Portugese band Buraka Som Sistema reworks colonial sound

The World

Members of Portuguese band Buraka Som Sistema come from Portugal and Africa. (Photo courtesy of Buraka Som Sistema.)

Portugal’s Buraka Som Sistema has a unique take on kuduro music.

Kuduro is a style of electronic dance music that originated in the former Portuguese colony of Angola in the late 1980s. By reviving kuduro’s sound, the group struck a chord with a new generation of young clubgoers in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.

They’ve been heating up dance floors around the globe ever since.

Buraka Som Sistema hails from the suburbs of Lisbon, an area that’s heavily populated with African immigrants. The name of the group translates to mean “Buraka Sound System.”

“Buraka is an area in the suburbs of Lisbon where some of us grew up,” said Joao Barbosa, the band’s founding member. “It had an interesting connotation with all the African immigrants. What we were doing was so based in Lisbon that it made sense to have that geographical connection on the name.”

The mix of African and European influences in the band’s hometown is reflected in its music. And it recalls the origins of Angolan kuduro in the 1980s. Back then, music producers in Luanda began forming their own club beats, inspired by dance music from the West.

But the technology they had was far from cutting edge. So they combined African rhythms with dated PC samples to create the burgeoning kuduro sound.

The members of Buraka Som Sistema grew up listening to kuduro on Portuguese radio. In 2006 they started a DJ collective focused on re-editing classic kuduro tracks. Soon they landed a gig at a club in Lisbon.

As Barbosa tells it, things caught on pretty quickly.

“From that night it became kinda big,” he said. “It’s like everyone could identify themselves in what we were doing, like everyone that was our age. We did four nights and then the club got shut down by the police. At the end of those four nights we were like, ‘OK what are we going to do with this?’ And it sort of, from there it became a band.”

Another member of the band, MC Kalaf Angelo was born in Angola. When asked how their music fits into the larger history of Portugal’s colonial relationship with his home country, Angelo says that for young people in today’s Lisbon, regardless of their roots, the question is moot.

“I think for our generation it’s just a question of living, the same way Angolan kids got influenced on Portuguese hip hop or the other way around, there’s always this idea that between the younger generations those questions kind of fade out,” Angelo said.