When Buraka Son Sistema dropped their 2008 debut, Black Diamond, the world was introduced to the hard-hitting, electro-style of kuduro. Coming out of Angola, the style has actually been around since the late ’80s when producers started mixing up samples of percussion with calypso and soca. MCs started toasting (rapping) over the beats, traditional Angolan styles of zouk, semba and others were incorporated and a new, unique style was born. However– except for dedicated worldly crate-diggers and adventurous ethnomusicologists– few were familiar the style until the Portuguese outfit picked it up from local Angolan immigrant populations and blended it with elements of house and techno music. A little help from an M.I.A. guest spot on their debut and a gritty music video and kuduro was internationalized.
By nature, kuduro is malleable. In a new world of constant musical cross-pollination that recognizes no political borders, kuduro pulls from styles ranging from hip hop to tribal techno and fits them right in. On Buraka Son Sistema’s debut Black Diamond, the group exercised this pliability while maintaining kuduro’s roots by featuring a handful of Angolan DJs and MCs. They also incorporated a minor–but re-occurring–theme in Black Diamond that recognizes the direpolitical and social situations of the country, directly related to diamond mining. The result was a fiery globalized street techno full of coarse breakbeats and pummeling basslines on air-raid alert. There’s a reason why “kuduro” translates as “hard ass” in Angola.
Komba — the Angolan funeral ritual that includes celebrating the life of the deceased by imbibing with friends—seems a fitting title for Buraka’s second release. The Portuguese outfit is still on the same speedy locomotive that pushed through their debut, but with more of a celebratory sound. Now the intense energy that fueled Black Diamond compliments their energetic dance tracks rather than running the show. To do so, Komba refuses to stay local. The first single “We Stay Up All Night” is a pulsating club offering that features Brazilian MC Blaya and UK-based Roses Gabor repeated the title of the track over squeaking sequencers and the infectious crescendos of the chorus. It sets the tone for other easily approachable offerings like the minimal techno of “Voodoo Love” or the steady “Komba” featuring shades of soukous percussion along with Congolese rapper/singer Kaysha. Here Buraka maintain the force of their music but covers it with just enough gloss that could possibly recruit all the listeners who found Black Diamond too harsh.
In many places, Komba isn’t progessive kuduro at all, but Buraka’s own blend of style-crossing, off-the-path club music from places south of the western world. “Vem Curtir” unloads a rattling bass-heavy beat under exhaling raindrops of 8-bit beeps for a mid-tempo shanty-town dubstep. The album closer, “Burakaton” flirts with the traits of neo-cumbia and moombahton while recruiting Colombia’s electro-tropical duo Bomba Estereo for mic duties.
Buraka doesn’t stray completely from the Angolan roots of their debut, though. Edgy album opener “Eskeleto” features an especially nasty verse by Nigerian-UK rapper Afrikan Boy as rattling low-end thumps smack the speakers under the coarse rasping of frantic synths. “Macumba” is even eerier. Building off the beep of a heart monitor the track builds a tower of throbbing distortion and tribal percussion to the edge of flat-lining.
It becomes clear on Komba that Buraka Son Sistema is not a one-trick pony. Here the four clearly have their eyes and ears on a number of progressive styles and artists across the global south and have successfully included them into their aggressive electronic approach to club music. More importantly, as they did with Black Diamond, they remind us again that there is a slew of exciting styles and artists off the western radar that are pumping out imaginative music.