That Lisbon is now one of the hottest cities in Europe is nothing new; Monocle hailed it as the new design city to watch and tourism figures have jumped consecutively over the past 6 years to reach 10 million last year, driving demand for short-term accommodation in an already flourishing real-estate market. Furthermore, it’s fast becoming a hub for creative freelancers and start-up entrepreneurs from around the globe to set up shop, supported by favourable tax advantages such as the NHR scheme. It seems everyone wants a slice of Lisbon’s honey-coloured light, it’s charming cobbled streets and laid-back, low-cost lifestyle. Yet spend more than a long weekend here and you’ll start to understand what makes life in the Portuguese capital such a charmed existence. It’s the city’s creative cultural scene. Along with being a city of legendary light, Lisbon is a city that sings. Even on a Monday night, invites abound for dinner and jam sessions, although in truth, every night in Lisbon is a jam session. Come summer, you can plan your social calendar between alfresco jazz concerts in park squares, live forró bands in artist residencies and festivals such as OutJazz, Brunch Electronik, Super Bock Super Rock and BPM that draw some of the globe’s best known djs and bands to play in beautiful surroundings.
“Lisbon has always been very creatively rich,” explains Ricardo Jose Lopes, a music entrepreneur who has been organizing music events in the city since 1999. He was part of the drum and bass collective Cool Train Crew, which was credited with nurturing talents such as Buraka Som Sistema to reach global stardom. Ricardo went on to running jazz nights across the city, including 900 person weekly jazz and dance night at super-club Lux, regularly listed as one of the top ten clubs in the world. “Lisbon has always been special because it is a port that was the main point of connection between Portugal and our former colonies in Africa, and South America.
Now you will find it a great melting pot of styles, cultures and musical influences. The only reason why it was not so visible before is that locally, people didn’t value what we had. Now, as tourism booms, this is changing and we are starting to appreciate and focus on our heritage more than ever. In fact, preserving it and showcasing our culture is pivotal to our future, we must keep creating content around what makes Lisbon special”.
Ricardo goes on to credit the 2008 crisis as having a significant impact on the evolution of the city’s music scene. “Because of the crisis, musicians who just played jazz or fado had to learn new styles and start playing with other musicians, so soon we had fusions of fado with jazz and such like. The crisis connected musicians creatively as people had to innovate, and now we are experiencing the positive impact of that. Berlin, London, they all have a strong music culture, but it is not so diverse as here. I actually don’t think there is a richer capital in Europe music-wise.” Ricardo’s latest project, Fado & the City, connects Portugal’s top fado musicians with spectacular unique locations dotted around the city that visitors would be unlikely to explore otherwise. “With Lisbon’s evolution, more opportunities are coming. I don’t do this for money, because my passion is much bigger than the money I get, I like to create things, make things happen and bring things together. Fado in the City was an answer for this, to bring high quality music to people who aren’t connected to the scene. Fado in Lisbon is usually connected with dinner, so you have to go to a show and pay 75 euros for the whole thing. I saw a niche: why don’t we use new places, that people would love to see and visit and combine them with the best musicians in town?”.
Ricardo also hosts intimate jam sessions in his home to enable a smaller group to really connect with the musicians, who range in diversity from opera to jazz, flamenco to fado. These days, Lisbon Living Room Sessions tend to sell out within a few hours of launching. “Having to wait-list people is one of the hardest parts”, says Ricardo, “We do give preference to first timers though, so if you send us an email in advance we will try to fit you in”. In Ricardo’s opinion, the music scene has paved the way for the visual art scene, which has also begun to boom in the past few years.
All over the city, from the sides of buildings to motorway underpasses, beautiful murals and mosaics bring the city to life with exquisitely crafted, innovative works of art. Many of these are spearheaded by Portuguese street and graffiti artist Vhils, who is also behind Iminente Festival, a curated gathering in London in 2017 designed to bring the soul of Lisbon to the British capital while sticking a cheeky tongue out at 2016’s Brexit vote, consoling London’s europhiles with the best of European creativity. It’s a dynamic hint as to how Portugal’s influence is shifting on the global stage.
According to Portuguese artist Carolina Pimenta, Lisbon’s art scene has changed significantly in the past few years. “There are a lot of new young galleries popping up, such as Hawai, Francisco Fino and Galeria Madragoa; then you have art centres such as Syntax and Hangar which are hosting artistic residencies with adventurous programs. There is a large influx of international artists, such as Juan Arajuno, coming to live and work and be based out of Lisbon, and all of this is attracting the foreign galleries. ”Also, Lisbon’s emerging artistic hotspots include the up-and-coming neighborhoods of Xabregas and Alvalade, where new galleries such as Vera Cortês and Appleton Square are now choosing to establish themselves. Rather than competing, the galleries have cottoned on to the power of collaboration, co-ordinating monthly vernissages so that the events become a hotspot for the city’s creative crew to connect and hop between exhibitions, encouraging them to venture out of the city centre. “I’m not a gallery owner, but my impression from talking to people in the industry is that the booming property market hasn’t yet started to influence the art scene directly.” explains Carolina. “Instead it is more the new influx of creatives and innovators who are coming to the city, and the new energy they bring. Arco Art fair has also helped put Lisbon on the map for the international market. It’s still a small fair, but it’s doing well – it feels like everyone wants an excuse to come to Lisbon”.