August 17 marked the end of an era, as Portuguese kuduro quintet Buraka Som Sistema announced that their early 2016 tour would possibly mark the last time that we’ll see and hear the group together for quite some time. Considering the fact that Buraka is going on an “indefinite hiatus” after the tour, now is a wonderful time to consider the decade-long legacy of sonic excellence that they will leave behind.
With 800 live performances, three albums, and one EP in their history, it’s difficult to narrow down their contributions to just five moments where their progressive explorations into the Angola-born kuduro sound changed the game for global and tropical bass lovers worldwide. Always a step ahead and to the left of mainstream tastes, the space Buraka occupied in the underground-to-mainstream development of bass music was undoubtedly important. However, to accurately measure the titanic nature of their impact, limiting the choices actually works best.
Here’s a list of five times Buraka Som Sistema changed the game.
Buraka Som Sistema feat. M.I.A., DJ Znobia, Saborosa, and Puto Prata - "Sound of Kuduro" (2008)
Following 2006’s debut EP Buraka To The World was the group’s first full-length album Black Diamond, which was released just as the Internet, underground bass music, and a slightly progressive-leaning musical mainstream were commingling. That’s how then-breakout Sri Lankan emcee M.I.A. hopped on the thickly percussive single “Sound of Kuduro,” arguably breaking the genre into the global mainstream. It made Buraka the face of the sound and also assisted in branding M.I.A. as being much cooler than most pop divas.
Buraka Som Sistema - "Kalemba (wegue wegue)" (2008)
The follow-up single to “Sound of Kuduro” was “Kalemba,” an Afro-Spanish bass bomb that actually hit number one on Spain’s pop charts and broke into the Top 100 in the UK. The kuduro sound’s breakout potential is maximized here alongside a cumbia-style sweep and chanted rap vocals. The video being a live performance is important too, as Buraka claims a significant chunk of their legacy as an act in the live realm. The clip’s unmistakable party vibe has led many to feel they must experience it in person.
Buraka - "Hangover (BaBaBa)" (2011)
2011’s album Komba found Buraka taking their kuduro interests in a much deeper and organic direction, to the streets of both Lisbon and Angola’s capital of Luanda. The multiracial quintet’s ability to accurately find both crossover global appeal and street legitimacy with their sound is impressive. It’s consistent with trap rappers taking a sound born among and ideally meant for a distinct population and finding a way to give it universal appeal. “Hangover” stunts, starts, hops, jumps, breaks, and grooves with a unique style that is all Buraka’s.
Buraka Som Sistema Boiler Room x RBMA (2013)
Dave Nada invented moombahton by piecing together slowed down Dutch house, cumbia, and dembow in a way that made sense with progressive Latin tastes. Seven years later and clearly inspired by Nada, Buraka’s zouk bass sound blended slowed down zouk, kizomba, and tarraxo in a way that made sense with Afro-European tastes. When the sound was introduced in this groundbreaking 2013 Boiler Room set, the desire for the global underground to experiment with pace, tempo, and groove continued to explode past moombahton’s initial boom – a growth that continues to this day.
Buraka Som Sistema's Documentary 'Off The Beaten Track' (2014)
If realizing that 2016 is the last time you’ll ever see this groundbreaking group perform, take a second and watch this 30-minute documentary about their creative process and artistic development. More than anything, the documentary now places a neat bow on Buraka’s evolution. Furthermore, in deliving into the unique nature of the colonial ties between Portugal and Angola that allows Buraka Som Sistema to make kuduro so well, the documentary does more than discuss music. It’s as much a victory for the story of Portugal as a musically vibrant and progressive nation as it is the must-watch story of a quintet on the rise.