I have been recently involved in a nasty polemic in Portugal. It became so viral (fuck me, that’s such a spot-on word for what happened next with people comments) that everybody who is in any way involved in the Portuguese musical scene as an agent, fan or journalist, wasn’t really talking about anything else during the past week-end and the week after. It’s hard to explain, without being partial, as I am in on of the sides of the trenches, but I will try my best.
In Portugal the leading cultural and musical press, from relevant papers, are a bunch of snobs. We and many other bands have always put up with their tantrums, offences, and appetite for destruction, the best we could. So did our RP’s and labels down but I always felt a culture of fearful respect, like when we deal with aristocrats. That’s bizarre because they have little on their record to show for. The records they review do not sell or are popular at all (fair enough, alternative culture is also talking about those records, to inform and generate interest) and there is an undeniable divorce between what they write and the real world of their readers. Throughout the years they based their musical press on an irresponsible hunt for the new. Once they thought they finally found it ,it had on other forms of bands and cultures the same effect as a nuclear bomb, wiping clean everything else from the papers, every other expression blown into a nuclear winter.
The band they find the most representative of a up-to-date, clean cut, representative and plural Portugal is a band called Buraka Som Sistema. They are indeed quite popular abroad and in Portugal, packing clubs and playing great and prestigious festivals like Roskilde. They are not a rock band. They are a band whose members draw from many influences but their approach is considered by the Press as Progressive kuduro, with deep African, Angolan roots mixed with heavy duty dance music. This band was quoted by a journalist from #Publico on the polemic piece, as the most transversal and representative band of all times from Portugal, based upon the theory that they appeal to more mainstream media and news channel (which they do) and that they have the most significant international profile ever for a Portuguese band (which they don’t).
The way that the text was delivered sent me a clear message, which I spelled out as musical racism. The internet exploded. The journalist went further on his path of diminishing Moonspell’s international achievements and his rat pack joined him with many articles, which basic message is to call me a whiner, a borderline racist , someone incapable of reading a text, and whatnot. The fans, both ours and Buraka’s, flooded the internet with a competition to see who’s got the biggest …, and some bloody-written wars exploded. A lot of people blocked, friends had a fight, the whole nine yards.
The bottom line is that, for a change, very few people took the time to read my words properly . I have nothing against Buraka. In fact, I apologised to them privately (not to inflame any more fights). I am sorry their name was dragged in the mud sometimes, that is the passion of fans, a powerful weapon as well, and in no way does Moonspell wants to diminish their work and influence and national/international acclamation.If something, we want just the same. However, our target is journalism based upon a twisted sense of cultural order and of course in wrong technical informations that would needed little more than a quick online browsing to make sure, like good reporters do.
By writing an article that compares one band to all the others superlatively, one has to hear the contradictory. My problem with this musical racism is the reduction to a simple footnote of many other bands which served Portugal culturally and transversally as well or better than Buraka (Madredeus comes into many heads); or of our very own Fado that will always be the true national, popular music ever connected to Portugal; and especially the obsessive notion that Metal music is not transversal like others and that it doesn’t really tap into the listeners as a representation of their origins. Laughable, I know.
There was a lot more I could say about it but I decided not to participate further on the polemic. I know perfectly it’s impossible to show those people, who unfortunately are read by hundreds, the real world of bands and genres. The world is not Lisbon, folks! Metal has been breaking down social barriers since a long time and has a clean record in what it comes to welcome new people, from any country, creed or skin color to enjoy in common a style that with the multitude of its genres, expressions and crowds has actually been redefining the word transversal and impossible for many years, much more than bands who have nothing to show for but the support of hipster journalists.
As I stand, denying Metal the merits of being a culture, with socio-economic impact and social awareness is vile and racist. To state that Metal is just a niche for the converted is to root your vision of culture in little less than a new journalism-fascism where one gets to decide and measure culture, arbitrarily, using mass media and festivals as a pendulum. To deny the cultural, intelectual and in-depth aspects of Metal is to tell me and millions that my life was wasted, that my band didn’t fulfil any of its goals and all the moments I had of enlightment by the works of Maiden (Coleridge) Celtic Frost (Baudelaire) or Ulver (William Blake) have been just meaningless.
In my kid’s kindergarten there was once a small revolution via e-mail because of a ham slice. Most of the parents there are either vegan, or vegetarian and as far as I’m concerned they are the ones in the right. But to make a scandal over ham being available at a school party (turns out it wasn’t) and to put everyone down as lesser human beings, it’s just wrong. Alternative cultures are meant to inspire, and lead change or point a way. If they turn into small oppression, even if for all the good reasons, they fail to achieve their essence which is of a better freedom on a better world. Just like this journalist made by writing an opinion based on false premise and by stating further opinions that make the other band the best representation ever to come of Portugal socially, and transversally; thus having two measures when one reads Pessoa because of Moonspell’s Opium or when one dances frantic in a club to the sound of kuduro. Is the latter more cultural than the first? That, I am sorry, I can never accept.
picture by Paulo Mendes/PFM.photography