The unrelenting strength of Kuduro
Lisbon’s most exciting sound

Over the last decade, the Afro-Portuguese sound of Kuduro has travelled from the bairros of Lisbon to a global audience. DJ Mag’s Anna Cafolla meets with the genre’s innovators, to find out how the sound has captured imaginations worldwide

The Portuguese word ‘desenrascanço’ doesn’t have a direct English translation, but it can be roughly described as an ability to untangle oneself from a difficult situation. To travel to Lisbon, where Kuduro music has blossomed, is to see and hear ‘desenrascanço’ in action. “We are the pioneers, and new ones are coming,” says Kuduro innovator DJ Marfox. “It needs to travel, to be shown respect and love, to be the defining Lisbon sound.” 2019 has been another busy year for the Afro-Portuguese electronic genre. That’s down to the work of a core group of producers and DJs, and one record label devoted to them.

Many of those who have shaped Kuduro were raised in Lisbon neighbourhoods known as ‘bairros’ – Bairro da Portela, Quinta do Mocho, Bairro do Pendão, and western municipality Oeiras’ Bairro do Pombal. As the children of first and second generation immigrants from Portuguese colonies – Angola, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Mozambique – many of their families fled civil war, extreme poverty, and conflict. Often placed in substandard housing on the city’s far edges, opportunities were scarce, but some found solace in the sounds of home. High-rise metal balconies and guerrilla parties in bungalows reverberated with ‘Batida’ (‘Beats’): an umbrella term-as-genre that ensnares the dark glitches of Tarraxo, the slow sensuality of Kizomba or Tarrachinha, and the dizzying Kuduro.

DJ Marfox grew up in Quinta do Mocho. He remembers hearing “the sounds of those searching for a better life” as a child in the early ’90s, listening to music from Brazil, Portugal, and India. “I relate my personal and cultural identity to Kuduro, and Kuduro to the local Lisbon neighbourhoods – it grew up here, too,” says Marfox. He tells us how Kuduro morphed: on its travels from Angola to Portugal, shedding the MCs and singers in favour of dominating, thumping instrumentals; beats designed on rudimentary programs like Fruity Loops for full-bodied dancing, without inhibitions. Translated, Kuduro literally means ‘H​ard ass’.

In 2005, he co-founded DJs Do Guetto – alongside DJ Pausas, DJ Fofuxo, Nervoso, and DJ Jesse – and the crew pushed a rebellious, fast-paced strain of the genre. He compares it to the early days of hip-hop in New York, with its wild, high-stakes competitions and DIY parties. “Kuduro is the beat of my heart and in making others a part of it, it beats harder,” Marfox says passionately. “Kids in my neighbourhood tell me every day that they feel their dreams are possible because of what I’ve been able to do.”