Interview: Buraka Som Sistema Discuss Drawing Inspiration from Tarraxinha to Changa Tuki, Lisbon's Local Scene, and Their First Major Label Release

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Lisbon’s Buraka Som Sistema is set for their first major label release, Buraka, out on Universal. The group has found a way to tirelessly process musical reference points all over global dance culture to create their own high-voltage, frenzied club sound, while also staying connected to the scene that fostered them in Lisbon, where they launched their Enchufada label and continue as residents of their Hard Ass Session club night at Lux.

We chatted with Kalaf of Buraka between tour dates to learn more about their ongoing production process, inspiration sources ranging from tarraxinha to changa tuki, and the local scene that continues to provide them with a home to experiment.

How would you describe your sound to someone that’s unfamiliar with Buraka Som Sistema?

Dance music from the cultural angle– our sound is a mix of many different electronic genres that could be labeled as global club music– from reggaeton to moombahton, kizomba to kwaito, azonto to changa tuki. We’re a collective of producers who mix the most unusual genres with the most common rules of the dancefloor.

Being based in Lisbon, how did you connect to some of these hyper-local styles from other places like changa tuki or zouk?

The Internet plays a big role in our music discoveries. We dedicate hours visiting Soundcloud pages and watching Youtube videos with dance music manifestations from around the world. In parallel to that, we like challenges– we love to explore around the globe looking for the crazy beat that will make a difference once we play it in the club.

There’s not that much science in our creative process. We like to explore the rhythms and music genres that we have being exposed to and, somehow, are not present in the clubs where we usually play. From Buraka to the World was our first EP, [and] since then we have being exploring the music kaleidoscope that was brought to here, Lisbon, by Africans and South Americans.

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How do former colonies influence music made in Portugal?

We could write an essay on this subject. Since we are all familiar with the magnitude and the impact of Brazilian music in the world, we would skip that and focus on the contribution that African music coming out from Angola and Cabo Verde, probably the most dynamic and prolific countries apart from Brazil producing music.

Their rhythms, [and] their usage of drums and percussion in popular music are probably more celebrated and influential, but we could also extend that into the poetry and the use of the language, not only by noticing the number of new terms, expressions, slangs that were added into the vocabulary, but also the use of phonetics applied to the process of writing music.

Are you still connected to the local scene in Lisbon?

It is our city. Not only do we love to stay connected with everything that happens here culturally, but we also like to promote and showcase the local talent through our label Enchufada, the events we promote at festivals, and at our Hard Ass Session residency at Lux.

What is kuduro’s role in Portugal right now? Who are some other artists bringing it out of Lisbon suburbs to new audiences?

We could safely claim that there was never so much creativity as it is now in the history of Portuguese electronic music, even without an active Ministry of Culture, even without music programs in public schools, even without enough labels, distributors, venues and clubs to accommodate the new generation of creators.

The music they are making from the suburbs of Lisbon has already crossed our borders and artists such as DJ Marfox, Batida, Dizona Crew, Octapush, and many others are shaping the new sounds coming out of Portugal.

How did you bridge from smaller labels like Enchufada to Universal?

We like to believe that putting out consistent music from the past 8 years helped us to make this transition. It is the sum of various factors but definitely helps to give dedication and trust in the music we are producing, as well as the way we presented it in our live shows.

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What’s your production process?

Fortunately the creative process behind this album is well-documented in the film “Off the Beaten Track.” For two years, we traveled around the world on tour, followed by the camera of director João Pedro Moreira. He managed to capture our encounters with local musicians, and the visits we made to some studios in the slums of Caracas, Luanda, and also through ultra-equipped studios like Red Bull in London– traveling musically to different latitudes and drinking influences in Afro house (afrobeat ), azonto, tuki, kuduro, kizomba, and zouk derivatives tarraxinha and bass; it’s the starting point to our production process.

How did you develop your electric live performance?

Going to concerts was part of our music development. We always ask ourselves what kind of show our music heroes would make if they were in the same circumstances as we were then. We approach every show like it would be our last one. It gets pretty intense and wild. It is almost like a voodoo ritual where the music is the center, the band and the public are part of one unit moving and jumping in the same rhythm.

What kind of story are you hoping to tell through this new album?

This album represents the maturity of the group. Our initial idea was to focus on ourselves and the people in our camp because we’ve know each other very well. It is about making something for everybody, as well as for ourselves. We feel like we’ve got something now. We’ve traveled and got all the new music. We know it’s not about the hype and we’re not trying to make the freshest thing in town. We just want to make cool music with everything that we’ve learned along the way. The album’s called Buraka, and it sounds like Buraka.

Download Buraka Som Sistema’s Buraka below