SUPER EGO "Many people confuse us with Spain," MC Kalaf of worldwide dance sensations Buraka Som Sistema says -- a back-end hint of fado-like melancholy mixing into his unfailingly chipper voice -- when we talk over the phone about how the fab foursome has finally put their homeland, Portugal, on the club-must map. Buraka, two of whose members hail originally from Angola and two from that sunny strip along the Atlantic, represents a double bubbling up of the repressed: the crew has exploded onto the nightlife radar by melding the underground sounds of Luanda's bumping kuduro dance movement with Lisbon's buzzy, overlooked electronic music scene.
Last year Buraka's sophomore release Black Diamond (Enchufada/Sony BMG) quickly shot up the hit lists of beats connoisseurs by jumping the current trend of streaming developing-world rhythms through the latest sonic technology. "We took the sound of the Lisbon suburbs where many Angolan immigrants live — our suburbs are not like your 'Desperate Housewife' suburbs — and used our years of dance music on it, and the crowds loved it," says Kalaf.
Kuduro is often translated as "stiff bottom," heh, or "hard ass," referencing the form of lowdown, hips-wiggling motion that sometimes accompanies the deliciously uptempo sound, a hybrid of sensuous zouk, raucous soca, and free-flow hip-hop that shares an affinity for analog atmospherics with early dub. (Or rather, that dance is mostly reserved for women -- men tend to go pop and lock crazy, as you can see in the video below.) Along with Kalaf, Buraka members Li'l John, DJ Riot, and Conductor apply their extensive hip-hop, house, and breakbeat production experience to blow the lid off kuduro's possibilities.
The superkinetic results reference everything from Ed Banger hardcore and hyperdub freakouts to Orb-esque kaleidoscopics and the late '80s Sheffield bleep scene. Scoring MIA to guest on "Sound of Kuduro" helped kick that track up the club charts, and basing the excellent "Kalemba (Wegue-Wegue)" on a misheard lyric from the classic Afro Acid house remix of More Kante's "Yeke Yeke" gave fanboys a theoretical boner. Live, Buraka's a tornado, with toasting MCs, fierce singers, and, as Kalaf points out, "anything that makes you scream." Last time the crew was here, a topless female fan stormed the stage. Kalaf half-joked that an upcoming tour of Japan is brief because "if they throw us out of the country, at least we won't lose a lot of money."
Some things get lost in the laptop filtration, however. Kuduro isn't just a groove; like rap, it's built on extended narratives of hood life. Buraka jettisons those for catchy calls to the dance floor and global unity "I'm from Angola," Kalaf admitted, "and even I can't follow most of what they say." And, for all the talk on its records of the primacy of Africa, the group has yet to tour the continent. "We're going in 2010," Kalaf said, "and to be honest, I'm a little afraid. It may be mental." But Buraka has helped bring the Angolan guests on its tracks an international audience, while waking up the Western world to yet another vital cultural expression on its edges. Let's get suburban, y'all.
BURAKA SOM SISTEMA