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Buraka Som Sistema - Komba

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Artist: Buraka Som Sistema

Album: Komba

Label: Rough Trade

Review date: Jan. 3, 2012

Cultural fusion is dicey. The scars can show like Frankenstein’s monster. The friction can throw off sparks. It’s an ironic side-effect of colonial history that cultures from both sides of the relationship can fuse more smoothly than mutual strangers. British hippies were better a working with sitars than American counterparts, and there’s never been an American ska band that approached the quality of the two-tone bands. The Portuguese producers that team up for Buraka Som Sistema have shown a similar affinity using the Angolan style kuduro. With the help of MCs from that nation and from the immigrant neighborhoods of Lisbon, they’ve blended kuduro with the hard beats of European electronic music.

Komba, their second album, moves beyond this original premise. Though the title track describes Angolan komba ritual — that being a party that follows the funeral of a loved one — the tracks that follow are more about plain old partying. The Sound System works with vocalists coming from dancefloors all over. "(We Stay) Up All Night" piles the layers high; Euro-house blips are at its core, but there’s some African percussion buried deep in the mix, and Brazilian singer Blaya takes U.S. hook-up slang and rolls it through her accent. ‘Tis a thong knit from the flags of many nations. Blaya’s other track, “LOL & POP,” is an even denser swirl, with synths bouncing like a salsa whistle while rippling bass grooves compete with the raunchiness occurring in the treble.

With so much in the blender, it’s a testament to BSS’s production skills that tracks like this don’t fly apart. But they do get muddled. That’s the other dicey proposition of polyglot pop — getting so caught up in sampling the good time rhythms from different traditions that the upstrokes become wearing. BSS aren’t self-congratulatory about their passport stamps, but they’re best when they hold a few thick strands and braid them loosely. Fortunately, Komba is a pretty loose record aside from the hook-laden numbers.

"Hypnotized" has the goofy charm of early Detroit techno, even as it uses the 1-2-3 thump of dancehall. They don’t identify the American who talks over the track, but he sounds amusingly wasted as he keeps getting clipped and cut off by the beat. It also ends with a strange little segment of lo-fi guitar crud, like something got stuck to the shoe while stomping past The Dirtbombs’ techno record.

Likewise, "Hangover" sticks to a simple idea, brightening up a grunting U.K. bass arrangement with a nonsensical chant that sounds equal parks African and Latino. “Ba ba ba” is a forceful proposition when paired with warping robotics — a good natured command to move. The later tracks on the collection have the same strength. Buraka Som Sistema don’t dress up rhythms that are pretty complex to start with, and let future tech flourishes break down borders.

By Ben Donnelly

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