Bo-Peep’s Tropical Bleats Vol. X: Kuduro, Pt. 1 — From Luanda to Lisbon

Published on July 5th, 2011

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The Bleats are back! This being the tenth volume of our series, I’ve decided to focus on a genre that is, decidedly, one of the most awesome things ever created. In fact, I’m going to dedicate two volumes to it, with this first one focusing on its journey from one continent to another. Yes, I speak of Kuduro! I know I promised you Soca last time but… I’ll leave that for another week.

You’ve heard me speak of my love for Kuduro in the past. But what is it? Let’s follow the road Kuduro took from the slums of Angola to the sound systems of the world’s hottest clubs. Along the way I’ll show you some of my favorite artists and labels.

1. Kuduro is Born

Kuduro was born in Luanda (Province), Angola, in the late 1980’s; the brainchild of young music lovers who infused traditional African rhythms with inspirations from Hip-Hop, Reggae, Soca, and the new, blossoming sounds of EDM to create a dance genre that was as multi-cultural as it was uniquely African. At first it was called “Batida,” which is Portuguese — Angola’s official language — for “beat.” It eventually evolved into the epic, heart attack-inducing party music we now know and love, and became known as “Kuduro” for the breakneck, highly-sexualized dances that were created for it.

You see, “Kuduro” basically translates to “hard ass” in Portuguese.

Think Caribbean Daggering. And Chicago Juke. And then roll them together. Here’s a video of the “Juke-ier” side of Kuduro dancing.

Mind blown yet? Good. We’ll get to the dry humping a little later on. The men and women who produce Kuduro are often referred to as “Kuduristas.”

DJ Znobia

If any man knows Kuduro, it’s DJ Znobia. Hailing from Luanda himself, he has been at the heart of the Kuduro scene for years. His productions are usually raw, preferring riotous African percussion, repetitive vocal and instrumental samples, and MC’s rather than more complex melodies or basslines. Simple, but extremely effective. Proof that Tropical Bass music can be felt in your feet and your heart, as much as your head. Many of his tracks are difficult to find in any decent quality, so his discography looks deceptively small on sites like Beatport and Juno Download. But one just has to slip over to his Soundcloud to open up a sonic Pandora’s Box. Not only does he share tons of his own work, but that of other Angolan artists as well. Check it out. Many of the tracks on it are Tarraxinha, which is much like Kuduro, but slower.

“Pauladas Do Nguimbu (Original Mix)” – DJ Znobia

“Alma (Original Mix)” – DJ Znobia

“Piada (Original Mix)” – DJ Znobia

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Vagabanda

Heroy and Puta Mira are superstar Kudurristas. Have you heard of them? No, you haven’t. Guaranteed. Why? Because despite their stardom in their native land, like most Angolan Kuduristas they do not have the means to (lucratively) distribute their music internationally without outside help. It’s unfortunate to think about, but it is the sad truth facing most Kuduristas — to say nothing of artists throughout the third world. If you are somehow familiar with them, it’s probably through their many music videos, or potentially from an odd track thrown into the occasional European mixtape or the short, random blog posting. I couldn’t tell you much about their discography, but one thing is for certain: if you want to see the Hip-Hop side of Angolan Kuduro, look no further. Their swag is undeniable.

Killamu

Killamu is another Luandan Kudurista. He’s been in the game for over a decade, and is a member of Gueto Produções, which is considered one of the best production houses in all of Africa. Killamu’s recent productions are overall more “electronic” (for lack of a better term that comes to mind) than those of the artists I mentioned above — their House and Techno influences are certainly more pronounced. His work is also scarcely seen outside of Angola, but he did release an absolutely astounding LP on French label Akwaaba Music (which we’ll get to in a minute) at the beginning of last year. Stream, buy, and share it below.

Akwaaba Music

You may notice that I’ve placed this French label in the section about Angolan producers. What gives?

Well, Akwaaba Music is going above and beyond the call of duty in introducing Angolan Kuduro to the Western world. Founded by Benjamin Lebrave, a French DJ and Kuduro lover, Akwaaba goes straight into Africa, finds artists, signs directly with them (usually), and splits the profits 50-50. Check out an awesome interview with him below!

He’s all about sharing Angolan Kuduro with the world. And compilations such as 2009’s Akwaaba Sem Transporte go a long way toward doing so. And wouldn’t ya know, it’s got stuff from Vagabandas and Killamu on there, in addition to tons of other Kuduro tracks by other excellent Angolan Kuduristas.

This is definitely a release I recommend you pick up; if you’re interested in the raw sounds of authentic Angolan Kuduro, this is about as good as it gets. Like I said Akwaaba even splits all profits from their releases with the artists, 50-50. So you should buy it, and support this awesome label and all the incredible producers it services.

2. Kuduro Heads North

The Lisbon Sound

Kuduro eventually spread to Portugal from Angola, giving rise to what’s known as the “Lisbon Sound.” It’s this style that you’re probably most familiar with. While House had always been an influence on Kuduro, Portuguese Kuduristas inflated its role and threw bits of Dubstep/Grime in the pot for good measure, leading to many of the wobbles and two-steps that you’ll hear in some of productions below. Taking root in the slums around Lisbon (which have large Angolan populations), it filled a niche similar to that of Baile Funk in Brazil, but soon slipped into Lisbon’s wider club scene, and then throughout Portugal.

Buraka Som Sistema

Chances are you’ve heard of Buraka Som Sistema — one might consider them Kuduro’s current poster boys, and they’ve been heavily championed by trendsetters like Diplo and M.I.A. If you don’t… well… here’s a good way to summarize what we’ve covered so far.

Buraka Som Sistema has four core members: Portuguese producers João Barbosa (a.k.a. “J-Wow”/”Li’l John”) and Rui Pité (a.k.a. “DJ Riot”), Angolan Hip-Hop producer Andro Cavralho (a.k.a. Conductor), and Portuguese vocalist Kalaf Ângelo. Together they blasted Kuduro into the mainstream eye, further injecting it with so much House and Grime that it began swallowing entire “First World” countries whole and turning them back out again as hyperactive, dancing sex zombies.

Or something like that.

Their shows are legendary, and often feature live percussionists and guest vocalists in addition to the regular line-up. Here’s a great example: the official (live-recorded) video of their huge single “Kalemba (Wegue Wegue).”

And as luck would have it, they just recently released their highly-anticipated new EP, Hangover (BaBaBa) in time for me to include in this post. The titular track is, without doubt, one of the hottest selections of the summer with its frantic drum sequencing, swelling bass, and unforgivably catchy hook. And remember when I talked about the “Daggering-side” of Kuduro? Observe…

Remixes by Tony Senghore, Australia’s Swick, and Dutch Tribal House lover Oui’wack round out the EP — which you should immediately buy on Beatport, with the rest of their discography.

Oh, and did I mention that Kalaf and J-Wow run their own label?

Enchufada

One of the fastest-rising labels in Western Europe, Enchufada has released tracks from many Portuguese Kuduristas other than Buraka Som Sistema, including Zombies For Money (see further down), Diamond Bass, Octa Push, and Roulet. But their reach doesn’t stop at the borders of Portugal as exhibited by their Hard Ass Sessions comps, in which producers from around the world give their own interpretations of the Kuduro sound. Estonia’s Bert On Beats, France’s Canblaster, French Fries and Douster, and Italian Nic Sarno have all done tracks for the comps; as have UK and US (respectively) Night Slugs wonderboys Bok Bok and Kingdom, Venezuelan Raptor House producers Pocz and Pacheko, Dutch House producer Olizer Twizt, Mexico’s Toy Selectah, Texan Dubbel Dutch, and Swiss riddim-veteran Wildlife!. I’ll get to a bunch of them next week. In the meantime, here’s some previews and downloads from RCRDLBL!

“Spark (Canblaster Remix)” – J-Wow (RCRDLBL link)

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“Mana Wasa (Original Mix)” – Nic Sarno (RCRDLBL link)

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“Buzzcut (3:30 Edit)” – Seiji (RCRDLBL link)

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You can get all of Enchufada’s releases on Beatport.

They also have awesome club nights in Lisbon under the name “Hard Ass Sessions,” with guest DJ’s from around the world.

And in addition to all this, they recently launched their own radio show on Lisbon’s Radio Oxigenio, which is available online, and for which they also pull in high-profile talent.

Sweet.

But — just in case I’ve led you to believe otherwise — Portugal’s love of Kuduro extends far deeper…

Makongo

Meet Makongo, another Lisbon-based Kuduro artist collective not unlike Buraka Som Sistema, though it’s entirely made up of Angolans and — from what I’ve heard “on the street” — they’d resent the comparison. Its line-up includes MC Petty (who is actually a former member of Buraka… perhaps there’s some tension there?), Portuguese Hip Hop and R&B superstars P & Wilson, DJ Stickup, and DJ Knowledge. I’ve blogged about them here before, but only really in passing. In fact, it was referring to a remix of the above track. While the language barrier prevents me from finding too much about them, the nitty-gritty details are not what’s important. What is important is the fact that they kick ass and take names.

As far as I can tell, they’ve only released one LP, also titled Angolan Kung Fu, that came out a couple years ago. Since then they seem to have faded out a bit. But the LP is well worth it, if you can find it. Which is no easy task without resorting to piracy. Which I don’t officially condone. ;)

Batida

Yet another Portuguese-Angolan Kuduro collective, Batida was the brainchild of DJ Mpula, who decided to take his Radio Fazuma show to the next level by playing his own re-edits of classic Kuduro tracks. Then he wanted to take his re-edits to the next level by producing an album. Then he wanted to take his album to the next level by bringing Lisbon’s Beat Laden and Luanda’s Sacerdote (a track by whom you can find on the Akwaaba release mentioned earlier) in on it for collaborations. Then he wanted to take those collaborations to the next level by wrangling in another insane number of artists for vocals. Then he wanted to take all of that to the next level by bringing in a couple graphics artists and media specialists to compliment the music with stunning music videos.

The result was the Dance Mwangolê – LP. 16 tracks of Kuduro that stretches back to the Angolan roots, favoring storming percussion over melody and wobble, song over rap, socially conscious messages over lyrics about sexuality and power. This is a throwback to Batida, the proto-Kuduro. I’m sure the name already clued you in.

Oh, and just in case anyone reads this and can speak Portuguese… if you translate this, I will love you forever.

But that wasn’t enough for Mpula, either. No, sir. He wanted to take all of that to the next level by setting up a live show complete with dancers and live percussion.

Naturally, for anyone who truly loves Kuduro, the album is a necessary acquisition. But don’t bother looking for it on iTunes, or Amazon, or Beatport, or Juno Download. Nope, seems that the only place you can still get it is on the Radio Fazuma site. Just click on the little shopping cart. Of course, at 12 Euros, the price is a little steep.

Because, y’know… if you go balls-to-the-wall when creating a super-group in a niche genre (it’s proto-Kuduro!), then hire artists to make you awesome visual accompaniment, and finally create a dope live show (which seems to be a theme among all the Portuguese collectives)… your album is gonna be overpriced and you’re never gonna tour. :/ Save your pennies, people. I did.

Whatever, still great music that you should listen to on a regular basis.

Zombies For Money

Here’s something a bit different. If you haven’t seen me shower untold praise upon Zombies For Money, you haven’t been reading my column. Jerk. But, just in case you’re a new convert and your sins are forgivable, Zombies For Money are DJ Manaia and Klipar, two Portuguese DJ’s who love world music and Electro House. So they decided to make a hybrid of both. The result can be quite a different sound from what you’ve seen above. Where Hip Hop and Grime often play a big role in Portuguese Kuduro, that influence is not nearly as marked in ZFM’s productions. These are House heads, lovers of Electro House and Tribal House who looked at Kuduro and somehow thought, “Yes… this will fit nicely into our plans to initiate the zombie apocalypse.” Apparently they’ve thought that a lot, because they’re also big on Bhangra, Cumbia, Kwaito, various genres around the Caribbean… there’s really no piece of Tropical Bass that they’re not big on, actually. Including giving away free tracks!

“Git ‘Em (Zombies For Money Remix)” – Steve Starks (RCRDLBL link)

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“Numbra One (Original Mix)” – Zombies For Money (Released, with the rest of their first EP, for free on the Bass Music blog.)

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“Viva La Cumbia (Original Mix)” – Zombies For Money (Released via their Facebook page; no, it’s not Kuduro. But does that make it any less hot? ;))

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Go buy the rest of their discography over at Beatport. They’ve got a ton of new stuff dropping soon on Drop the Lime‘s Trouble and Bass imprint. Keep your eyes peeled for the Ankara-EP, which could just pop out and surprise us at any time. Because they don’t like to give release dates. Because they’re undead bastards.

Alright, that’s a good note to end on for today. Next week we’ll trace Kuduro’s continued domination of Europe and the rest of the globe, then move on to Soca… like I actually promised way back.

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