Get To Know: Mafalda
Image: Bella Fenning
Festival season is FINALLY upon us, and we're pretty hyped. Not least because we get to see one of our favourite DJs, Mafalda, take to the decks not once but twice. Heading to Gala this Sunday, and then Field Day the following Friday, the Portuguese-born, London-based DJ and co-runner of Melodies International will be bringing her signature eclectic blend of...well, anything and everything that feels right to her in the moment. Keen to find out more about the person behind the prodigious record collection, we gave Mafalda a call and ended up chatting about her move to London from Lisbon, her favourite dancefloor moments, and all the best places to go crate digging in the capital.
Hi Mafalda! Okay, so first things first: was there a lightbulb ‘I must make music my career’ moment for you, and if so what brought it on?
I’ve loved music from a very tender age. I loved hip-hop as a kid and hung out with people who also loved music, but in Portugal I’ve never found what I was looking for. It was only after I moved to the UK four years ago that I realised that I could actually work in music - either reissuing it, playing it, whatever it may be. It wasn’t a teenage revelation, it was a comparatively recent thing, even though music has always been very present in my life.
What was it about moving to London that catalysed that realisation?
In Lisbon the music scene is really interesting, but it’s not necessarily my kind of thing. There’s a huge club scene there, but I can’t really do there what I do in London. They have a culture of afro sounds and a lot of house and techno, but I’m a lot more into jazz, spiritual music, world music. I also love Brazilian music, and even though we share the same language people don’t really play it in Portugal. Here I could do a whole Brazilian set and people would be happy.
Why do you think there’s such a big difference in audience reaction between Lisbon and London?
I think it’s because there isn’t much Brazilian music known in Portugal. We have the classics, but other than the established names people don’t know much about it. Maybe it’s too mainstream to them? Whereas here I found a lot more Brazilian music I didn’t know about — you can understand why they weren’t huge commercial successes at the time, perhaps it’s because they were ahead of their time — but nowadays somehow those tracks belong in clubs and that’s amazing to me.
What makes you lose your mind when you’re on the dance floor?
I really like surprises. Variation is really important to me. I don’t like when DJs start and finish on the same genre without taking the mood up and down. I get bored when I’m listening to the same thing for over two hours. If a DJ can switch up the mood, that’ll make me stay at the party longer.
That variation is very much a feature of your own sets!
Yes! Basically, I play what I’d want to listen to. When I’m DJing I try to replicate where I’d find the magic if I were on the dance floor.
Has there ever been a moment when your audience doesn’t respond the way you’d expected?
I think now people know what kind of thing I like to play. In the beginning sometimes I’d play weird stuff and I’d have to stick to my guns. I try to be very sincere because that’s what I appreciate as a music fan. My favourite tracks are usually very personal to the artists that made them, who put their heart into them, so I try to do that as well when I’m DJing, or when I’m preparing a radio show or creating art work. I need to be sincere.
So you try to make your sets a representation of who you are or what you’re doing at the time?
Yeah, a representation of what I’m feeling. I think in music you can really tell when it comes from the heart, when someone’s really feeling it, you know? Just yesterday I was listening to an album by Erasmo Carlos, a Brazilian singer who also plays guitar - some of the music he made is so incredibly personal I can almost feel what he was feeling and smell what he was smelling. It’s such a great experience for me when I find an artist who’s honest.
Since you’ve been in London, where do you go to do your crate digging?
If I tell you then everyone will go and grab the records before me! No no, I love the people I get records from so I think they deserve some props. My favourite shop is obviously Cosmos - I worked there so I’m biased, but everyone there is amazing. The selection of the records there is incredible as is the condition they come in - I discover a lot of music there and it’s close to the Melodies office so it’s perfect for lunch breaks.
Another great one is The Little Record Shop in Tottenham. It’s tiny - when people want to make group trips there I’m always like ‘no guys, we won’t fit!’ I’ve found some incredible jazz there, Dave is a really nice guy and shows me things I might like - records you wouldn’t find often.
I like to go to Honest Jons as well, and I dig when I travel. There are so many records that I have which conjure a memory of the place I picked it up in. A record collection is also a story.
What’s your holy grail of vinyl finds?
I’ll tell you the most recent one. It’s a record that Sam [Floating Points] used to play. The other day I found a copy of it at Eldica and that was one of the ones I was considering going to Jamaica to buy a copy [laughs]. I couldn’t believe I’d found it! It’s not even a record I can play out much, but I play it out anyway. The track I love is called ‘Waiting In Vain’ and it’s by Janet Silvera. The album is called When I Need You and it has a great version of ‘Say You Love Me’ as well.
I’m really excited to see you play the festivals this summer - I’ll definitely be there at Gala and Field Day. How do you prepare for sets like those?
They’re both quite different festivals, so I’ll be taking a bit of a different approach for each. I think at Field Day the crowd will be receptive to jazz and more organic music. At Gala the line-up is a bit more disco and electronic so I’ll be going up-tempo.
Can’t wait! Finally, what do you think makes a good DJ?
For me, being true to myself is the most important thing. Whatever you do, the audience can feel it. If you’re trying to be something you’re not it won’t sound right. You can’t engage with people unless you’re true to yourself. The best experiences I’ve ever had are when I’ve stuck to my guns.
That being said, it really does depend on what a DJ wants to do, there are a lot of DJs whose focus is very different to mine and I think they’re amazing, but personally my favourite thing is to find and share music.