Beyond Fado: Updating Portugal’s Musical Image

April 24, 2018

For the past ten years, Nuno Saraiva has been attending music industry events around the world to promote Portuguese artists. He kept hearing the same question: “You’re from Portugal – what fado artists do you work with?”

Although the fado genre is beloved in Portugal and beyond, there’s far more to country’s music scene than bittersweet flamenco-like folk songs. Saraiva’s mission is to update Portugal’s image internationally, and tell the world about the amazing talent of its musicians across every genre.

That’s where Westway LAB comes in. It started five years ago as Portugal’s first ever showcase festival, combining a festival presenting new artists with a conference for musical professionals.

“There were few stories of successful Portuguese artists exporting their music. Westway started changing that right from the first edition,” said Saraiva, director of Westway LAB’s conference.

The most recent edition ran from April 11 to 14. The continued growth of audience numbers, artists and visiting professionals demonstrated the demand for such an event. More than 5000 public tickets were sold to the festival performances, while about 200 industry insiders visited to network behind the scenes.

INES#pro sends 50 European delegates

Westway LAB is one of eight European showcase festivals that have joined together to create the INES network. INES is the Innovation Network of European Showcases. As part of the INES#pro programme, music business professionals from across Europe are able to apply to attend showcase events in other countries to encourage cross-border networking. Some receive travel support, while others get complimentary passes.

This year around 50 extra delegates from across Europe attended Westway LAB through INES#pro. That’s a significant boost to the size and diversity of the conference attendee pool, which is now split 50/50 between local and international guests. Even more music business can now flow between Portugal and other European music markets.

INES also helped boost the quality of the event. The INES#conference programme funded extra panels and keynotes at this year’s Westway LAB, which was able to add a third track to its schedule. The new INES#conference third track featured talks on topics such as the impact of bitcoin and blockchain on music, new technology for licensing music, and a round-table on the future of the business with European experts.

“The participants have already expressed their amazement at the quality of the panels. We’re sure the vent will keep growing,” Saraiva said.

Getting out of the capital

One reason Saraiva credits for Westway LAB’s success is its location. It takes place in Guimarães, a city of 150,000 residents in the north of Portugal. The historic city was the European capital of culture in 2012, and has a strong artistic community.

“I don’t think it would be possible to run a successful event like Westway in the capital Lisbon. There are too many other distractions there. People come to Guimarães for the conference only. It makes people stick together and connect, which fosters the capacity building elements,” Saraiva said. He noticed a similar dynamic at other INES festivals held in small cities, such as MENT Ljubljana.

The festival takes place in a central venue for most of the four-day schedule, but expands to multiple venues across the city on the weekend. Attendees can travel between venues in a miniature train trailer.

INES#talent boosts festival line-up

For artists, Westway LAB offers a unique opportunity to collaborate with other musicians through its artist residency program. Each year four international artists are paired with four Portuguese musicians. Over ten days, they prepare a half-hour showcase that is performed at the festival. Several participants have gone on to create lasting projects, resulting in albums and tours.

This year, thanks to INES, the line-up was augmented by several European artists selected from the INES#talents pool, which includes acts nominated by other showcase festivals. Electronic artist Bowrain from Slovenia, alternative rock duo Cari Cari from Austria, and post-rock band Molly from Austria were all able to travel to Portugal to participate.

“More sharing should take place between showcase festivals. That’s what makes INES interesting,” Saraiva said.