Some of the most stimulating cities of our time are those cities that manage to be culturally significant, able to both integrate difference and also to express their own unique qualities. With the Atlantic on its doorstep, Lisbon is the southern European city that has the strongest links with Brazil and with Africa.
For years, Portugal seemed uncertain whether to focus on the European space or on its relationship with and legacy from Portuguese-speaking countries. And then the country began to realise that it didn’t have to exclude but that it could bring these elements together in a creative way, and that it would be better able to generate wealth at all levels – and to be, through this dynamic, both European and of the world – the more transatlantic it was, and the more affinities it managed to nurture with all manner of territories.
Now, looking around at the physical and human landscape, it’s clear that this is one of the reasons for the city’s uniqueness. Lisbon is now made of the Portuguese language, but also of Creole; of the fado but also of Angolan kuduro; of local dynamics, but also of European and global influences that flow through the city, enriching it with differences, with languages, with imaginaries and new experiences.
For many years, Lisbon’s cosmopolitan nature seemed rather subdued. More a desire than anything else. Today it is a reality, reflecting a city that has been able to build bridges in various ways.
It is a flow that cannot be only from Lisbon to the outside world, and vice versa, but also within the city. The city is a living organism that is always being reconstructed. In this sense Lisbon can also create bridges from within: between the centre and the outskirts, for example, a movement that redefines both the city itself and some of the municipalities that surround it, such as Barreiro, Seixal, Almada, Alcochete, Amadora and Loures.
Lisbon is now Greater Lisbon. Yet it is as if there were still a mental obstacle, largely created by the presence of the river, which means that some of these municipalities, principally those on the southern banks and despite the city’s two bridges, are seen as if they were small, isolated islands.
One of the great challenges for Lisbon might be to see this ring around the river as the city’s centre. In other words, to imagine the Metropolitan area of Lisbon as a unit of urban agglomeration, with the river at its heart. Mobility as a centre, in a movement of rotation that would mean confronting a psychological challenge: that of seeing the river not as a boundary, but as a potential link.
In reality, this bridge already exists. It is human and cultural. But it needs to be encouraged, bringing out the unique characteristics of Lisbon’s southern region (a combination of the industrial and the urban, with undiscovered spaces and potential for new uses), enriching the capital with possibilities, creating new routes, fostering the desire to discover and to travel the river in every direction.
Interestingly, if there is one artistic project over the last ten years that seems to have reflected and even anticipated many of these dynamics between the global and the local, the centre and the periphery, it is the music group Buraka Som Sistema.
It is as if the group’s music and attitude embodied this reassembling of different localisms – from Luanda, London, or Rio de Janeiro – which acquire their full significance in Lisbon, to become a global language.
At the same time they show that it is increasingly difficult to define what is really centre and periphery, and thus they feed into each other and have brought legitimacy to new experiences within the Portuguese post-colonial landscape, contributing to a number of processes of social metamorphosis.
This Lisbon that stretches from Buraca to Chiado, with the potential to connect with the world, already existed ten years ago, but Buraka Som Sistema gave it new meanings. All those bridges are still there today. Some have been strengthened. Others need to be activated, to bring about an ever more plural and enriching reality.