Rolling out of bed and onto the Internet Saturday morning, I come across a New York Times review of Buraka Som Sistema, a Portuguese DJ collective who made their New York debut a few nights before. The group spins a strain of Angolan beat music called Kuduro, which, as reviewer Jon Caramanica writes, “is the current ne plus ultra” of electronic music. I’m a sucker for crazy digital rhythms, and I chase ne plus ultras like greyhounds chase fake rabbits. Give me a nutty stutter-beat and an off-kilter snare rhythm and my neurons start machine-gunning.
A YouTube search turns up an avalanche, and at the top is the video for Buraka’s breakout track, “Sound of Kuduro,” which features a cameo by M.I.A. It’s gotten 800,000 hits. How have I missed this? My job is to know this stuff. Am I losing my edge?
What follows is a little miracle. First, a huge bass-drum hit, then an ominous synthesizer line, like something freaky is about to happen. The beat goes big and the rhythm is tribal, fast with Nintendo-like sound effects as the screen shows a man crawling through dirt in an urban Angolan setting. He looks possessed. More men crawling. Another does a righteous oblong body maneuver to the beat. They’re break-dancing in Angola, doing wild robot moves. The best is the Flop, which basically entails collapsing your body and flopping to the ground. One guy jumps and spins like an Olympic diver, then does a back-splat on the dirt. This shit is insane, and I spend the next hour trolling for tracks. I love this, and want to scream to the world: Kuduro music is the Next Big Thing!
But I don’t have time. The Detour Festival starts in, like, two hours. Jeez. More indie rock bands. More guitars and whining rockers complaining about their little lives and their small concerns. Nothing like Kuduro, which is AWESOME. I direct my browser to the Detour site so I can plan my day, and the schedule appears: Hercules and Love Affair. Black Lips. The Mae Shi. Gogol Bordello. On the dance stage, Para One, Surkin, Adam Freeland, Buraka Som Sistema . . . !!??
Ay! A dream comes true in Los Angeles! On this day, in this world, an alignment has occurred. Sometimes what you want collides with what you get.
Downtown, the humans with guitars, bass, drums and synthesizers play their music, much of it of the American indie/punk/rock/roll variety. Silly fans still stuck in the 20th century. Yes, I enjoy some of the music, especially the hourlong reprieve with Hercules and Love Affair’s beautiful disco music. I wander over to see the Mars Volta do their prog-rock thing, but they know nothing about the future, know nothing of Kuduro (of which I am now an expert).
The dance stage is in City Hall’s vast entranceway on Spring Street, a great place for a minirave. Surrounded on all sides by majestic granite archways, the open-air space sits at the base of the 32-story structure, and sound bounces everywhere. After thunderous applause for DJ Adam Freeland, who plays rich, textured breakbeat tracks, Buraka Som Sistema ambles onstage. The two DJs and one MC play their own tracks, including the incendiary “Buraka Entra!” — which has a bass-drum pattern that will make your head spin. They mix Lil Wayne and Augustus Pablo a cappellas with synthetic polyrhythms, and it sounds insane. At least to me.
But slowly, the crowd starts thinning. At first, dancers still sweating from Freeland’s set try to keep their legs from tying in knots with all the foreign beats. To no avail: Hard dancing moves to head-nodding and toe-tapping as the crowd loses track and then loses patience. Within a half-hour, the 500 dwindle to 100, and there’s a lot of parking on the dance floor. Something obviously doesn’t compute, except among the true headz, who know the sound of tomorrow, who can see the epigram carved in City Hall above Buraka Som Sistema and understand: “Righteousness exalteth a people,” declared Solomon nearly 3,000 years ago, which no doubt still holds true. But in the future, Kuduro will supplant righteousness, and we will all dance together. I’ve already started practicing my Flop.