Advertisement
This story is over 5 years old
Music by VICE

DJ Nigga Fox's New Record Is As Insane His Name Suggests

The Angolan-Portuguese producer's berserk rhythms have a new home with Lisbon label Principe Discos.

by Dave Quam
Oct 10 2013, 8:55pm

Photo by Diogo Simoes

Until a few years ago, finding new Lusophone music involved creeping through Portuguese social networking sites and message boards for free downloads. My folders of electronic music from Africa's former Portuguese colonies, and from the Lisbon suburbs where many of those countries' migrants now live, are filled with 90-second, low quality Soundcloud rips. There are gigabytes of yelping cuica drum tracks made on Fruity Loops by kids with the word "fox" in their DJ names. And while I'll probably never stop searching for tracks that are still warm from DJs' hard drives, labels like Lisbon-based Principe Discos are finally giving some of my favorite DJs the high profile, international releases they deserve. Principe's newest release comes from the Angolan-born, Lisbon-based DJ Nigga Fox, whose name you can expect to see around a lot more, even if it might feel a little weird saying it out loud.

To back up a little bit: house music first exploded across Africa's urban centers in the late 80s, and like kwaito from the townships of Johannesburg, Luandans borrowed sounds from Chicago and Europe and paired them with the rhythms they grew up with, namely semba. Angolan electronic music mutated into a form of berserk tribal house, often strapped with vocals from MCs rapping about political frustrations—or sometimes just about ass-shaking. This particular strain came to be known as kuduro, the genre also known for the speedy street dancing that accompanies it.

While kuduro remains the most well known—and maybe important—of these newer forms of Angolan music, it's only one piece of the puzzle. Kizomba and tarraxihna (often shortened to tarraxo or tarraxa), the slow and sexy styles similar to French Caribbean zouk, are often made by the same producers of the more aggressive "batidas," a word widely used to describe instrumental electronic music more generally.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum lies a newer form of Lusophone Afro house, an ethereal, mid-tempo form of polyrhythmic four-on-the-floor that has become popular over the last few years. Funana, the fast, accordion-driven music specific to the Cape Verde islands is also worth noting, as you can sometimes find many of these genres on a single artist's Soundcloud page, or over the course of one release, is this case with the new Nigga Fox EP on Principe.

Started by two former clerks from record store Flur, and two founding members of independent cultural organization Filho Único, Principe Discos was intended as an outlet for local electronic artists to have their voices heard. "We felt it was absolutely necessary to have an outlet for the more creative, free-thinking and powerful beat-based music being made in Greater Lisbon. There was a lot of great music which was abandoned in many ways," says Pedro Gomes, one of Principe founders. After being exposed to the sounds of kuduro and other music being made by immigrants from the former Portugese colonies in 2007, Gomes and his colleagues noticed an important voice was going unheard in the electronic music world. "We immediately started working with a few artists who lived outside the center of Lisbon, in its suburbs and projects, and we were left with our jaws dropped at what we were coming into contact with, which had absolutely no repercussion in Caucasian Portugal."

The label debuted with kuduro kingpin DJ Marfox's excellent Eu Sei Quem Sou EP in 2011, released both digitally, and as a beautiful, limited run 12" with individually hand-painted covers. As someone who is used to a smorgasbord of unofficial clips and free downloads, it's exhilarating to see the music presented with such care and attention to detail.

DJ Nigga Fox came to Principe through Marfox, a former high school classmate, who was impressed by his tracks and sent them along to the label. While the earliest Nigga Fox tracks I encountered on Portuguese music site were largely straightforward kuduro, his debut EP runs the gamut of Angolan-derived experimental sounds. On one hand, it's a spectral Afro house record with melodies that laugh at you as the drums drag you through the walls (see the track "Weed"). On the other, it's some of the most broken acid house I've ever heard outside of Chicago (see "Powerr"). The vibe is eerie, but incredibly dancefloor-positive. "He's an incredibly intuitive producer, and has a really beautiful and ritualized way of operating on his tracks," says Gomes, speaking proudly of his involvement in the record.  "I have a slight feeling he hasn't heard Schonberg or Bernard Hermann's work for Hitchcock, but his string and digital accordion arrangements sound modernist. The tension between tonality and atonality is ridiculous, as is his notion of polyrhythmic balance. It really does blow our minds."

Aside from "Só Nós 2," the oddball tarraxo that ends the record, the majority of O Meu Estilo sits somewhere around 130 beats-per-minute, a notch slower than most kuduro. It would be reductive, however, to file the record within the Afro house style that has recently come to the fore. There's too much slow, ancestral burn to be the former, and too much of a dark edge to be the latter. Nigga Fox carved portholes through those existing realms with his own psychotropic sound.

Those quirky synths and aggressive syncopations aren't usually welcome in the city's more cosmopolitan nightclubs, a problem that the Principe founders and label artists have sought to fix. "Nowadays more and more black and white kids dance together, though as with many wonderful things, it's been a gradual diplomatic process for the shier cases," says Pedro. Once a month, you can find Fox and his Principe family at Musicbox, a mid-sized downtown Lisbon club that often keeps its doors open until 7AM. Here, local DJs are expected to spin their own productions, rather than just grease the audience with mainstream-approved African music or American hip-hop.

I think a lot about how this music generally gets lumped into some kind of dreaded "world music" realm, and how that effects its place inside the club continuum. Gomes hopes that the artists he works with will be celebrated for their own personalities rather than as some sort of exotic fad. "The artist we work with are all different individuals," he tells me. "I'm sure their responses will be as diverse as they are." The Principe Discos crew is in the midst of setting an important precedent for how to bring music like this to a wider audience, and hopefully other labels in the "world music" bubble will take notes. "We wanted to make sure we provided proper context and structure for these incredible producers and DJs to dedicate themselves to this work, because that wasn't happening," says Gomes. "The music made in these neighborhoods didn't leave the neighborhoods. We felt we could contribute to changing that in a gradual and sustainable manner."

With a combination of game-changing talent like Nigga Fox, and their dedication to the artists, the Principe family is rock-solid. Here's hoping that more and more of this music makes its way from the hidden corners of the social media sphere to the international spotlight.

Dave Quam is a DJ, writer, and photographer also known as Massacooramaan. -@Massacooramaan

Tagged:
Thump
Portugal
Lisbon
Angola
Kuduro
afro-house
Principe Records
thump blog
tarraxihna