“Vinyl is Culture”
Mick Donohoe, Jeremy Murphy and Marina Alves reside over a concept that’s a little different from your standard club night. Disco é Cultura was originally a small label found on Latin American records during the 60s and 70s, and translates to the above quote.
“The Rock’n Roll scene was growing around the world at this time and it’s said that this label came from a governmental campaign to give people the incentive to listen to local artists and traditional music,” informs Marina. It’s clear I’m speaking with some knowledgeable cats.
The concept is one of no fixed abode. When you think of a Latin American, African and Brazilian sound, images of the South of Ireland don’t immediately spring to mind. Disco é Cultura shies away from the burning lens of the mainstream to bask in the warm glow of dedication and passion. The only thing these three care about is sharing their sonic wisdom.
The idea of Disco é Cultura began in Sao Paulo. Marina explains, “The three of us experienced tropical events in Sao Paulo just when there was the boom of Sao Paulo DJs ‘rescuing’ the origins and influences of Latin American, African music and culture, shaping this ‘new tropical’ wave.”
“Jeremy was there digging records with pioneering DJs of this ‘new scene’, meanwhile Mick and I were both running our own parties and soaking up the tropical events in Sao Paulo and Rio. Funny fact, we’ve been at the same time at the same places, same friends, same parties and we just met when I moved to Ireland a few years later!”
The idea is to connect people through the arts and dance. Each project utilised the tiny spaces that were available to glorious effect, throwing parties in trains, old cinemas and hidden bars. Now, with all three residing in Ireland, a completely independent expedition has gotten underway, following the relocating of the founders of Dublin Tropical with iZem, where Mick and Jeremy were both regular guests. “Some adventurous DJs have been playing tropical music in Ireland for years but I would argue not many share our dedication, air miles or knowledge,” states Jeremy.
He isn’t kidding. These three have been around the world on a musical quest. Jeremy first got into the finding of rare African, Caribbean, Latin American and Brazilian records through life as a hip hop DJ, coming across ‘tropical’ sounds in the early/ mid 00s. Mick attended weekly soundsystem parties by Firehouse Skank in the 90s which resulted in “a long running love of roots reggae, ska & rocksteady, South American trips, inevitable long bus journeys with local radio blasting tunes nonstop for eight hours had an effect when I was a youth.”
Marina’s family hail from the Brazilian countryside; her family’s rural roots playing a part in the creation of a deep and undying love for music. “They didn’t have TV until the end of the 70s, so what they had for entertainment was music,” explains Marina. “My family have a good taste for music and they passed it to us. Despite living in the capital with my nuclear family, my huge extended family lived in the suburbs and I used to visit them every weekend. My childhood was all about music, learning how to dance samba, forro, lambada, samba-rock with my cousins and roof top barbecues with my neighbours.”
“My 3rd birthday party is known as one of the best kid’s parties in the neighbourhood ever. They say the guests arrived there with their records and they danced all day and night long. I can’t remember but the photo album looks so amazing!”
I’m keen to learn about the places and records found by the well travelled threesome. In the wake of the digital age and an ‘I want it now’ society it is wonderfully refreshing to see music enthusiasts who are willing to travel so far to keep the art of record digging alive.
“I’m an annual visitor to Utrecht record fair (biggest in the world) & currently plotting a trip to either Japan or South America in the coming months,” says Jeremy. “I also spent the bones of 18 months back in 2011/2012 travelling in Central/South America. Did the usual backpacker trail but also broke off in practically every city to try and round up some records, posting them back to Ireland when the load got too much. Had 10 boxes (1k+ records) waiting for me on my return.”
Mick shares an engrossing tale of his time in India. One of violence, humour and Biryani, yet not a record in sight.
“The one time I was India, I left kinda on a whim last minute for Christmas on a beach but after a bad experience with a local mayor/gangster’s gang broke one of our travel buddies’ leg in a bar fight and I selfishly said fuck this, I’m going to look for some records, so I leafed through one of those massive Rough Guide to India guide books, which give you about a paragraphs idea of what’s going on there and found a reference to a city I’d never heard of that had whole streets of booksellers, the most in India it said and I figured-where there is old books there is generally old records.”
“So I got a flight to Hyderabad and sure enough millions of books, but as it turned out Microsoft’s main call centre is there and they run a charity to educate the Indian population on computers through books, so every month a shipload of programming manuals, web design for dummies and C++ Now magazines arrive and navigate their way from any charitable destination and directly to half a dozen streets in the city where hundreds of computer book wallahs sell them to god knows who. Three days there and not a single record to be found. Good Biryani though.”
However, Mick has had happier times on his travels. He tells me about a trip to Columbia that completely altered his view on music. Golden discoveries can be found anywhere. Treasure is still treasure, even if it’s covered in cobwebs.
“When I landed in Colombia for the first time it was in Cartagena and I couldn’t find a record store in the place, closest I got was a CD store and I noticed they had a record player and found out they digitized records for people, burning them on to CD, so I asked them what they did with the records after. They said they threw them out.”
“After seeing the look on my face one of the guys pipes up and say that he think they’re might be some in the attic of the store, so we go up, it’s 100% humidity on that coast, and about 200% in an attic of a busy arcade stall so it’s unpleasant to say the least, but we pull out a few boxes of records dripping in sweat and drop them down and start going through them, there was loads of crap but I found about a dozen Latin records from African artists and it was an eye opener for me – the musical style of Colombia had travelled to Africa, and the artists then found a fan base back in Latin America and the records made their way back.”
“This music had never been touched by James Brown, the Beatles or Motown, it totally skipped America and Europe, but it moved around just the same, it kinda altered my view of music there and then in a ball of spider’s web and sweat. Since that day I get just as much joy as finding records where I figure they aren’t supposed to be as I do finding rares or bargains.”
These records symbolise cultures that we can learn from. In Western society we all too often rack up an unholy amount of fear due to our ‘first world problems’. Things aren’t so bad. Disco é Cultura want you to know this. They want you to feel genuine happiness and content through the sounds of their rarest finds. A sound that represents many can become the piece of inspiration so personal that it touches your very soul.
As we prepare to part ways, Marina beautifully sums up the entire concept.
“We play music that portrays the real life of so many people back in the 70s and even now. How they try to go through the drought, the poverty, the hope of a better life, celebration of a monsoon season, simple lives, ghettos, the pride of a son that became a doctor, love, ironies, political stuff, experiences, faith, life challenges and how all these people are still happy, smiley and hugging each other beside all their problems.”
“Also there are all the African, indigenous, folk and european influences… So many styles, ways to move, humanity and culture behind these songs. That is why so important to us to integrate music – dance – arts all together to build a truly and real Tropical Vibe that everybody can enjoy without pressuring those who don’t know the steps or the words.”
“Ireland has became home for lots of people from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Angola, Cape Verde and other countries and we try to bring all the communities together and get them involved with our events by giving insights, ideas, workshops, and exhibitions. There are so many talented creatives that we don’t know, they are just around us with a hope one day they will have the opportunity for showing up their talents. The atmosphere wouldn’t be so colourful and exciting as it is without the diaspora joining us.”
You can check Disco É Cultura’s yard parties monthly in both the Vicarstown (1st Sunday) in Cork and in the Bernard Shaw (last Sunday) in Dublin as well as at various once-offs and festivals around the country. Find out more about the fascinating sonic world of Disco é Cultura and their upcoming parties here.
Photos by Rafael Mendes, Diogo Yudi, and Claudia Vieira.