Weekend Chatter: Buraka Som Sistema Q&A

Categories: Music, Q&A

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Lisbon-based Buraka Som Sistema headlines Mezzanine Saturday night, bringing its mashup of vocal percussion with zombified, broken-legged dance contortions. The foursome who leapt into global view with 2008's Black Diamond is now making its second SF visit. The group will batter crowds with dissonant siren-thumps and crawling Portuguese slang, fitting within the same seismic frame as sometime-collaborator M.I.A. and African soukous giant Koffi Olomide.

Buraka are today's leading practitioners of Kuduro--Angolan beat patterns peculiarly named after a scene in Kickboxer when Jean-Claude Van Damme tries to dance drunk! We don't have to explain Kuduro to you, just watch this video.

As the band readied for a tour stop in L.A., All Shook Down chatted with BSS's Rui Pité aka RIOTDJ:

You just got back from Mexico! What was that like?
Mexico was awesome. There was a lot of people there waiting for us....and a lot of people knew the lyrics. Buraka is funny because people don't really listen to the lyrics; Portuguese isn't well understood around the world so it's just about dance-your-ass-off.

You're in a rare group of artists that addresses your music to favela culture, slum culture, and yet tours internationally playing for affluent kids. How do you manage that divide?
I don't have a secret for you regarding the perfect performance to please everyone. We kind of live in the middle of them. We don't live in slums but we live pretty much near them. It's like Baile funk. You don't have to live in favelas to know Baile funk, but you can get close to it by listening and you pick up the community that way.

For us it's the Kuduro rhythm. There's a lot of Angolans living in Portugal so we just picked up Kuduro rhythm and do our own thing. There's a couple of [similar groups] around the world doing our thing: Sri Lanka, Brazil, even in Baltimore you can hear people doing these things. It's just music, man. Either you like it or you don't.

Do you feel American audiences respond to Kuduro differently than other club beats?
Not at all. From the first minute of the gig to the last, people are just loving the music and jumping around. Of course when you're in Portugal or Angola people are more familiar with the Kuduro--and they have their own dances or they start little break dances on the stage and so on. So you don't have that.

Obviously, the way your music sounds, you're all about the dance. Why is it so difficult to get folks dancing at rock shows these days?
There are a couple of audiences that really don't want to ruin their hairdo or they just want to go there and look fresh and cool in their new sneakers and shirts. It's like a shop, you know. You go to a shop and you see people looking in the mirror at themselves. When I go to rock shows I move a lot. It's kind of strange for me to be standing in one place.

Apart from a few Congolese bands, Central Africa doesn't usually get put in the discussion with West African and South African music. Has Angolan music gotten its proper rep?
I don't think so. Angolan music is kept rich in Portugal because the Portuguese had a lot of African ex-colonies. There isn't a musical business scene in Angola. Everything is bootleg, so it's hard to find a Kuduro album. You have to get a CD-R from the fair or something.

At the same time, electronic African music is blowing up. Konono No. 1, The Very Best --even Manu Dibongo gets played now that Michael Jackson died. Why has electric African music lately appealed to Western listeners when the West had so far mainly paid attention to instrumental styles Afrobeat and highlife?

People around the world are searching for something new. For a long time you had just L.A., New York, London, Madrid, some electronic scenes in Germany. Now its moved. Everyone knows that Africa is big and has a lot of music to share and the electronic music from Africa is coming up to drive interest in that direction.

I like the African versions of techno or house music. It's a little bit more like Kuduro music. When Kuduro was starting out it was always trying to be like techno. It was not influenced by Afrobeat.

You've toured everywhere in 2009, Japan, Sweden, Coachella. What's next?

In December, it's coming out: our FabricLive mix CD. We're very excited by that. We love playing Fabric, it's also our label. So after that project it's holidays because we really, really need it. We've been on and on for like forever. After that we're going to start working on our next project, whether it's an album or documentary we don't know. 2010 is going to be more about the DJ set than the live act.

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