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Kuduro:
Originators and Innovators

by Tash LC
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Tash LC is a DJ, Broadcaster and music curator from South London. She is passionate about exploring the intersections of music from the global south such as Kuduro, Gqom, Highlife, Singeli, and how they connect with club sounds from other parts of the world. She also runs a record label and party called Club Yeke which has released music from South Africa, Portugal, Jamaica, The USA and The UK, and a party called Boko! Boko! with Juba and Mina which focuses on worldwide club sounds.

Certain sounds just make you move. Like a kind of inner body calling that can’t be fought or resisted. A connection between beat and body that is loud, urgent and unexplainable. It calls at you and you have no choice but to answer immediately, every body part responding of its own accord and following the music in a way that is guttural and instinctive. Kuduro does this for me. I’m going to be exploring the history of this political and hugely important movement, the pioneers who paved the way for the current sound, and the modern artists bringing Kuduro’s voice into the future.

FOUNDATIONS

I remember first hearing the productions of DJ Marfox back in 2014 and being stopped in my tracks by how wild the rhythms were. I could recognise elements of more familiar UK Funky drums but faster and more frantic. The Portuguese language was foreign to me, being an english speaker and unfortunately nonbilingual but this didn’t matter, the beats just spoke to me in a way that traversed language or familiarity and I’ve been hooked ever since.

As quoted by the self proclaimed founder of the genre Tony Amado, Kuduro is a state of

mind. Kuduro (which translates as “hard ass”) was born in Angola’s capital Luanda in the late 1980’s /  early 1990’s in the Musseques – The Luanda settlements where three quarters of the population currently live and work.  The sound encompassed movements and genres from the black diaspora such as Soca and Zouk as well as Techno and industrial dance music crossing over the Atlantic from the USA and Europe. It’s that essence of trance and techno that permeates through early Kuduro production from OG artists like Gasolina.

Kuduro was created during a time of intermittent civil unrest, following the Angolan Civil War which took place in 1975 and lasted informally until 2002. The origins of Kuduro were shaped by this political instability which resulted in a wave of Angolan migration to Portugal and other European cities as well as neighbouring countries Mozambique and Cape Verde. 

Many early Kuduro pioneers like Os Lambas, Dog Murras and Rei Helder would interweave themes of conflict and pain into their productions while also using the music as a vessel for joy and a symbol of hope for the younger generation who were learning to find themselves and form their identities in post war Angola. I remember spending hours on Youtube watching classic Kuduro videos from these groundbreakers and being so excited by these lo fi productions that showed not just the insane dancing but also the fashion of Kuduro: Bleach blonde fades, matrix shades and 90’s double denim showstoppers. The coolest.

The music became a form of self expression for a society in which democracy was being silenced, becoming a means of communicating discontent with the state without directly addressing politicians and parties. Angolan Semba musicians from previous decades such as Oscar Neves and David Ze were often persecuted and in some instances assassinated for voicing their political views in their music. I’ve personally spent hours listening to original Rebita label recordings and albums from Semba bands of the 70’s, and recall the shock at reading into how political this sweet sounding music was. I’ve also witnessed the respect given to these pioneers still by modern Kuduro producers like DJ Marfox and DJ NK who released his ‘K7’s Do Papa Vol 1’ EP in 2020 which featured Kuduro remixes of Lusophone classics like Africa Negra and Teta Lando. This newer generation of artists expressed their disappointment and grievances with the state in a different way, through movement and raw unflinching electronic instrumentation.

Themes of war are prevalent in the work of contemporary electronic artist Nazar, who fled Angola with his family for Belgium before returning at the end of the civil war. His work encompasses sound bytes and samples of ammunition and air strikes, clicks of reloading weapons, stifled shouts and gunshots layered above more recognisable Kuduro loops and patterns. He explores Kuduro in a raw unconventional style that offers a view of the culture which goes beyond the polished more mainstream sound and deals with the unsettling aspects of the genre’s complex history in a way that is uniquely his. I asked Nazar what Kuduro means to him:

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To me it means resilience – to figure out the pattern in the shared or personal hardships of life and sync in. To turn the noise around me into intricate rhythmic patterns that guides, pushes me forward. It’s more than just codes, tricks, tags and styles. It’s a philosophy that I applied to every aspect of my life. And it is (Kuduro) what’s brought me here.

DANCE

Kuduro dance is often inspired by the casualties of Angola’s civil war and the injuries accumulated as a result of dormant landmine explosions which took place after Angola’s war of independence. 

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 The dance is very important. Kuduro without dance is no kuduro, without kuduro there is no dance.

CHARACTERISTICS OF KUDURO

The musical characteristics of Kuduro are described as ‘ancestral percussion meeting house music’ which I feel is a perfect description for Kuduro which is a sound that can be hard to describe. I also sometimes find myself describing it as ‘Angolan Grime’ or ‘Afro Portuguese Club Music’ which I guess still convey the energy of Kuduro. The strongly rhythmic arrangements may include elements of carnival rhythms such as Kazukuta or Kizomba melodies blended with Batida, a style which encompasses House and Soca rhythms. As written in Fruity Batidas: The Technologies and Aesthetics of Kuduro by Garth Sheridan, He describes the fusion of genres taking hold at the time, ‘‘By the late 1980s, clubs in Luanda were playing techno and house alongside American pop music and locally produced genres including Kizomba and Zouk. He also mentions the impact of Portuguese migration on Kuduros development, ‘The immigration of middle-class Angolan youth between Portugal and Angola increased the availability of imported music and musical instruments’. 

Around 30,000 Angolan civil war refugees settled in Lisbon, especially in outskirts such as Amadora and Queluz. This is where kuduro developed its second centre and a distinct style called Kuduro Progressivo («progressive kuduro»). This new development of Kuduro contains stronger elements of techno, dubstep or post hip hop dance music and is often more technically complex than its predecessor. Lisbon has become one of my favourite cities in the world because of its relationship with Kuduro and the many current producers who call it home. Lisbon venues such as Music Box have become crucial spaces to hear Kuduro, with Musicbox being the home of the Noite Principe label night as well as regularly hosting Kuduro adjacent DJ’s like Pedro, King Kami, and Deekapz.

PRESENT AND FUTURE – TODAY’S PIONEERS

The new iteration of progressive kuduro, also referred to as the third generation of Kuduro, feels to have gone back to its raw roots while still remaining fresh and forward thinking. 

There is a current wave of young Kuduro producers operating predominantly on Soundcloud who are constantly developing the sound. This new gen draws on elements of Kuduro’s past and echoes the rawness of those early pre fruity loop production days, opting for simple drum loops, heavy filters, repetitive vocal chants and carnival esque whistles that summon a sense of urgency and manage to ring with echoes of Angola’s militant past, almost feeling like a call to arms while effortlessly danceable – a true representation of the complexities of Angola’s history. 

The current internet kuduro community commonly takes influence from angolan and south african afrohouse, as well as traditional Kuduro and  Tarraxo ( the sexy, percussive cousin of Kizomba) , often playing with smoother drum patterns and melodies. Some of the producers in the soundcloud community exploring Kuduro in new ways are DJ Lycox / Vxnyfox / Tyson / Nidia / Nuno Beats / Tia Maria Producoes / Billy G and many many more, whose batidas (meaning beat in portuguese) are often inspired by everything from video games, American Hip Hop and Football to Movies and Brazilian Baile Funk.

This community is ultra supportive and close knit, with a wide range of artists who regularly collaborate with one another and constantly widen the palette of this ever growing sound. There’s also a large sense of creative freedom in this new gen who often don’t work with labels and instead choose to release their vast libraries of beats directly to Soundcloud. There is also a current trend of much more emotional production that seems to be taking hold amongst the Afrohouse community. Lisbon producer DJ Narsicos most recent album Me vs Me takes a much darker approach that opts for sentimental strings and synths and much more stripped back muddy kicks that feel like an adverse response to melodic 4/4 Kuduro. 

I asked Paris based Angolan producer and DJ   Vanyfox about his relationship with Kuduro:

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Kuduro is a style of music that you can really enjoy and express yourself. The rhythm is so good and energetic and gives you pleasure to dance. But for me? Kuduro is a new way to speak, is very danceable and very attractive to seeing it, hearing it, feeling it, loving it, breathing it. Kuduro is life, is a therapy.. in that case, is my therapist.

Listening kuduro was the best thing I did in my whole life and I’ll never get tired of it… because is my escape for reality. he really can make you pull out your energy and a side that you never seen before, the intensity of the rhythm and the flow is crazy and I’m glad that kuduro is in my DNA.

 

This newer smoother take on Kuduro is also emulated in the club circuit, consisting of a range of DJ’s with Lusophone heritage like Studiobros, Danykas and Bubas Producoes who bring together spacious, euphoric Afrohouse that fits just as comfortably in Ibiza sunrises next to Black Coffee as it does in Lisbon’s Lux Fragil or Musicbox. 

KUDURO’S SUPERSTARS

There are a number of very successful Kuduro pop artists that have found mainstream success in and out of Angola. Acts like Titica and Preto Show have broken new ground to become stars who have brought Kuduro to international audiences in the US and Europe, often headlining showcases and Kuduro festivals. Angolan – Portuguese Vocalist Pongo has recently experienced a resurgence after releasing her ‘Uwa’ EP in 2020 which featured lyrics in Portuguese and in Kimbundu, a language spoken in Angola. She melds together contemporary Kuduro with softer Kizomba and Tarraxo styles to create a modern take on Angolan pop that is also fit for the club.

The Lisbon based record label Principe Discos houses a roster of producers including DJ Marfox, Lilocox, Niagara, PML Beatz and DJ Nigga Fox whose wide palette of sounds mainly focus around Kuduro, Afrohouse and Taraxxo. Many of the artists originate from Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Angola and Mozambique and now live and work in the Afro Portuguese diaspora. The label has carved a take on Kuduro that feels void of boundaries and has propelled the sound of Kuduro into a new generation, one that summons the euphoria and weight of heavy bass in a Jamaican soundystem but also has roots in super early Kuduro production.

It’s this fusion of distinctly African rhythm and percussion with distorted bass that felt like a perfect meeting to me, and embodied what I felt I’d been searching for in club music. Hard and unrelenting yet still rhythmic and sexy and fun. Kuduro felt like coming home and finding my place on the dance floor.

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