DJ Marfox Talks Playing in the US for the First Time, the Spread of Lisbon Kuduro, and Mentoring the Youth

Image via RBMA on Twitter
Image via RBMA on Twitter

DJ Marfox has been a leading figure in Lisbon’s Kuduro scene since 2006, when he released the game-changing compilation DJs Do Ghetto on label Príncipe Discos. However, as we learned in our interview with him, he’s quick to dispel the idea that he’s “the leader,” and prefers to focus on being seen as a mentor to the community of young producers who will come after him.

After signing to Lit City Trax and releasing his Lucky Punch EP on May 27, Marfox got the chance to play in the US for the first time during Red Bull Music Academy in New York. He played songs from the EP, including the endlessly catchy “Terra Badita” and “Heartbeat,” only interrupting to yell, “THIS IS KUDURO FROM LISBON!” It was clear that he was hyped for this show in particular, and it reinforced the accelerating spread of Afro-Portuguese dance music around the world.

Get to know DJ Marfox.

Do you feel that Portugal’s young musicians, DJs, and producers care about preserving Portugal’s musical roots, or are they (and you) more focused on making new sounds and advancing from the past? 
In my case, the globalization of the sound creates the need to search for a new sound. But that never changes what I do, which means that the new sound develops without losing the identity that is behind it.

Where do you see Lisbon’s dance music scene fitting in with the global dance scene?
The music fits in as Kuduro, which has been around for more than 20 years. It’s important to me that it reaches more people worldwide, and that both the music of Lisbon and its artists travel with it.

How did the style of music that you play develop historically? Who united house and techno with kuduro, kizomba, and badita? Has the Internet played a significant part in more recent years?
Kuduro, the music and the dance, was born in Angola, in the city of Luanda in the late ’80s, through the work of Tony Amado, Sebem, and Bruno de Castro. The influences of techno and house that they listened to during trips to Europe and the United States prompted them to develop and incorporate the new sounds that they had listened to beyond Angolan borders.

In the beginning of ’93, I heard Kuduro for the first time through a cousin of mine who was a DJ, DJ Tony. Seven years later, around 2000, producer DJ Znobia revolutionized the Kuduro instrumentals. He’s a great source of inspiration for the pioneering producers of Lisboa like DJ Nervoso and DJ N.k.

Kuduro always had influences from various musical genres, but that is its strength. There’s always room for one more new element, and therefore it will never die. There’s no “sampler’s pack” of Kuduro like you have with other genres and styles. With the Internet, yeah, it has contributed in a big way for the birth and nurturing of the whole Kuduro music scene in Lisboa. You can share a track in less than five minutes on your Soundcloud account and have incredible feedback in less than 24 hours. To me, that’s a good thing.

What are the block parties like where you’ve been DJing with DJs Do Guetto since 2005? Was there a shift after the financial crisis in Portugal in 2007, both in the music and the parties? Do you think that event made the parties more important—to lift people up during a sad time?
The parties are real parties, where I can see the same joy that I had as a kid when I first heard this musical style. We who are in the barrios always lived in crisis with minimal resources, but creativity and joy is never on short supply. This music gave us the much-needed morale to take on the adversities of life and lift our spirits up. I don’t know what I would be today without this music!

However, of course the crisis damaged things. The unemployment rate rose, and that made a few young producers abandon their dreams to meet the harsh reality of life. They had to go find jobs to help and contribute to their household income, because their parents were unemployed.

Red Bull helped you get your visa to perform in the US for the first time, right? You’re also back in New York later this summer at MoMA PS1′s Warm Up series. What does coming to play in the US mean for you and your career? 
Yes, Red Bull and Príncipe Discos helped me get the visa. Going to the United States, not as a tourist but with my music, was a childhood dream come true. Now I understand the sensation of the first man on the moon. I felt like that in NYC. For me, it means a lot, but I believe that for the kids who are making the same music as me in Lisboa, it means even more. For Príncipe Discos, it has extra special meaning, since they were the ones who supported my music in the beginning and did my first release.

Going back to the US is good, because the first time, you play with the emotion and the uncertainty of how people are going to react. Now, I’m much more prepared.

How do you think it went? You seemed really happy and excited on stage.
My set went well! I was feeling good and very happy regardless of the 48 hours without sleep. I gathered strength, because this is the dream that commands my life. Being in NYC and playing my music for a fantastic crowd was a winning bet. I’m just grateful for the people who came out that night. For me, it was epic!

Tell us about the Lucky Punch EP. How and why did you decide to release it with Lit City Trax, and what’s your goal been with putting it together?
Precisely one year go, I did a DJ set with Fatima Al Qadiri in Lisboa. She liked my music, told Jamie/J-Cush of Lit City Trax about it, and from there it was all very simple. Jamie thinks similarly as Príncipe, so in less than 24 hours we had agreed on doing an EP.

People call you the leader of this scene. Is this a new thing? Have you always seen your role as one of being a mentor and helping the younger generation of DJs and producers? Did anyone help you?
Honestly, I don’t think I’m the leader. I do all things from the heart and support the youngsters in the same way that I was supported, too. Lately I’ve been the one getting more exposure, but that doesn’t make me a leader. My two mentors, DJ Nervoso and DJ N.k., are the ones who revolutionized the Kuduro of Lisboa.

How did you get the name Marfox? Did you intend for others to add “fox” to their names, too? Is this reflective of the lifestyle you want the music to be a part of? 
The name Marfox was born out of long afternoons spent playing Star Fox, a Nintendo 64 video game. The addiction to it was so enormously widespread that a trend arose in the ghetto where I lived; you would take out 3 or 4 letters of your birth name and replace them with the word “Fox.” For example, my name is Marlon. I took out the final 3 final letters, and then I became Marfox.

I am the first DJ of Lisbon to use the name Fox (in the Kuduro and Batida scene). The other names that followed and have the “Fox” tag are not from my generation, they don’t live in the same ghetto I live in, and we don’t have family ties. The expansion of the Fox name took off due to the simple fact that people like the music I make. Many of them got acquainted with my music at an early age, like when they were 12 or 13 years old, and I ended up having, in a way, an influence on their lives as producers amd DJs. The other funny side of the story is that we now find kids between the ages of 12 and 15 making music and using the name Fox, because they were influenced by the newer Foxes that I influenced and not me. I find this incredible because only music makes things like this happen.

Many on the Lit City roster, in addition to DJ Manny who played at the RBMA Lit City Trax night, feel immense reverence for DJ Rashad and Teklife. Does the legacy of Rashad influence or inspire you?
Rashad is a legend and has all of my respect for showing Footwork and TEKLIFE to the world.

If money or resources were unlimited for you, what would you do with your music, your friends who are producers and DJs, and Lisbon?
I would release a Kuduro of Lisboa EP each month! Although I don’t like to talk about things that I’m not yet able to materialize…