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Buraka Som Sistema - FabricLive 49

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Artist: Buraka Som Sistema

Album: FabricLive 49

Label: Fabric

Review date: Feb. 12, 2010

A good 15 years ago, European dancers and DJs began to hear a new sound coming from the capital of Angola via the capital of that country’s former colonial masters in Portugal. The music coming out of Luanda and Lisbon was at once new and familiar, electronica with heavy Caribbean roots, capped with toasting and boasting in Portuguese. This kuduru music pushed both buttons and boundaries in Portugal, bringing about cross-fertilization between Portuguese and Angolan DJs and MCs and garnering the attention of the rest of Europe. Here in the US, however, kuduru remained obscure, largely unknown beyond the relevant expatriate communities, and those outsiders fortunate enough to glimpse that scene.

In the last four years, a new vision of kuduru has emerged from Lisbon, spearheaded by members of several dance and hip hop collectives grouped under the name Buraka Som Sistema. In less than a year, the group’s remixes of kuduru cuts, usually layered with drum machine rhythms, hip hop loops and synthesized sounds, were charting well enough to win New Sounds and Best of Portugal awards from MTV Europe. Their first full album, Black Diamond (Enchufada 2008), featured unusual samples, such as akwaaba and samba drumming, (“Aqui para voces”), synthesized mbira (“Kalemba (Wege wege)”), but also lyrics exoticizing Africa with a version of the stereotyped Black African bass voice made famous by Manu Dibango (“New 1 Africas”). The result was both exhilarating and vaguely unsettling — a mélange of emotions common to many world beat offerings.

Burama Som Sistema’s newest mix, FabricLive 49, continues and extends both the exciting and the disconcerting aspects of their previous work in new directions. Loaded with 28 tracks, few more than three minutes long, the disc is a welter of sounds and influences. The first cut (“Gone Too far”) begins with synthesizer chords unheard since Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” drops in a loop of Jamaican toasting, then lets the synthesizers and drum machines provide an interlude before returning to the chords; “Kurum (Roulet Mix)” pulls together bird song, looped kuduru lyrics, and drum sounds.

Some of the touches are quite creative. For example, “Afro Nuts (Douster Remix)” uses scratch to imitate the Brazilian cuica, and “Machete” uses a rumba beat as the foundation to play with multiple looped versions of that song woven together with drum and synthesized sounds. Nevertheless, a number of the remixes are far from successful. “Luanda-Lisboa,” from Black Diamond, stutters and pops, chopping the refrain into little more than a drumstroke, whereas “Bruk Out,” the longest cut on the disc at a bit over five minutes, is simply repetitive.

The greatest annoyance, however, must be the persistent disco thump that was apparently essential for nearly every cut, which destroys the polyrhythmic play that is part of kuduru‘s African identity. In short, with only a few exceptions, FabricLive 49 completely erases what made kuduru new and interesting, while celebrating the African origins of some of the material (and some of the DJs), making the entire project feel like a self-congratulatory exercise in postcolonial appropriation.

By Richard Miller

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