Portugal's not the first place that springs to mind when thinking of cutting edge music, but the world has bowed down to Lisbon band Buraka Som Sistema's unique blend of Angolese kuduru, dubstep and drum & bass.
Born from Portugal's oldest drum & bass crew, Cooltrain Crew, the band has scooped up a MTV Europe Music Awards for "Best Portuguese Act" in 2008 and have been wowing international fans with tours in Australia, Canada and the United States. Unsurprisingly, Buraka has turned the heads of Diplo, M.I.A, Santogold and Switch; Pendulum recently dropped the guys a line to give them props.
Buraka, made up of DJ Riot (Rui Pité), Lil' John (Rui João Barbosa), Conductor (Andro Carvalho) and Kalaf (Ângelo), have released two albums, 'From Buraka to the World' (2006) and last year's 'Black Diamond', which features guest rappers M.I.A, DJ Znobia, Petty, Pongolove, Saborosa and Puto Prata. They are so big in Portugal that even the teenagers have their popular tunes such as 'Kalemba (Wegue Wegue)' on their cell phones.
"Kuduru is normal," 31-year-old band founder DJ Riot explains. "People in the UK think of it as a different sound, but it's not to us. In Portugal it's totally pop music."
Kuduru is a genre born straight from the streets of Angola. "It's African kids trying to make techno," says Riot. "It was never world music - breaking news, Africa has had computers for at least the past 20 years. That means a whole generation of kids are making music now. They really couldn't escape their influences. They're not listening to Benga or Skream right now, and with the six years delay, that means they're doing their own thing."
DJ Riot explains that it took six years of informal discussion to bring the little-heard of genre to the forefront of Cooltrain Crew's ambitions. "Kuduru is like old funk for Portugal," Riot explains. "Black guys living in the suburbs in Lisbon were the only people who listened to it and you couldn't really hear it anywhere. Then once, we were asked to play a very big and cool club in Lisbon – we had 45 minutes left, so we played a DJ set of kuduru. It was crazy - everyone was calling everyone to come down. It went off!"
Buraka aren't doing the old colonialist trick of stealing from another culture: both the Conductor and Kalaf both come from Angola. Although the sound has been called "progressive kuduru", Riot explains with a cheeky laugh that they just made up the term when interviewed by a journalist. "The press thought we were making fun of it," Riot says, "It's our stuff. It's a mix of kuduru and drum & bass and dubstep at 140 bpm - that's why people like it."
Off the back of the band's success, DJ Riot has launched his own label, Faster Music, specializing in drum & bass, dubstep and grime. The label has released two EPs, both reflecting the direction the label wants to move in, 'Automan' and 'Mermaid Dub', with a third soon to follow. Riot flips two retro drum & bass rollers, 'Cyclops' and 'Automan' on their debut while 'Mermaid Dub' is a dubstep banger two-parter featuring Riot and fellow producer U-topia.
'Automan' has an old school sound, harkening back to the early days of drum & bass. "I was doing that intentionally," Riot explains with a laugh. "Those are the two tracks that symbolised my time as a drum & bass DJ, from 1998 to 2006."
He cites Metalheadz crew, Roni Size, Photek as the biggest inspirations: "Photek - he would be the master for me," Riot says. "1999 - it was a good era in terms of alternative dance music and it was the time that really inspired me."
1998 was the year Riot, then a grunge band drummer, first heard drum & bass at a three-floor house party. "It was like love at first sight," he recalls. He and friend Lil' John then joined Cooltrain Crew and the rest is drum & bass history. "It was an honour to jump into the van. We didn't know how to DJ. They wanted to start producing, and we were the geeks who knew how to produce. We taught them a bunch of production tips in exchange for learning how to DJ."
Riot hopes that Faster Music will also help push Portugal as a major dance music contender. Not an easy task living in such a poor country. "How many bands do you know from Portugal?" Riot asks rhetorically. "It's really difficult to make a living here. Even the major labels don't have that much power. They have to ask Sony Madrid. There is no Sony Portugal. You have to do it all by yourself. We're not promoting with big ads and big banners. Right now the music is speaking for itself."
And the world is listening.
WORDS Amy Riley
Download the exclusive drum & bass / dubstep mix DJ Riot did for us here...
Noisia - Bells Of
Icicle - Frozen
Riot - Automan
Code Zero & Far Too Loud - Blackout (Genki & Muffler Remix)
Amanda Blank - Make It Take It (Riot Remix)
Danny Byrd - Red Mist VIP
Noisia - Crank
Riot - Ciclops
Bad Company - Bullet Time (Spor Remix)
B Complex - Beautiful Lies
The Prodigy - Take Me To The Hospital (Sub Focus Remix)
Alix Perez - Down The Line (Break Remix)
Instra:Mental - No Future
dBridge - Wonder Where
Riot - Mermaid Dub
Sub Scape - Nothing's Wrong
Rusko - Moanerz
Major Lazer - Hold The Line (Skreamix)
Ego - Get Ruff
Jakes & Joker - 3klane
Buraka Som Sistema - Sound Of Kuduro (Riot's Richter Scale Mix)
The Prodigy - Breathe (Numbernin6remix)
LD - The King Of Kong
Rusko - Cockney Thug (Original / Buraka Remix Mashup)
Buraka Som Sistema - Kalemba (Reso's Aguardente Mix)
Skream - Fick
Stenchman - Puking Over
Zomby - Rumours & Revolutions
ID - Handbagger (Baobinga Remix)
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