Buraka Som Sistema, Black Diamond

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

If Buraka Som Sistema sounds like party that stretches from Europe to Africa and back again, it's because that's the nature of this Portugal-based, Angola-inspired foursome. Lil 'John, DJ Riot, Conductor, and MC Kalaf specialize in kuduro, an electronic dance music style that originated in Luanda, Angola's capital city, and then was exported to Lisbon through Portugal's Angolan immigrant population. (Conductor himself hails from Angola.) Kuduro mixes the unrelenting African rhythms of tribal house music with soca and calypso syncopations from Trinidad and Tobago. Buraka Som Sistema's slant on kuduro emphasizes its sonic and spiritual ties to England's grime and dubstep scenes through its bone-rattling bass and stuttering digital effects.

Perhaps the only hipster-approved dance album that could also make the animated lemurs from Madagascar shake their coconuts

Although rooted in underground sounds with lyrics mostly in Portuguese, BSS has created a richly accessible hybrid groove with both national and global impact: "Kalema (Wegue-Wegue)" recently topped Portugal's singles chart, and "Sound of Kuduro" has charmed bloggers the world over, thanks in part to M.I.A.'s attention-grabbing chorus cameo. The drums may be programmed and the tracks low on melody, but the racing tempos and carnivalesque polyrhythms emphasize sweaty physicality rather than electronic contemplation. Choruses are chanted and rhymes spat over blips and bleeps reminiscent of cell phones and video games. Yet for every synth breakdown rooted in rave-style techno, there are many more festive beats that suggest a township of revelers banging on every available object. This is the perhaps the only hipster-approved dance album that could make the cute little animated lemurs of Madagascar shake their coconuts.