Doc/Fest 2019: “The idea was to show this different world within the city” – Rita Maia on Lisbon Beat
Known primarily for her work as an international club DJ, Rita Maia has teamed up with award-winning filmmaker Vasco Viana to create Lisbon Beat – a journey around the suburbs of the Portuguese capital through the lives of a handful of musicians establishing themselves in a city of complex identity struggles.
It takes on the format of an album compilation: different songs, different artists, but also different parts of town, different generations, different heritages and cultural backgrounds
How did you get into DJing?
In terms of music, I always had projects since I was a kid and then the DJing was just a continuation of that. I started a long time ago as a teenager playing music before I grew up and moved to London.
How do the London and Lisbon scenes compare?
I think in London there’s a lot of ways of finding your own space to do things. It’s hard because when you move to a new place you don’t know anyone, but I guess that’s part of anyone’s career – you have to find a space and do a bit of everything. In terms of DJing, I travelled all around and did all sorts of events; from dances, to TV, to breakdance, to clubs. Moving to London defined a new style for me because there are so many people there playing music, so you have to do something that’s more your own than what everyone else is doing.
Speaking of making something your own, can you tell us a bit about your Migrant Sounds project? What inspired it?
The whole point of it is to bring people together. It started as a radio show for Worldwide FM. We thought of it in a global way, each person having a show with a unique approach to showcasing music and not repeatedly playing the same tracks. There’s always been music from London; there’s a lot going on there but I also started playing music from Portuguese-speaking countries. Then that evolved into a show. I wanted to try something a bit different that isn’t just your normal DJ sets so I began to bring together vocalists, live versions of things, collaborations and dancers. It’s evolving, it’s a place for experimentation and my idea was to get people to improvise a bit more, especially in electronic music.
So moving on to your current project, Lisbon Beat, which will be shown at Sheff Doc/Fest this year. What inspired the documentary?
It’s something I thought about doing for a long time. It started off with the idea of a music compilation, and from there it took on this structure as an album compilation that focuses on the lives of a few artists of different generations and different types of music in the city. It was a long process, it took three years to film. The idea was to show this different world within the city that is more hidden. There are a lot of misconceptions of the city from people outside of it.
Other than it being your birthplace, why did you choose to focus on Lisbon specifically?
Lisbon has a valid music scene, it’s very hidden, and there are a lot of invisible barriers – some of them geographical, some cultural – that means this scene gets less support than what it could, and there’s a lot of potential for it. Obviously, the main thing is the people that make it and the barriers those people have to overcome, and the way the city is organised. A lot of conversations haven’t happened yet and in some way it’s representing the music community there, which I think is important.
How was it shifting from making music to making film?
It was definitely strange because there are all these contacts you have, people sending music from all around the world, and I had to stop for a bit; I had to leave that behind and I couldn’t be obsessively working on music like I always have. I was trying to focus on just one project, it really is quite demanding, I had no idea! I had to move countries and houses and jobs and everything.
How is the film pieced together?
The style is almost like a collage of different things happening simultaneously in different parts of the city. That was the goal, to try and do something that isn’t too superficial and at the same time go into different worlds and explore different characters. It takes on the format of an album compilation: different songs, different artists, but also different parts of town, different generations, different heritages and cultural backgrounds.
Did you find that the social pattern in Lisbon has changed much over the past few years?
Unfortunately, not that much. It’s changing in the sense that the music is not just played in the suburbs anymore and radios are improving a little bit, but very slowly. I think there are a lot of good things that can happen when you bring people together, even if it is just to listen to music. It’s a very important thing that can have very good results, just mixing people. I think it still is a little bit separate here: the suburbs and the city, the immigrant community, the minorities – there’s still a lot of work to do.
What do you want people to take away from the film?
I think that’s a bit hard to say. I’d rather not explain too much, you have to give some space for interpretation. Hopefully people will take something out of it, whatever it is, but I don’t want to explain what that might be. So far people have taken different things out of it so I want to maintain it that way. I’d like it to something positive, that’s all.
Lisbon Beat showtimes:
Fri 7 June @ 21.00
The Light Cinema 8
Sun 9 June @ 14.15
Curzon Cinema 1
Tickets available at sheffdocfest.com