Buraka Som Sistema have been producing their own blend of hardcore, African-inspired dance music since 2006, but it’s just recently that they’re causing commotion outside their native Portugal. Thanks to a nod from Diplo and an M.I.A. guest vocal, the band is now on a world tour to support their debut album, Black Diamond. At their floor-shaking shows, Lil John and DJ Riot are behind the decks, while Conductor and MC Kalaf rap and dance from the front of the stage. Here, Conductor discusses the history of his group’s sound, recording the new album, and the scene in Lisbon.
People are describing Black Diamond as a kind of new fusion of African and South American rhythms. Is this sound new?
This music is happening all over the world. In big cities and small towns, people are making this dance music, mixing African with rock ‘n’ roll and music we’ve been hearing all of our lives. It’s going on in London, and the rest of U.K., with grime and dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass. In Brazil with baile funk, and in South Africa, for a long time, with Kwaito. Sometimes people tell us they’ve never heard of this music, and they’re like “Oh, it’s some connection.” Of course it’s a connection — you’ve been listening to it all of your life and you just didn’t know it exists.
On Black Diamond there are references to Kuduro, Baltimore club, baile funk, grime. How do you guys bring all this together?
One of the things we wanted to do with the album is incorporate the theme of the black diamond. You see, there are tons of styles of dance music going around, and people just don’t know how to introduce it to the rest of the world. So it’s kind of like a stone or a diamond, and you have to know how to polish it and introduce it. There are not a lot of people doing that. People are not aware that it’s happening. So Black Diamond is it.
What was the atmosphere like for the recording of the album?
It was very natural. If you listen to the album, nothing seems over-worked. Everything was laid down so smoothly and all of us were having fun. We try not to force things; we try to just let things happen.
What kind of equipment do you use in the studio?
We have everything you can imagine. We have a lot of electronic gear, and a lot of software, like Logic, Cubase. We play drums. It’s a mixture of software and live instrumentation.
Buraka Som Sistema came together in Lisbon a few years ago, how did Lil John, DJ Riot, MC Kalaf, and you make it happen?
We all came from Buraca [Portugal], and we all knew each other from seeing each other at parties. So we started messing with the Kuduro scene, started having some parties in Portugal, and eventually we made a track. And just like that everything began. Each day it was turning into something more and more interesting. So we were like, OK, we need to do something with this.
You guys have brought up Lisbon as a new scene to watch. Could you talk about Lisbon as a source of inspiration?
Lisbon is a very cosmopolitan city. You have a lot of people and music from Brazil, probably your neighbor is an African guy from Angola, at the same time you have an Indian guy talking to you on the street, and you have a Chinese store downstairs. So you have the whole world in one city, and a lot of stimulation everywhere that calls for your attention. So if were weren’t in Lisbon at this time, I think our sound would be very different. Probably it would not be so great, because I don’t know many places that have such a strong connection with the world.