Can you measure the distance from a tough, no-nonsense beat inspired by a Jean-Claude Van Damme dance move to the brutal politics of Africa’s diamond industry? That’s an abstract approximation of what happened between kuduro’s invention by Angolan beatmeister Tony Amado in 1996 and Black Diamond, the great electronic dance album released in late 2008 by Portugal’s Buraka Som Sistema.
As Luanda producer Amado explains in a semifamous video you can see here, kuduro was his personal interpretation of JCVD’s squirrely dance moves in the 1986 movie Kickboxer. Amado took Angolan coastal carnival rhythms, combined them with simple funky house beats, conceived a tasty dance component (so often the key to viral success), and, as he says in Portuguese, “made something that is mine.” After peaking during the late 90s, kuduro was reborn during the mid ’00s as part of what DJ-ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall has dubbed the “global ghettotech” phenomenon that includes funk carioca, reggaeton, juke, coupÃ© dÃ©calÃ©, kwaito, and their minimalist ilk.
DJ Amorim provides a quick tutorial in how drumming elders morphed into a trendy torrent of tracks on “Kamanga (SÃ³ Kibeto).” Amorim’s track is part of O Midjor di Kuduro (The Best of Kuduro), a solid introduction to kuduro in all its rap-, soca-, rara-, and zouk-inflected permutations. The collection begins with “God’s Project,” by SebÃ©m (or Se Bem), the Angolan MC said to have created the kuduro precursor known as batida – a hybrid of Western electronic music, calypso and soca – in a Luanda marketplace during the late ’80s. Angolan kuduro (meaning both “hard ass” and “stiff bottom”) tends to be more driving, incessant, punchy, and assertive than its Caribbean cousins, particularly when augmented by kuduro rappers such as SebÃ©m protÃ©gÃ© Puto Prata. The soundtrack to a DVD celebrating the double-time, hinged-hip scarecrow moves that characterize kuduro dancing, PlanÃ¨te Kuduro features Black Staff, Puto Prata, Noite Dia, and other stars of contemporary Luanda kuduro. Akwaaba Sem Transporte likewise delivers one barrio anthem after another, from Noite e Dia’s Cameroon-inflected, bodaciously autotuned “Tiramakossa” to Zoca Zoca’s sexily exultant kwassa-kwassa throwdown, “Som do Zoca.”
FrÃ©dÃ©ric Galliano, the DJ-producer who introduced kuduro to Europe in 2007 via his relentlessly aggressive Kuduro Sound System mix, has touted kuduro as “the first and only original electronic music from Africa.” Produced in Luanda with DJ Kito da Machina, KSS is akin to the missing link between Luanda and Lisbon. Its lineup includes star MCs Tony Amado, Pai Diesel, Dog Murras, Pinta TirrÃº, Gata Agressiva, and Zoca Zoca getting down and dirty over subtly more complex beats than you’ll hear on the grittier compilations above. Galliano remains true to the scene but happens to have a few more tricks up his sleeve.
But Galliano’s mixture is relatively rough stuff compared Buraka Som Sistema, whose Black Diamond is a subtle electronic concept album with beats to spare. “Progressive kuduro” isn’t a particularly attractive expression, but that’s how BSS refer to their artful soundscapes, rabble-rousing verbiage, and underlying fidelity to kuduro’s tightly wound rhythmic template. DJ Riot (Rui PitÃ©), Lil ‘John (Joao Barbosa), and Conductor (Andro Carvalho) met in a Lisbon suburb, borrowed their name from another neighborhood, and released the EP From Buraka to the World, containing the club bust-out “Yah!,” in 2006.
Black Diamond is light years beyond their debut (even if “Yah!” pops up on it again in more or less the same form). More of a general introduction to kuduro than Galliano’s mix, Black Diamond renders the style irresistible in both the “Luanda-Lisbon” opener and “Sound of Kuduro,” which features M.I.A. doing her M.I.A. thing. But I like the psychedelic club stretch in the middle, beginning with “IC19″ and, even more, the morality play that concludes the album. “Yes. It’s rising,” someone intones solemnly in “New Africas Pt. 1.” “Yes. You are in London, but it feels like Rwanda, or Lisbon. It’s ugly but embodies the beauty of the pure and raw. It’s sexual. Fast. Innocent. And lives by the rules of the now … Most of us were not born in Africa. But Africa was born in us.” Black Diamond ends with “New Africas Pt. 2,” a chilling yet exultant mini-symphony for drums, chains, and voices. The chains represent both slavery and commerce. “Angola diamonds are some of the best diamonds in the world,” a British voice explains in “Aqui Para Voces.” Meanwhile, Angola remains one of the world’s poorest countries.
Black Diamond implies issues that Buraka Som Sistema makes more than explicit on their equally amazing Blood Diamond Mixtape, available here (which begins with “Diamonds Are Forever” and ends with Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” But do they really need to draw you a picture?