By Toby Rogers
Kuduro isn’t world music. Well, not the kind of world music that finds its way onto Later with Jools Holland or a Damon Albarn album. This is the raw, uncompromising sound of the streets of Luanda, Angola. Meaning ‘hard ass’ or ‘stiff bottom’, it combines traditional Angolan Kilapanga, Semba and Zouk with Western house and techno.
“Kuduro is our Baile funk,” says Joao Xavier, a Portuguese music journalist and champion of Kuduro’s European fusion. “It came from the streets. From the poor people right to your heart and feet. To make everybody think about life. With a good positive message. We are black or white and we are moving forward. Together, we conquer the world.” Kalaf Angelo, the Angolian-born founder of Lisbon’s independent Enchufada label, agrees: “Kuduro represents Angola today, with no softness or need to be politically correct. It’s free music that doesn’t need the major labels to spread and become popular. It’s all people choice. Very demanding, very fast, very raw and very honest. You cannot pretend to be something you are not. Those are the rules when it comes to Kuduro.”
Kuduro’s popularity in Angola achieved national attention on September 2nd, as fans turned up in massive numbers at the gates of the National Radio of Angola to get their hands on ‘Estrelas Do Kurudo’ (‘Stars Of Kuduro’), one of the genre’s first commercially available compilations. Limited to seven thousand copies and retailing for 1,000 Angolan Kwanzas (about ten dollars), this was the first chance many people had to get hold of what is fast becoming the most popular style in Angola.
Kuduro started life in Luanda in the late-‘80s, when young Angolan musicians began looking for new rhythms and techniques to mix with their own. A new generation started to emulate the European and American electronic music that had begun to appear at the city’s legendary Roque Santeiro market, the largest open-air market in Africa. Abusing every instrument to hand like it was a drum machine, young producers began to expand on the sounds they‘d grown up with.
“What we call Kuduro nowadays started with simple techno beats,” says Kalaf. “Producers started adding heavy African percussion. The result was what they used to call Batida. In the early-‘90s, all the Angolan discos were playing it and the youngsters started to invent some new dance moves to follow what the DJs were dropping. When a guy called Sebem started toasting over the beats things got massive.
Some people say Sebem came up with the term Kuduro and others say it all started with the dance movements. If we don’t know what came first, the egg or the chicken, it’s better to drop the subject.” As Joao explains: “In a night of Kuduro, the dance moves reach another level. It’s like the first days of break-dancing in the ‘80s. The music blasting from speakers and everybody dancing in circles doing the most crazy and funny moves. And the girls dancing. Oh man, so hot, so sexy too!”
Having made its European debut in 1999 with the release of Se Bem’s ‘A Felicidade’ (‘Happiness’), Kuduro has found an audience in Portugal, especially among Lisbon’s African community. “A third generation of children whose parents came to Portugal are finding their roots and mixing them with contemporary European influences,” Joao continues. “Lisbon these days is a rich multicultural city. We have artists and musicians from Angola, Brazil, Cape Vert and Mozambique who mix with Lisbon natives to create the soundtrack of the city. This new blend, this new sound was not born in Chicago or Detroit or Rio de Janeiro but born in Luanda and Lisbon.”
After making this jump from Africa to Europe, Kuduro has rapidly become the new sound of Lisbon’s African nightclub scene. “In the late-‘90s, these sounds came to Lisbon through Angolan immigrants,” says Joao. “It was the beginning of another musical bridge. Angolan artists living in Lisbon began to produce Kuduro too. DJ’s began mixing Kuduro with house and techno. More Kuduro nights came every weekend. Through Kuduro rhythms entering our club scene **the current generation are picking up on African sounds. Personally, I think we are looking for our roots. We grew up listening to English and North American music but now we’re finding these crazy rhythms from Africa and trying to emulate their sounds. Our identity is as an Atlantic city connected to Africa and Brazil, our soul brothers.”
Kalaf agrees: “Angola is a Portuguese ex-colony where the official language is Portuguese. Most of the lyrics in Kuduro songs are in Portuguese. A very twisted Portuguese full of new slang. Kuduro is ghetto music and the ghettos in Portugal are inhabited by African descendents and immigrants. They brought their own music and style of living that’s very seductive for the local youth that share the same suburbs. The fusion is very natural and colourful.”
Groups like Buraka Som Sistema are prime examples of that fusion. Their current EP, ‘Yah!’, sold out in Portugal inside two weeks. “Kuduro is one of the freshest kinds of music around,” says Buraka Som Sistema’s producer Lil’ John. “It’s all about the percussion. That’s what we’re trying to incorporate in our music.”
It looks like Kuduro’s popularity is going to continue to rise. Already being picked up by DJ’s with a taste for the exotic, Kuduro looks set to follow the path of Brazilian funk carioca and reggaeton, emerging from the ghettos of Angola into the dance music mainstream. Having played with Buraka Som Sistema in Lisbon, MIA producer Diplo has started mixing Kuduro tracks into his sets alongside funk caroica, hip-hop, crunk and grime, helping to bring it to a wider audience, and is just about to issue a Buraka Som Sistema remix of Rio’s Bonde Do Role on his Mad Decent label.
“Kuduro is about rhythm and dance moves,” says Joao. “In the middle of that rhythm the MC’s shout something about sex, relationships or social situations but at the end of the day it’s about our community.” As Kalaf explains, “Names like Se Bem, Dog Murras, Puto Prata, Os Lamba and DJ Bula are proving that Kuduro will grow and find new territories beyond the African clubs. It will get bigger and reinvent itself. It has everything to become a huge dance revolution.”
Originally appeared in Fact Magazine.