Interview: Q&A w/ Marcos Aganjù – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’s Plantation Songs (November 2019)

On Sunday, we will host an intriguing musician at Hootananny. Rio de Janeiro-born but Lisbon-based singer/songwriter Marcos Aganjù has recently released his first full-length solo album titled Plantation Sons, which is an in-depth musical excavation into the African diaspora. In Marcos’ compositions, the Atlantic crossing becomes a route of notes and sounds, through which his experience and the experience of millions of other people of African descent unfold.

The styles he juggles, musical tricks and treats he employs, and tales he narrates in the album are all meant to unearth the different aspects and historical events of the diaspora, from the Transatlantic slave trades to its contemporary consequences, from Brazil (the country with the largest African diaspora population) to Portugal (the country where Marcos lives).

To gain a better insight into Marcos’ artistry and his significant work, we reached him in Lisbon and had a chat about his music.

Back to roots and beyond, that’s how your music can possibly be summed up. Where does your sound come from and what are its main influences?

My music comes from ancestral beats; candomblé sounds that I heard when I was a child. So, then I fell in love with the guitar and pedals sonorities possibilities. Now I believe that is the mix of this universe. It’s always a rhythm base with a strong beat that guides me. The heartbeat, the street noise, machine sounds, etc. I am influenced a lot by many things from the music universe, and I try to bring it into musical language.

Your music is a journey across the Atlantic, following the routes of the African diaspora. Was there any particular key or perspective you used to narrate it and relate with its so-near-and-yet-so-far artistic and musical expressions?

From my perspective, the main key is the crossing of the Atlantic or through it. It’s a South American view. I am not an African man. I am a son, grandson, great grandson and descendent. Somehow it’s my ancestors’ history. Therefore, I bring some rhythms which were passed from father to son and so on. We don’t have access to our names, our lands, nor do we know exactly where our more distant family came from. The only thing close is the rhythm that tells our histories. I tell it from now on. In the future, others will tell it with other sounds and words.

In your music, you constantly bring together the traditional with the experimental, working on sounds, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Can you explain to us what that implies, and can you talk us through one of your songwriting working days? How does you creative process work?

I work a little almost every day. I do dozens of sound sketches (drafts), and I keep lapping until I can’t take it anymore. When I feel that what I imagined is close to what I hear in a recording…I pass the work as done. I often imagine a way, and the music has a life of its own and goes another way. When this happens, I fly around the sound as if I am outside.

Plantation Sons, your first solo LP, was released only one month ago. Can you present it in a few words and explain to us the idea behind it? For example, in ‘1 Funk Ish’, you say that “it’s a tribute to your people”. What do you mean by that?

Plantation Sons came from the idea of creating a song based on the work at cotton plantations. There is a relationship between blues and gospel songs. During the process, I saw that I could do more songs. I realised that the subject is too broad. The beat to ‘Funk Ish’ is an ancestral beat as in carioca funk. That beat is an Afro beat from probably 200 years ago. Maybe it’s because of that, that it’s so envolvent, because it’s an ancient beat, and in the Yoruba culture (which is huge, and which I guess part of my family came from) everything we do is related to our ancestors, because without them, anything could be possible. The road I walk was created by them. When I say “my people”, it is my family that I recognise and communicate with through this force of nature. It’s a gratitude to the elders.

You live in Lisbon, but come from Rio. When did you decide to move to Portugal, and what have you found musically and culturally in Portugal?

When I decided to live in Lisbon for a while, which is a beautiful city, I thought I needed fresh air. I believe that artists should move, even if they don’t know where to go. This movement helps to change ideas. I intend to live in other cities, I have not decided which. Here in Lisbon, I connect better with the immigrant people and life. Here, I am an immigrant, and I always will have the sensation of being foreign. This feeling brings new perspectives to my music and my personal life. There are other political concerns. Musically, I realise that the scene is diverse. I like a lot of independent artists. I like the young rappers. I still know little of them, but I realise that they do their sound with a totally different accent. The mainstream stuff makes me sleep. Boring.

How do you feel about the Lisbon music scene? Are there any musicians you’d like to suggest for us to listen to?

My creative process is to kind of dive into the sounds. I hear the sounds and I work around the parts. I try to find what is necessary in the music. Before this stage, I consider if this music is enough for me, and I listen a lot while searching for more possibilities. This is it. Other times, it’s like an inspiration… the music comes to me, and I try to find the words, the melodies or the beats to translate this first creative impulse.

What’s you relationship with Rio? What do you miss about it, and what are the main differences with Lisbon?

My relationship with the City of Rio is a type of love and hate. I miss the people more than ever, my brothers and friends. Rio is a dangerous city, but at the same time, it’s a happy and crazy city. Sometimes, I think that craziness makes sense, makes the hard life possible, but it’s hard to survive in Rio, especially for artists. In Lisbon, I have the feeling of always being in a small town. It is a welcoming city in some ways, but in others, it still has this remnant of the colonial period.

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

Now, I’m listening to the same old music; Hendrix, Caetano Veloso, but I like Ambrose Akinmusire, Little Simz, Gary Clark Jr, Synik, Saul Williams… I love Saul Williams!

During your live performances, you usually enhance your music with visuals. What can you tell us about the relationship between sounds and images, and what do you try to convey with the videos?

The images are a kind of sensation. I work with music without a band; I use loop and sequencers, and those images are kind of extensions of live music. I bring the vibration of music and Dally (Dally Schwarz – visual artist) builds the images with projection, etc. She works with the images and puts forward ideas, and we talk about possibilities. Dally works hard in edition and carries out research. I bring my images and we try to put on the wheels. We have worked together since 2014, and I make soundtracks for the short films, performances, theatre for other artists… So, when we work on this project with images, I think in feelings, sensations that images can bring, I guess.

In a few words, how would you introduce your music to somebody who has never listened to it?

I like to think that my music is contemporary black music. I have a lot of musical influences around the world, so it’s so hard to think of a label, but I’m here in this time. My music is made for today. I hope.


Fancy a full-immersion in Marcos’ music? So, don’t miss the next appointment with the free entry Global Sundays event series at Hootananny on the 24th November!

Photo ©: Dally Velloso Lemos Schwarz