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In Extremis

Sistema Of A Get Down: Angolan Rave Pioneers Buraka Som Sistema
John Robb , November 26th, 2008 04:14

Two years ago in Morocco, Brother John Robb stumbled across a documentary on the Angolan rave form kuduro and was instantly converted. Here he explains why.

At a music conference a couple of years ago, I was shown a documentary made during a fellow delegate's trip to Angola. The film was packed with full-on booty dancing that was one-part Capoeira martial art moves, and one-part F.U.C.K. knows what to the fractured beats of a wild electronic music called Kuduro. It was instantly captivating, and further proof that the focal points of music were fracturing faster and faster, with international micro-scenes of new rhythms and ideas ready to connect with the rest of the world.

In Lisbon Buraka Som Sistema had already been listening, and created a western take on the music that was already hip in their hometown - Kuduro arriving there five years ago care of the fact that Angola was once a Portuguese colony. Their 2006 MTV hit 'Yah!' brought them (and by extension the genre) some attention and BSS's current Black Diamond album is a perfect synthesis of European urban dance and the Angolan Kuduro.

Kudoro’s fractured dance beats and ragga vocals are a distinctive African take on the modern beat. Mashed together on borrowed computers and part of the soundtrack of the contemporary Angolan street, Kuduro is just one of many dance riddims from round the world (like Brazilian Baille Funk) that are the sound of a Tower Of Babel a million miles away from the cuddly idea of 'world music'.

Kuduro’s street swagger is hinted at with its specific meaning in the Kimbundu language, which is native to the northern portion of Angola. It has a double meaning in that it also translates as "hard ass" in Portuguese, the official language of Angola. Initially sounding like a sinuous take on Jamaican ragga, Kuduro very much has its own flavour, its own rhythms, its own story. It is mostly influenced by Zouk, Soca, and Rara (a Haitian form). It also combines New York disco, Detroit techno and Chicago house with traditional Angolan Kilapanga and Semba music to make a vibrant modern whole.

Watch: Buraka Son Sistema - 'Sound of Kurduro' video:

With the increased proliferation of cheap computer technology around the world, ownership or control of dance music has ceased to exist in any recognisable form. In Angola this means that fevered imaginations can channel their ideas on borrowed computers in schools and no longer have to save up or play the record company game to get studio time to get themselves heard. All over the world, sub genres of music are exploding as people rely less and less on the Anglo American music access and create their own distinctive 21st century soundtrack beyond the limiting confines of narrow-minded attitudes to 'world music'.

Kuduro is further proof that the real cutting edge music is worldwide and working/under class - it is on the streets of Angola or in the Brazilian favela - it is everywhere.

Kuduro’s roots lie in the eighties Luanda, Angola where a heady stew of African percussion samples, Calypso and Soca was brewed up to create a style of music then known as "Batida". European and American electronic music had begun appearing at the largest open-air market in all of Africa, Roque Santeiro market, which attracted Angolan musicians and inspired them to incorporate their own musical styles into a modern breakbeat mash.

This melting pot form soon had its own voice - an Angolan MC called Sebem who began toasting over the tracks and is often credited with kick-starting the genre. The delivery is almost robotic which counter-intuitively adds to the music's sexuality - as in the cyborg sensuality of Grace Jones.

Through the channels of communication that were the legacy of Angola's colonial history, kuduro found its way back to Lisbon and was picked up by young pair of ears in the city. These belonged to the Conductor, who went on to put together Baraka Som Sistema with the fantastically named DJ Riot.

Conductor said: "I grew up with hip hop and lots of dance music but I was always searching for less obvious music. In Portugal kuduro has been around for a while from Angola if you knew where to look. It was something that you grew up with, a bit like growing up in London with reggae. My neighbour was Angolan and was doing those beats already. I remember Kuduro blew up really big from 1996 for six months and was a fashion in Portugal before going back underground.

"We all went to the same school and instead of having Slash as my class mate I had DJ Riot so we grew up and put Buraka together."

They took the more underground Kuduro they had heard and translated it with a European ear. Their 1996 MTV hit, 'Yah!', was the perfect synthesis of the European and Angolan. It resulted in a trip to Africa to film a documentary for the track, which they recorded with MIA on vocals.

He continues: "Angola was really great when we went there we had 'Yah!' was already big hit on MTV and radio in Portugal and that goes back to Angola. We were kind of bit hesitant about how people would react to how we developed our own rhythm and our own style form Kuduro but everyone enjoyed the music and everyone in town wanted to work with us…"

They found a culture in Angola quite different from what they were expecting: "Kuduro - even though it's like dance music - is not 100 per cent consumed on the dance floor. More kids were listening to it on mp3 players than in big clubs and at parties and sound systems. What they do is have their own nights, people dance deep into the night but the parties have all kinds of music with maybe half an hour of Kuduro. It's not just some big Kuduro party."

Buraka Som Sistema have tempted MIA to do a vocal on one track. Her voice fits the fusion between the Lisbon Euro sensibilities and the Angolan beats and vocals creating a perfect piece of 21st century music: "MIA called our office in Lisbon wanted to know more about whole thing. We were going to do some album tracks with her but the chorus was so strong and what we wanted to use it as an introduction to our music as well mix with Angolan MCs and make something special from it."

The trip to Angola was a reaffirmation of the power of music and the connections that can be made by beats: "I just brought my laptop to Angola to make it simple as possible. Most of these guys making the music were 40 minutes away from downtown and you have to go their bedrooms and stuff to make the music."

And it is this DIY quality that really shines through. Here you have a music untainted by the corporate world, a powerful, democratic sound that exists in urban, folk, punk and rave traditions. It travels its own trajectory and should be celebrated.