Interview: Q&A w/ Dino D’Santiago – A Lisbon Story (January 2020)

If Dino D’Santiago has grown into the voice of Lisbon or better the “New Lisbon” as the title of his song says, it’s because the Portuguese capital has deeply changed in the last years. Today the “Nova Lisboa” is a city where cultures finally collide and collaborate, where the old and traditional go arm in arm with the contemporary and the urban. It’s a city that is eventually recognizing and arguably accepting its diverse social fabric.

And Dino D’Santiago songs fully embrace Lisbon’s social fabric, which is the blood and soul of his artistry.

A few days ago, we reached the musician of Cape Verdean origins for an interview about his relationship with Lisbon, his music, and upcoming London show at the Jazz Cafe on the 17th of January.

You have become one of the most recognised and representative voices of Lisbon, a city that has grown into becoming a cultural hub and social example for the rest of Europe attracting people from everywhere. Is all that glitters gold?

I believe that I’m the combination of preparation and opportunity. At a time when Lisbon stands out from the rest of the big capitals by the cultural way in which it wisely mixes, I had a mentor by my side like Kalaf, who has been observing the city for two decades, and understood what a diamond Lisbon is. Nowadays people call it ‘Nova Lisboa’, and we have an anthem that celebrates its multiculturality, which should be a case study in a world which more and more made of borders and mental and physical barriers.

How does and how much Lisbon influence your sound? And do you feel when you bring that “Lisbon sound” abroad?

Lisbon influences my sound every day, young people reclaiming their right to express themselves, singing proudly in Portuguese, believing that this is the language that will carry their music farther, the easy way that sounds from Cabo Verde, Angola, Moçambique, Guiné Bissau, São Tomé and Brazil mix in a single city, where the flavours and fashion walk hand in hand. When I’m in cities like Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, NY, Miami, Berlin or Warsaw, I feel several isolated cultures, and I am a result of the mixture!

The Lisbon music scene is livelier than ever. Can you suggest us a few names of artists we should listen to?

Lisbon has at the moment, three nights I strongly advise to those who want to discover its magic, NA SURRA by Enchufada na Zona in Bleza Club, NOITE PRÍNCIPE by Príncipe Discos in Music Box and CASA INDEPENDENTE in Martim Moniz. Musicians that you must not miss, Branko & the Enchufada na Zona Crew, Slow J, Richie Campbell, Sara Tavares, Nelson Freitas, Mayra Andrade, Nigga Fox, Nídia, Papillon, Nenny, Plutónio, Julinho KSD and Toty S’amed.

As much as it’s rooted in Lisbon, your music goes far beyond Portugal borders reviving your Cape Verdean background, the Afro-Luso connection and including many traditional elements from funaná, morna, coladeira, kuduro… How strong is your relationship with Cape Verde and its culture and how do you find a balance between traditional and more contemporary sounds?

To me, that is the way of the future, the meeting between the traditional and the contemporary, where we reclaim ancestral elements and instruments and rhythms, melding them with new sounds, I believe that’s the only way to keep those styles and rhythms alive with the advancement of time and new tendencies. Looking at the future of Portugal with my feet in my Cape-Verdean roots and values, is the perfect balance at this time in my life, and I feel we are finally accomplishing the purpose of inspiring new and future generations, that already look at our lusophone rhythms as the secret for their music. And I also believe this is just a beginning, that spawned since Buraka Som Sistema, and will become an Afro-Luso global contagion!

How do people receive your music when you perform it in Cape Verde? What does the audience there tell you after a show?

I’m welcomed with much love in Cape Verde, on every island, by the older population that lives and breathes traditional music, or by the younger people who only listen to hip-hop Kriol and kizomba. It is from that hybrid that Mundu Nôbu comes. Every time I ended a concert I’d hear “thank you for representing our roots in that more urban and global vision of yours”, “So you can join our higher messages with a more electronic and global sound”, and that makes that my/ours socio-cultural responsibility increases.

Your first solo release is dated 2008. How has your approach to music changed in these 11 years, and how has your sound changed?

I grew up in a church environment, gospel, soul, and R&B have always been present in my life, as much as morna, funaná, and batuku. In 2008 I was much more a result of my North American influences like Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Ray Charles and neo-soul brought by D’Angelo, Erika Badu, BILAL, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild Anthony Hamilton. I traveled to Cape Verde in 2010 searching for my roots; I realized that when I sang in Kriol, I felt like my voice came from my soul, a place where I don’t think and only feel! That was the great change in my life, writing and singing in Kriol!

Your latest release, Mundo Nôbu, was published little more than a year ago. However, it’s still receiving a lot of attention and good reviews. How do you feel about the album today? Is there anything you particularly like about it and anything you would have done differently?

Mundu Nôbu is an album that still makes me discover new horizons, and only now, a year since its release, can you feel the impact that this adventure brought on by me, Kalaf and Seiji, has had on society. It has been a case study at Kings College in London, and at Universidade Nova in Lisbon. It has been awarded the greatest awards of Portuguese and Cape Verdean music. It made me be appointed Youth Ambassador in Cape Verde. What fascinates me more about it, is that I really dance to pure social intervention and awareness messages, like in the songs “Nôs Crença”, “Nova Lisboa” and “Raboita Santa Catarina”, where we speak about the power of religion and its beliefs, neo-slavery and the negative impact of climate change that triggered the eruption of do Fogo volcano during the celebrations of the Santa Catarina festival.

Is there a musician/artist who mainly influenced you when you were writing Mundu Nôbu?

As weird as it seems, when I started writing Mundu Nôbu I almost stopped listening to music, to get into a mind state that was closer to the message I wanted to convey. At the time the artist I listened to the most was Frank Ocean, and the songs that were more present in my mind were those of the famous Cape Verdean band Bulimundo.

What music/musicians are you listening to at the moment?

At the time, I’m going back and forth between past and present. During the same day, I’ll listen to Daniel Caeser, Billie Eilish, Burna Boy, Wizkid or Kendrick, but also to Cesária Évora, Ildo Lobo, Paulo Flores or Bonga. Sometimes I’ll be in repeat mode listening to Julinho KSD, or travel to Barcelona with Rosalía or London with Kokoroko.

You visited and played in London quite a few times now. How do you feel about playing here and what are you looking forward to bringing (musically speaking) for your next show?

London has become a second home to me. I’ve been recording monthly in the city, and I feel very inspired every time I’m in the studio with Paul Seiji and Nosa Apollo. All three dates I’ve played in London, have been sold out nights, the audience vibing from beginning to end! It’s always exciting to me to be in the city and to bring some of our Afro-Luso sound.

How do you feel about your upcoming show at The Jazz Cafe?

On January 17th I’ll be realizing one my biggest dreams, to play on the stage of The Jazz Café in Camden Town. In 2006 I went for the first time to London, to watch two Bilal Oliver concerts on that venue, and I swore that one day I’d step on that stage. Now, 14 years later, I’ll finally do it in my own name, and I’m sure it’ll be a unique concert, where the crowd will be incredible from the first to the last second.

How would you introduce your music to someone who never listened to it?

“Vem e sente sente sente esta NOVA LISBOAAAAA!”

Come and feel this New Lisboa*

Photo ©: Diogo Lima