Angolan House Warming
Did Reel II Real and Jean-Claude Van Damme invent kuduro? Well, kinda.
Ask anybody who paid attention to music in Angola’s capital Luanda in the 1990s, they’ll tell you the reggae-dance smash hit I Like 2 Move It propelled a handful of Angolans to start producing percussive techno, known as batidas, which were soon to become kuduro.
So kuduro is in fact the Angolan offshoot of seeds planted far away from its shores. Not all that obvious from the looks of a typical bootleg Batida CD:
Every culture draws influence from others: I live in Ghana’s capital Accra, where foreign cultural influences are palpable, especially with music. Nigeria, with its capital Lagos roughly 500 km east of Accra on the West African coast, is the closest musical heavyweight, pouring in most of its current hits. North American urban music is also massively popular, as well as dancehall and reggae. For the most part, that’s it. Francophone music from Ghana’s neighboring countries such as Cote d’Ivoire or Burkina Faso is known, but not widely accepted. House music? Confined to some of Accra’s poshier clubs.
For centuries Angola has held a privileged position as a cultural, political and economical bridge between Africa and the world, in particular the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) world, spanning Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Mozambique, as well as significant Angolan and Lusophone populations in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Massachusetts or even Texas.
Ten years after the end of three decades of war, Angola is propelled forward by abundant natural resources, in particular oil, and the desire to rebuild the country as a regional player. Historically, the country is racially mixed. As is often the case, Portuguese settlers married local women, creating a mestiço people and culture in Angola’s main trading ports. Angolan culture, or at least urban Angolan culture is turned towards the outside world, and embraces it. Just listen to some Angolan Merengue:
Many Angolans fled the civil war, some of them settling in South Africa or Namibia. Most have returned today, but it is still common for students to go to university in the capitals Johannesburg or Windhoek. This is probably where Angola caught the house music bug. In 2009, on my first trip to Luanda, house existed, but was definitely not mainstream. In 2012, it was literally everywhere. I stayed across the street from a quintal where a teen age girl celebrated her 14th birthday. From 2pm til late into the night, all I could hear was house music. Everybody was embracing it, from grandparents to little kids.
Today there are many Angolan house music heads. DJ Djeff or DJ Jesus are full time house music producers and DJs, they’ve made careers out of it. And then there are myriads of other beatmakers, some of them established but associated with one genre, such as DJs Killamu (kuduro heavyweight), or Dorivaldo Mix and Satelite:
The particularity of house music is how versatile it is: like hip hop, it’s a very simple matrix, as long as you have 4/4 bars, a kick on each beat, and a tempo between 120 and 130 BPM, you can safely say you are listening to house music. Consequently it is very easy for artists to stuff in any flavor they want. I can’t count the number of Angolan remixes of South African house tracks. Luandans are also exposed to Brazilian or Cape Verdian music, to North American pop and hip hop, and you can hear it all in recent Angolan house hits: producers are remixing practically anything they can get their hands on.
At its core Angolan house is very percussive, with many sub-genres, in particular Boddhi Satva-style ancestral soul house, which is immensely popular in Luanda. Angolan producers have developed a sound where they stick to deep house, while incorporating virtually any music into this relatively specific aesthetic. For example, listen to R.E.M.‘s Losing My Religion: Hardly recognizable after Renato Xtrova‘s remix. Or The Weeknd: before getting signed to Universal, Delany Duvall had already reworked the song Rolling Stone. Beyond Angola, I’ve noticed a trend in other Lusophone countries to turn current hits into domestic sounding hits. For instance Rihanna‘s song Diamonds gets the kizomba treatment from Kaysha. Or Jay-Z and Kanye‘s Nigg*s in Paris becomes a kuduro song. In Luanda however, the norm being house music, producers seem to transform virtually anything into deep house.
My Tonspur Podcast: Angolan House Warming is a short introduction to the vast Angolan house scene. I purposely chose a mix of established artists and up and coming producers and tried to keep a balance between house music remixes and other hybrids, mostly kuduro, which tend to come from Portugal. It’s important to keep in mind that many producers start out making remixes. So you might hear a dozen versions of a same song by as many beatmakers, or you might find a guy making beats for months only, with a long collection of edits and remixes on soundcloud. Technically speaking it’s mainly bootlegs or unofficial remixes which you can almost always find as free promo mp3s. If you like a song on here, chances are you will find dozens of other songs you might enjoy, other remixes of the same song, or more remix work by the producers featured here. Finding the music is the easy part: now you just need to work on your Jean-Claude Van Damme moves!
Text & Photos: Benjamin Lebrave
Cover Design: KrashKid