A new documentary produced by Redbull Portugal sheds light on a hip-hop movement shaped by the omnipresent forces of nature, the struggles of a centuries-old maritime culture and the impact of emigration.
"Like it or not what people do is always influenced by the place that they're from," says the rapper Fugitivo in the 20-minute film A-Z Rap: Filhos do Vento (Sons of the Wind), directed by Diogo Lima. "We're far away from everything and that may cause a certain melancholy sometimes, or a certain frustration very common in small places. The only difference is that this is a small place from which we can't escape. There's water all around... at the same time we get that energy. That stamina."
For centuries, the Azores Islands have been a crossroads for travel between Europe and the Americas. A stopping point for 15th-century explorers and subsequently traders and military campaigns; home to a whale-hunting industry until its prohibition in the 1980s. Agriculture and fishing remain the island's economic strengths, although the survival of the Azorean fishermen, who fish using traditional pole and line methods, catching tuna one at a time, is threatened by international commercial boats with less sustainable practices.
Lately, the islands' incredible volcanic and marine landscapes, along with an increase in international flights to reach them, have brought a boom in tourism. "We are but a land of happy cows, cheese, milk etc.," the artist Swift Trigga comments sardonically in the film. "But there's more than just tourism. There's art."
As explained in the documentary, some young Azoreans first heard rap on American radio, and through contact with Americans at the Lajes air force base on Terceira Island in the 1990s. But North American music, and English are hardly foreign to Azorean rappers, many of whom have family in the United States and Canada; some have lived abroad and returned. Sandro G, known as the godfather of Azorean rap, and an artist whose songs and social messages crossed generational boundaries, currently lives in the U.S.
"I've been to the States of course," says the artist Swift Trigga. "...I'd rather live here. Maybe it's the calmness of the sea... the way it is here, the customs, the sound I like to hear. Even before hearing hip-hop. It's different here. It has a different way, and that's maybe why our hip-hop is different from the mainland."
Azorean hip-hop speaks of the hard life of the rappers' families, but also of their own struggles with drugs and violence on islands where trafficking and violence it breeds arrived in the 1970s. Fred Cabral, a leader of today's Azorean rap scene, describes himself as "a rebel teenager" who got involved with drugs and selling. He credits rap with saving his life.
"Azoreans are travelers who could never completely settle," says António Pedro Lopes, co-director of the Tremor Festival, which took place earlier this month on Sao Miguel Island. "Because of their isolation they have to struggle to earn their living, right? To build up their life.
"We're between continents," he adds in a moving moment of the doc, which captures the sublime beauty of the islands and its culture along with the young rappers's stories. "We're Portuguese, and we welcome change We're the sons of the wind, yes. but we're also sons of America and sons of Europe. We're the sons of the discoveries and the sons of work. We're the sons of the sea."