“Experience the ghetto music revolution…yes, you are in London, but it feels like Luanda or Lisbon.” This is about as good of an introduction to Black Diamond as one could ask for. Spoken in a sultry basso profundo alongside shimmering African hand percussion, the track on Buraka Som Sistema’s debut LP embodies, as it says, the pure and the raw sounds of the urban now, whether in Africa or Europe or the new world. Welcome to Kuduro–it will change the way you dance.
Kuduro, which means “hard ass” or “stiff bottom,” is a fusion of African dance music with techno, house, and Ragga. It sounds like a recent concoction, but it actually started coming out of Angola in the late ’80s and immediately showed up on the streets of Lisbon. Thanks to a precious guest vocal by MIA and an infectious video on Youtube (watch it now if you haven’t seen it) for the song “Sound of Kuduro,” Buraka Som Sistema’s interpretation of the genre is now international, and will likely blow up many dance floors this summer.
But Black Diamond is a not a purely Kuduro album. Stylistically, it’s all over the up-tempo and beat-heavy map. “Skank & Move” begins as a marching chant and quickly turns into a bulbous bass line for a (weak) rhyme by London Grime MC Kano. Genius drum machine chops are all over “IC19.” The sub bass and icy synths for the first minute open up to a salty Baltimore club track that ensues for over four minutes. True, this song has Diplo’s fingerprints all over it, but luckily Buraka Som Sistema have more than enough tricks up their sleeves on other songs.
Buraka Som Sistema (BSS) is Portuguese producers Lil John, DJ Riot, and Conductor, with MC duties performed by Angolan transplant MC Kalaf. The four came together in 2006 in the Lisbon suburb of Buraca with a shared desire to “make people dance like hell, sweat like hell, and scream like hell.” Though they took up most of the production and writing duties on Black Diamond, BSS like to think of themselves as an extended collective of MCs and dancers from around the world. Hence the guest spots by MCs from U.K., Brazil, and Angola, and the live shows with dancing troupes.
BSS benefit from having come a few years after Diplo, MIA, and Bonde Do Role cross-pollinated electro with African and South American rhythms. Black Diamond, unlike some Kuduro releases, doesn’t get repetitive, and it isn’t just about build-ups and break downs. BSS incorporate just the right amout of the raw energry of Kuduro, filtered through 808 hits and tight vocal melodies.
For instance, “Aqui Para Voces” is 70 percent pure favela funk, indistinguishable from the rest coming out of Rio. But with the remaining space in the beat, BSS transform the song into a fuzzy electro banger that could be played in clubs across the world. Similarly, on “General,” the acoustic-guitar riff and Kuduro beat is stretched out to a Daft Punk-ish vintage keyboard melody.
Kuduro is sometimes compared to dancehall reggae in London, with the Jamaican immigrants substituted for their Angolan counterparts in Lisbon. But Kuduro seems to be a few years behind, and considering how dancehall evolved into dubstep, garage, and grime, it’s exhilarating to think where Kuduro could go, especially with Buraka Som Sistema leading the pack.