We must admit, until earlier this month we had little to no knowledge of the creative musical juices that are flowing through Mozambique's capital of Maputo.
Our introduction came through Nandele, a musical polymath who's recent output, including a debut on London-based imprint Cotch International, has helped to push forward the city's sound and challenge outsider preconceptions of what Mozambican music is and should be.
We wanted to hear from those on the ground about what makes the city's music scene tick and why it is such a special place to be as a creative. What stood out most is the diversity and complexity of the styles and sounds present within Maputo, stemming from the mix of both traditional and global influences, while the sense of collaboration that seems to be constantly growing, is helping to showcase the intricacies of the scene outside of the city.
Thanks to Nandele's tip offs, we connected with some of the city's key players: Evaristo Abreu of arts venue and co-working space 16neto; music collective The Other Room; Xibalo's label manager Double Drop and production duo Mapiko Mweya, who provide their insights on the people, places and projects who are working hard to put the scene on the map.
How would you describe the underground electronic music scene in Maputo?
Nandele: The scene in Maputo is very complex and low key. There are a lot of interesting artists out there doing amazing stuff, guys like Trkz, The Other Room, Xibalo, May Mbira, Mapiko Mweya to name a few... But there is not a lot of spotlight for artists who are producing electronic music, it's more of a DIY situation, no labels, no television, no radio. It's alive online on Soundcloud, most of it.
Evaristo Abreu (16neto): I think the underground electronic music scene here is rich and very diverse, artists are constantly finding ways to improve their sound and experimenting with new stuff all the time, but the scene is still very unknown. People are very directed to the mainstream scene, that they end up not knowing the underground scene. but I don't think its their fault, we (the underground artists and producers) need to work harder to spread our work through those platforms and make people notice what we've been doing. We have examples like Nandele, May Mbira, Trkz; those are some of the artists that are pushing forward the scene and are making moves so people can notice and appreciate their work.
Double Drop (Xibalo): The scene here in Maputo has grown a lot, the movement has found itself more in what concerns the roots of our country. Even more, we have a lot of influence from the European, Brazilian and South African scene.
Mapiko Mweya: Maputo is home to a handful of artists that have gained recognition beyond borders - the scene is growing, there are many creators, making dope music. We just wish the local infrastructure was better prepared to nurture all the talent that's around, in all the arts. There are only three clubs in Maputo and they are all mainstream, you have to really know the right people to find the niche underground electronic music oasis.
The Other Room: In Maputo, electronic music is one of the most known genres where most of the youth are quicker to attend these type of music parties and festivals, compared to alternative or RnB. I think the word “underground” is more associated with alternative, por, trap music because even with social media being more prominent in giving visibility, there are still difficulties for artists or bands putting themselves out there. Also, considering the genre, the language, the aesthetics, there are still barriers to break through but slowly we will get there.
What is it that makes it so unique?
Nandele: It's unique because we are sponges of what is happening around the world, we take a little bit of this and that, and we mix with our local stuff. The content is different. We are Mozambicans. We have 13 ethnic groups in the same country so this makes our music spicy and with a lot of flavour.
Evaristo Abreu (16neto): The fact that they are willing to try new stuff, new sounds, new collaborations with different types of art. And the fact that with very few resources and technology we are able to still remain creative and bring the best out of our creative minds.
Double Drop (Xibalo): What makes the scene so unique here is the mix of different styles, and because Maputo is a multicultural capital. This allows it to be a scene for all tastes.
Mapiko Mweya: Globalised kids from Africa with machines that make music. That should say enough.
The Other Room: Maputo City and Mozambique in general is a very diverse place and that also influences a lot on the different tastes in music/art. The diversity and unique flavour that our art has is what surprises people the most.
What labels, artists, venues and musicians are helping to put it on the map?
Nandele: First of all we don't have many labels, but I would say Kongoloti and Xibalo are doing amazing things. As for venues we have many, but in my personal opinion 16neto is the one that is breaking a lot of barriers every week. They are putting on a lot of unheard and new artists and that is amazing to me, because there is no venue or radio doing that at the moment.
Evaristo Abreu (16neto): Artists like Nandele, Trkz, May Mbira, Iron Br11, The Other Room and many more. Venues like 16Neto, PFHUKA, Fernando Leite Couto Foundation, Anima Creative Studio, Auxene Studios, French-Mozambican Cultural Center and Labels like KONGOLOTI records and others are working everyday to promote this underground scene and take it to a bigger audience.
Double Drop (Xibalo): In Mozambique we have many artists and labels that are giving everything to make Mozambican music more known. The label companies I can mention are Sickest Sound, Tinsimo, My Other Side of the Moon, K7s United and although asleep we have the leader of the underground movement in Mozambique, the Theory of Groove.
As Xibalo Records in the first year, we were able to place two releases simultaneously on the Beatport chart of the top 100 Afro House, which makes us sure that we have artists with the potential to please the most refined ears.
Venues here are still a problem, for artists and promoters, there is still a need to increase the number of sites so that they can do underground events, which means that promoters and artists have to be very creative to create a improvised venue, however we always have beautiful parties.
The artists and musicians who are helping to put Mozambique on the Map are Giluuu, Navaa, Wild One94, Nandele, Tushimitsu, Benny Bubblez, Acizzy, Rude, Mark Exodus, 808DNA, Trikz, Superman, Freddy da stupid, Sky White, Ricky kc19, Ricardo Pinto, GusTizzy & Malik Faquir. I may not have mentioned everyone, but those mentioned have done a lot.
Mapiko Mweya: Nandele is definitely an icon when we mention the underground electronic music scene in Maputo. He is pushing for his own sound, being rebellious by nature, with very much of a punk attitude towards the system - he is creating his own route and we respect that. Xibalo Records & Sala Estimulante are probably the local imprints that we could recommend for the more underground tastes. "Booka" knows how to throw parties - always a vibe to perform in, super cool crowd and artists involved.
The Other Room: We have cultural houses like 16Neto, Fundação Fernando Leito Couto, Centro Cultural Franco, Moçambicano, Cultural Brasil-Moçambique supporting most of the artists in Mozambique. Local TV shows/channels as well such as Media+Tv, atrações, belas manhãs, manhãs alegres, o melhor da tarde, and so on not to forget all the artists who keep on doing their best to share.
Is there a strong sense of collaboration between those active in the scene?
Nandele: Yes, the underground scene here is like that here. We collaborate with each other with visual artists, designers, video makers, contemporary dancers and many more... It wasn't like this and I must confess not all of them like to share, but in the last three years it's been happening this way. I guess artists are starting to realise that we can achieve more as a unit. In my case I have been collaborating since the beginning of my career.
Evaristo Abreu (16neto): Now yes, artists, musicians, venues and many others are working more together and with the same objective: to promote and showcase this scene. Things like festivals, installations, exhibitions, music residencies are happening more and more and this is a good thing for all of us.
Double Drop (Xibalo): Yes, there is, but we need to balance our egos, many times artists with superior capacity do not believe in the talent of the youngest, which creates a barrier to the development of the scene.
Mapiko Mweya: More and more we feel like there is a sense of togetherness, where we can closely interact with each other to share the knowledge, fun, and experience. A lot of up and coming artists supporting each other through collaborations and releasing each other's music.
The Other Room: There is a common support where everyone shares and makes the artist's art visible through social media. The sense of collaboration is not yet where we would like it to be, although most of the artists know each other - but not all are inclined to the same artistic style. If we were to measure I would say less that 40% Collabs with one other.
How has the scene changed over the years?
Nandele: From 2010 until now it has changed a lot. You have artists performing in big venues and the biggest festivals with no albums and just singles, that's a big achievement in my opinion. We couldn't even perform in a small setting, most promoters thought our music is weird. Now you have artists getting co signs by the older generation of musicians and mainstream artists. But it's a long road, there is a lot to do. It's a marathon and a long run to the finish line.
Evaristo Abreu (16neto): 3/4 years ago the scene was a bit dry for me, but from there on things started flowing. Artists started doing more innovative stuff, creating their own events, bringing new collaboration ideas to the venues, mixing different arts together, new festivals were born and new venues were born. There are more spaces to showcase their art and new artists coming up everyday, so it's very good now.
Double Drop (Xibalo): The scene has changed a lot, as the public has become increasingly demanding.
Mapiko Mweya: The scene is slowly unravelling itself and we are still figuring out the different facets that we may explore to develop it. Currently there are a lot of underground pop up events which are fairly established. We feel the big eruption will come when there will be a concentrated and consistent effort from not only from promoters & artists but the community too.
The Other Room: The scene has changed gradually, before people would only support what is seen on TV while now people are more aware that art comes in many forms, and that we should support. There is a bit of everything happening and we as a society should be hands on in giving a chance and making light that Mozambique has a lot of potential culturally.
What might surprise people about Maputo’s music scene?
Nandele: It's diverse, it's not one thing like the beat scene in LA. There is a lot of experimentation going on from music, design, photography and cinema... We have this idea that people don't know anything about Mozambique, so I think that's what drives a lot of artists here. That's why I see a bright future in the world of arts in general here, there's a lot of things we have to share with the world.
Evaristo Abreu (16neto): The diverse styles of music that we have and the innovative and creative ways that artists here are approaching music. They are not afraid of trying new things and new sounds, and new collaborative projects. I think that we are very rich in sounds and because we are very exposed to the outside music, we found a way to take that outside inspiration and mix with our sounds and our music.
Double Drop (Xibalo): Sound diversity and creativity.
Mapiko Mweya: Probably the raw talents that will emerge and pleasantly surprise us too.
Who or what would you like to highlight within the city?
Nandele: I would like to highlight Evaristo Abreu (16neto) and João Roxo (Anima). These guys do so much for the culture in my opinion, from stage design to visual arts and for bringing artists on. Tina Kruger and Aguacheiro (Emptyroom.art) for doing the virtual residency. The collective The Other Room for just being so independent and making amazing music. Ana Lucia; this woman runs a cultural center and is doing an amazing job. There are a lot of people, if we had to make a list we would have to talk about it for months. All are doing their part in their line of work.
Evaristo Abreu (16neto): I would like to highlight PFHUKA and 16Neto because they're doing a very great work in scouting and bringing new artists to the scene.
Double Drop (Xibalo): I would like to highlight the receptivity of our people. Everyone in this land is welcome, regardless of race, social level, sexual orientation and religion.
Mapiko Mweya: Like every city, each has its own vibe and atmosphere. Maputo is "maningue" nice, it's blessed with a radiant and easy-going energy, a clear reflection of our communities general warmth, hospitality, and flavour - Mozambican cuisine ticks all the boxes, its fresh, healthy, and tasty. The cherry on the cake is that within a 1h radius you can drive to a beautiful beach, or to see wild animals (elephants, giraffes.. you name it).
The Other Room: We would like to highlight the cultural houses for showings that what we do has value, the
young people building up platforms so local artists are able to share their art, the few art/photography/music schools that exist around the country for not giving up due to the little amount of interested people, and everyone who actually sits down to watch the shows, who buy the tickets, who share and so on.
How do you think the pandemic will affect the scene? What are your worries about the future?
Nandele: It's already affecting the scene, we don't have a music industry here. Artists are hustling and doing the best they can and I don't think this pandemic will stop us providing the listener with music. We have been adapting since the beginning of time, we are Africans, we have gone from colonization, from independence, from dictatorships, wars, you name it and these things never stopped us. We've always made music, we've always sang, we are the future of music. Fela said Afrobeat is the music of the future, I would say African Music is the music of the future. We are persistent and consistent. We are only getting started...
Evaristo Abreu (16neto): The Pandemic was a very big shock for the world and affected the scene a bit because we were ready to bring new innovative stuff to the public, but we had to adapt and make everything digital. I think that was a bit scary in the beginning but we noticed that people started paying more attention to those underground artists on social media, and that was a very great thing because now we have the possibility to connect with a much bigger audience. Venues started doing regular live streams so people can watch it at home. I'm just worried that those on the underground will stay there when the pandemic ends, if this ends. I would like to see them take this opportunity and make the best out of it.
Double Drop (Xibalo): I believe that at this moment the scene as almost all environments in the world are suffering a lot, but we know that time is the best medicine, we will adapt. It will also be good because all countries will start to consume more local artists in the first phase, in our case in particular, we have Mozambican artists who are very successful outside the country, but are not very much in demand in their country. The biggest concern is to promote Mozambican artists, there is not much left to get to where we want, the world is ready for Mozambique.
Mapiko Mweya: This pandemic has been a very strong reminder of the interconnectedness of all of our experiences. Much like in the rest of the world, the pandemic has brought much change. Short term, we think the pandemic has been a barrier at first and then a catalyst for creative expression and insight. Forcing us to identify and develop new ways to interact with our communities and monetize our art, developing systems that will allow artists to be creative and still sustain themselves. Long term we think the pandemic has been a turning-point of the entertainment industry as a whole. I think we're all curious to not only see how things will turn out, but to also be a part of this change. Watch out for the incognito raves happening outside of town during this period.
If you do a quick google search on the Mozambican economy you'll see that, as a nation we're still struggling to fulfill basic needs for most of the population. In a sense, our fear for the future lies in things remaining the same. We're a country that's immensely rich in natural resources, this wealth usually comes at a very high cost to all the most vulnerable - currently in the north of Mozambique, in the Cabo Delgado province, it saddens us to see that there is a war going on resulting in thousands of refugees and deaths. We can't afford to worry about the future with so much happening right now in the present.
On a lighter note, we are currently setting up a record label that aims to bridge the traditional Mozambican culture with the underground, in hopes of creating a platform where we can store a historical record of our culture, that will be made available to talented producers to reinterpret. That's about all we can mention for now.
The Other Room: The pandemic has already done serious damages, considering that Mozambique was still growing a taste in live music and suddenly the world stopped and now there are limitations such as the number of people that can attend the show, reducing the artist income through tours, and also having to avoid contact as much as possible. COVID-19 definitely came at a bad time for most of the artists who had a bigger picture and plans for 2020, we worry that some of us are not able to be strong enough because plans were delayed and we hope most of us are actually taking more time to create, to be inspired, to learn more about different ways to improve, to make new connections virtually with different artists and really reflect and improve.
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