‘monsoons’). Do the histories of these oceans meet as do their waters?

Cosmopolitan maritime communities were formed in the pre-colonial Indian Ocean that seem mythical to our narrow present-day vision, which is shaped by assumptions of cultural clash, monolingualism, and a tendency to put ‘third-world peoples’ in compartments dictated by the selective ghosts of empires past. By this logic, Indians are to be found mostly either in India or in the ex-mothership, the United Kingdom, and Africans, either in their respective African countries or whichever ex-mothership their country was colonised by. As an aside, I don’t think academics yet have a way to understand a cultural phenomenon like Dubai, though everyone understands its economic basis. There were other (nicer) versions of Dubai in the past, whose remnants still survive in the present—for instance, the Ilha de Moçambique, where Vasco da Gama stopped to take a breath before moving on to India.

On the Ilha Vasco da Gama found Gujarati-speaking peoples from the Western coast of India, as well as Arab and African peoples speaking a multitude of languages and practising a multitude of religions. This is the polyglot world which is depicted with nostalgia by novelists such as Amitav Ghosh and M. G. Vassanji, a world which was overtaken by the capitalist forces driving European expansionism. But these empires presented new and different opportunities for the movement of peoples and cultures which sometimes layered themselves on older histories and processes. It is easy to forget this fact, because the temporalities of Empire are so powerful in our imaginations. In chasing the movement of people between Goa and Mozambique during the Portuguese Empire, I gradually realised that before and after the fact of Portuguese Goa, there were Gujaratis moving between Western India and Eastern Africa. Many of these were from Gujarat’s multiple Muslim traditions—Khojas or Ismailis, Bohras, Twelver Shias, and Sunnis.

When you start looking for something, suddenly evidence for it pops up everywhere. But research also depends on serendipitous connections, things that you find when you are looking least hard. My friend Samira Sheikh has been researching medieval Gujarat for many years now and thanks to her I know something about these sea-faring, African Gujarati communities. But I already ‘knew’ about these communities anyway. Other Indian friends of many years, themselves of Gujarati Muslim families, have family members living in different Indian Ocean facing African countries. So why did it seem so exotic and exciting to me to discover that a very Ismaili-sounding ‘Zahir Assanali’, originally from Mozambique and now living in Cascais, Portugal, is the director of one of the biggest musical operations in the Portuguese-speaking world?

Maybe because we don’t always bring together the things we know from life to the things we know from research. Maybe because academic research is often conducted in narrow segments and, in our quest to know more and more, we go deeper and deeper rather than cast our nets wide. We need to long for a bigger picture to start joining the dots. I have been a maverick researcher, moving from one area to another. Nothing should surprise me. But even so, I started when my eyes fell upon that name,’Zahir Assanali’, and the explanation, ‘a Mozambican of Indian heritage’, who organises massive concerts of Angolan music stars in Portugal, Brazil and Mozambique. I was reading an article about the current mania for Angolan music in Portugal. It was published in Portugal’s popular newspaper supplement, ‘Revista Semanal’ and had been sourced by my Portuguese teacher Sofia Martinho. I wasn’t expecting to come across a South Asian Muslim name there.

Because Zahir Assanali is the director of Grupo Chiado, one of the biggest music promotion enterprises in the Portuguese-speaking world, tracking him down was relatively easy. In a pincer-grip motion I mobilised Facebook, email and telephone to explain to him why I was interested in his work and his background. Here was my missing link between Indian and Atlantic Ocean histories, a person whose biography and interests represents the point of convergence between peoples, oceans, musical traditions, imperial and postcolonial times. Bringing Angolan music stars to Portugal and Brazil, taking Julio Iglesias to Luanda and now UB40 to Maputo, he seemed to be the kind of human ‘Cape of Good Hope’ that I was searching for in Afro-diasporic rhythm cultures. (Of course I didn’t say all that to Zahir in seeking an appointment; he might have considered me slightly crazy).

I finally met Zahir in the summer of 2013 on the eve of the ten-day Festas do Mar at Cascais, an hour’s journey from Lisbon, which Grupo Chiado was organising on behalf of the municipality of Cascais. The stage was being set up and he was in the midst of last-minute organisation. I brought along a fellow enthusiast for Afro-diasporic dance, Francesca Negro, one of those multilingual people that are quite normal in the dance world. Zahir had with him his friend and business associate, Miguel Angelo, another really important Portuguese music promoter, CEO of Soundsgood, which works with big Brazilian names like Ivete Sangalo. I was in some sort of music impresario hall of fame. In a mixture of Portuguese and English we spoke for over an hour as if we were all old friends. Zahir’s teenaged daughter dropped by. With her nut-brown limbs and wavy black locks she looked like an Indian Ocean mermaid. Behind us, the Atlantic waters brushed up against the Cascais sand.

I learnt that Zahir’s languages were Portuguese and Gujarati. I tried out my few words of Gujarati on him to our collective amusement. He told me that his wife spoke the African languages of the area of the Ilha and took seriously my rejoinder that perhaps Gujarati should also be considered an African language. When we spoke of Ismaili Islam, Miguel Angelo’s knowledge about his old friend’s religious affiliations was extended further though an impromptu discussion about different varieties of Islam—not ‘castas’ we said, using that old, old word that the Portuguese introduced to South Asia— rather, these were different ‘doctrinas’. We spoke about how it was, growing up on the Ilha de Moçambique, listening to Indian music, African music and simply, ‘music’—the kind of music that anyone growing up anywhere urban in the 1980s would have heard—Wham, Sabrina, Michael Jackson.
This international ‘music’ was what Zahir got hooked on to while working for his uncle’s record shop as a teenager and what determined his future career. Now that ‘black music’, as Miguel called it, was so popular in Portugal, it made business sense to promote it. We are in the music business for the business, he insisted. What kind of music do they listen to? Miguel said that he didn’t personally dance to ‘black music’—he liked rock, jazz, blues, bossa nova, house…. ‘but all that is also African music deep down!’ I insisted. ‘Yes, I guess so, but still’— we then went on to talk of Buraka Som Sistema, one of the best-known products of the Angolan diaspora in Portugal. ‘That is music with a European groove and an African beat’, he said. We spoke of Carnival in Brazil, the trios, the blocos, the madness. We spoke of white people in Portugal of ‘our generation’ evolving in the past twenty years towards a more inclusive musical taste, more representative of Portugal’s long connections with Africa. ‘This is a good thing’, we all agreed.

But in one of Lisbon’s long-established clubs for African music, B.Leza, I have seen older white couples dance smoothly to the sweetest Capoverdian live music. Was not in that generation’s desire to dance to those rhythms some other motivation— a nostalgia that was surely different from whatever was motivating younger consumers of Angolan music and dance today? And how could one explain the massive popularity of kizomba, semba and kuduro as social dances across Europe? This development was news to the music men, who were amazed to hear of French youth of African heritage dancing kizomba and semba every weeknight in football clubs of Parisian suburbs, kizomba festivals in Eastern Europe, and the like. Did they dance? No, Zahir said, he felt ‘embarrassed’ dancing, even though everyone else in his family danced without any self-consciousness. What did people dance to in Mozambique? I asked. ‘Everything, kizomba, marrabenta (a Mozambican music), zouk.’ ‘Salsa?’ ‘No, not really.’ As he joked, ‘Salsa doesn’t work here. We leave that to the Spanish(-speaking) people’.

The transoceanic Afro-diasporic world is shaped by unexpected alliances amongst language groups. Thus zouk from the French-speaking Antilles is everywhere in the Portuguese-speaking world, but not salsa in its transnationalised form. There are also unpredictable relationships between music forms and dance forms, such as between zouk the music and kizomba the dance style. The infinite possibilities of permutation and combination within the wider Afro-diasporic world and the return of these rhythms to Africa is what enables people like Zahir and Miguel to flourish in the work they do. Yet they insist they are motivated by business, not music. They refuse to call themselves pioneers, insisting that they follow and capitalise on rather than initiate trends. Yet it was Zahir’s Grupo Chiado that first got the Angolan semba genius Paulo Flores to perform in Portugal in 2005. If that is not trend-setting I don’t know what is.

When I asked Zahir about whether his Indian heritage has influenced his career, he emphatically insisted on a ‘separation’ between his Indian-ness and his life in musical promotion. This word, ‘separação’, recurred in our conversation, leaving a faintly melancholic trace. Yes he had been to Gujarat in India, but he found it not to his taste—‘too conservative’. He began humming the tune of a song by a contemporary Indian pop star that he really liked, but he could remember the name of neither the singer nor the song (neither could I recognise the fragment of the tune). Where did he hear it, I asked? He looked at me as if that was the silliest question ever. ‘Just all around us, in Mozambique.’ Music and movement lives in the world. How it moves around the world depends on the conjunction of people and processes, geographical histories of cultural encounter, and, those unpredictable ingredients: personal genius and interpersonal relationships.

From people like Zahir Assanali I take away an incredible amount of inspiration and food for thought. Zahir chose to present himself in the context of friendship with Miguel, a white Portuguese man who has worked with the hottest acts in Afro-Brazilian music, knows the Carnival in Brazil, and speaks of the new taste for ‘black music’ amongst (white) Portuguese youth. Zahir is an Indian Ocean man with Africa and India both part of his identity. What sense does race make in these interpersonal connections? What precisely is ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘Indian’, ‘African’?—do these words mean something different when we apply them to skin colour, to physical features, to culture, to the beat, to the groove? And in analysing Zahir and Miguel and their work, I realised that I, too, had presented myself with a friend—an Italian woman who lives and dances in Lisbon and whom I have met through this increasingly tangled web of dancers interested in cultural analysis and cultural analysers interested in dance.

What we all had in common was an interest and passion in the Luso-Afro beat. We are, I guess, my definition of ‘AfroPolitans’: people who embrace African-heritage music, movement and style irrespective of racial heritage. Music follows many things, said Miguel Angelo in our conversation. ‘It follows politics, economics….’ Yes, but he left the most obvious element out. Music, and dance, also follows friendship, and the way human beings feel about, relate to, and connect with each other.

All photos of the Ilha de Mocambique and Cascais by Ananya Kabir.
Muito obrigada Francesca Negro, Zahir Assanali, e Sofia Martinho.

Featured image: Traditional dance in the shadow of Vasco Da Gama at the Ilha de Moçambique.