Holding an interview next to a stage with live music isn’t perfect. The noises that surround us aren’t something that’s strange for Chullage though, they’re something he has grown accustomed to and embraced. The way he adopts and incorporates these sounds, or soundbites from everyday life into his lyrics and spoken word has, in many ways, been one of the things that makes him stand apart from other similar artists.
Despite the competing decibels pulsing from the sound system, he speaks with the calmness and equanimity of a teacher with some kind of prophetic insight – it’s the kind of calmness that comes with knowing. Knowing what? Well, that’s harder to define, but knowing or understanding on a level that only comes with experience, with knowledge, through listening as much as talking. It’s like watching an old Bob Marley interview on YouTube. The pauses allow space for both me and him to ruminate - but never so much that the passion fades.
The earliest musical influences on a young Chullage’s life were the sounds inherited from his parents speakers, Cape Verdian folk music with its juxtaposing lively and sad guitars and lilting vocal accompaniments in his native Creole language. For anyone that’s heard it, it has it’s own rhythm and with surfaces similarities to Portuguese, it’s really nothing like it.
Like any kid growing up, he wanted to find his own influences too. Those came in the form of hip-hop and rap, then lyrically from reading predominantly black literature, including work from poet Saul Williams or Langston Hughes, two writers that have continued to influence his life and outlook. As the topic of race began to gain space in his work he developed those views harmoniously with other themes like class and belonging in his work. Those are the foundations that have consistently informed his work. This has translated lyrically into trying to understand his place in the world and to find a sense of belonging.
Apart from Lisbon, the other defining part of his life was his time spent in London. Even though he looks at the city as a manifestation of division, greed and corruption, he doesn’t say it with any hatred in his voice, despite the strong opinions. It’s in a rueful tone than he warmly reminisces on the influences that came to him there.
STAND TO THE RIGHT, CHANGE PLEASE, CHANGE PLEASE.
It was just like the dystopian visions he read about in Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. When people were preoccupied with when the day would come, he saw that it was already here, and he was living it.
The ‘future’ and its sights and sounds were never too far away, so neither was his recording equipment. The sounds he has collected from urban zones around Europe were recently used in a theatre production ‘Peréferico’ with Vhils, an exploration of urban life in Portugal that grew from the difficulties of the former regime under Salazar and flourished into a creative renaissance.
The performance moves through the years and ends with a spoken word piece about tackling societal consumption and alienation, dramatically concluding with a never-ending repetition of tube-station rhetoric, all the while the dancers flap around on the stage like fish under the dying light, lifeless at the hand of their own part in the grim life-cycle.
This mindless consumption also extends to music. Our access to music is greater than ever, but for Chullage that only dilutes the medium’s power. If it’s being heard everywhere, it’s harder to make your music heard, to make an impact on an oversaturated audience. His views here are unfaltering – if we hear too much music, the kind that’s on every radio station, our desire to seek out the more meaningful sounds disappears. More music doesn’t mean more impact, if anything, it has killed the impact that music once had on us.
Chullage's life is beginning to come full-circle and gain new meaning. It’s all part of an essential path, a lesson to make him who he is now, and in-keeping with his spiritual belief in reincarnation, his life has already come full circle many times before. Spirituality has played a large part in his life and despite coming from Portugal, a deeply Catholic country, his is the kind of spirituality that comes without religion. Religion to him has always been a source of segregation, of separation. The very thing that should build bridges is building walls.
Adopting a spiritual outlook then is his way of coming to terms with the physical world around him, it’s his own bridge between what can be proven and understood and what can’t. It’s the missing link in contemporary society, something that may be the key to curing our ills. His way of spreading his message remains the same, music. Only now that music contains the sounds of his parents, his childhood and his heritage. It’s an expression of his spirituality and for now anyway, that’s what he’s focussed on.
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