Buraka Som Sistema's Joao 'Lil' John' Barbosa
In a very short while, Buraka Som Sistema have become the official flag carriers for the Angolan/Portuguese Kuduro movement. So what is Kuduro? Picture breakneck speed tribal BPMs, dirty-bass-driven dancehall rhythms and blaring MCs and sirens blasting off all over the place and you'll get an idea of where to start. Similar to Baile Funk but with an African flavour, Kuduro is the newest kid on the ghettotech block, thanks mostly to Buraka Som Sistema and globetrotting tastemaker Diplo. Their first full-length release, Black Diamond (featuring M.I.A., Deize Tigrona and Kuduro innovator DJ Znobia) has music critics re-evaluating what "world music" really is and has dance floors rumbling all across the globe. Talking over a crackling cell phone from their studio in Lisbon, Portugal, Buraka Som Sistema's Joao 'Lil' John' Barbosa talks to Exclaim! about Kuduro, Jean-Claude Van Damme and water guns.
Tell me what the beginning of Kuduro was for Buraka Som Sistema?
Well, we basically caught up with Kuduro in Lisbon in an early stage when it was still developing. First thing we heard were two songs, the two biggest hits that made Kuduro what it is today -€“ that was around 1995, 1996.
So in 1995 to '96, the scene was already well established in Angola?
Yeah, it started off with guys just trying to make beats and make dance music inspired by all that was going on with house and techno music. Actually, the name Kuduro comes from a song made by a guy named Tony Amado -€“ and that kind of became the name of the movement.
Okay, so I've read that the name Kuduro translates more or less to '"hard ass" -€“ why hard ass?
I'm not sure. We're kind of living far away from the beginning of the story so I'm not really sure about the details on how the whole thing started. All I know is that it's somehow all related to Jean-Claude Van Damme dancing in the movie Kickboxer. There's a scene in the movie when he's drunk in a bar dancing and fighting -€“ and I think that ended up naming the song that ended up naming the movement.
So what do you recall as the turning-point for Kuduro outside of Africa?
There were a couple of songs, the first songs with vocals, that we first heard in Lisbon and they were a little bit stupid too be honest. I didn't really go for it in the first place -€“ it was really commercial and was being done for the wrong reasons. The Kuduro hype was happening in the mid-'90s and all those artists were coming to perform in Lisbon and they established the name of the movement really well and then the whole thing just faded out, disappeared completely. It went back to being only for Angolan people and for Angolans living abroad. From the beginning we knew that the concept of what they were doing was interesting but they were just doing it for the wrong reasons -€“ we didn't enjoy what we were listening to but we liked the concept and we liked what we heard on the instrumental side of the music. We just kept our eyes and ears on top of what was going and we saw a couple of producers started developing the beat and being more creative and taking it to another level. One of the guys that was very important to us as an inspirations for us to dig deeper into Kuduro was DJ Znobia. We also got him on our album because for us he's a proper artist, he's not selling out, he's in his bedroom creating some crazy tracks and redefining dance music.
And that's when you guys jumped up and decided to get involved with Kuduro, right?
We couldn't ignore the movement and the first idea we had was to do a club night where we could play Kuduro in Lisbon. We just grabbed all the beats we had and found even more and created a library -€“ we had to re-edit a lot of them and some songs had to be remixed to be able to play them in a way that made sense to people here in Lisbon. Obviously, the people in Lisbon grew-up with different references than the people in Angola. It was something we wanted to do because we wanted those songs to make more sense for ourselves. So we ended up doing this club night and people would not stop coming in and dancing and having lots of fun. It was a really sweaty, smelly club with a shitty sound system but everyone was very eager to jump on stage and show their dance moves or show their MC skills. Everyone wanted to show-off what they were doing. It was almost like all these people were hiding that side of themselves in the closest and when we decided to do this club night, everyone just appeared.
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