Album Reviews

Buraka Som Sistema – Black Diamond

(Fabric) UK release date: 17 November 2008

Producers Lil’ John, Riot and Conductor and MC Kalaf form the core of Lisbon’s Buraka Som Sistema, but the hand of Diplo is also unmistakable on Black Diamond, their debut album.

Their Angola-originated breakbeat sound of kuduro provides the foundations of the sonic assault that follows but it is augmented by electronica, baile funk and an array of grime MCs from across the globe, all with something to say. Recorded in Angola, Portugal and London, the record plays like a DJ set, tracks merging from one to the other in an irresistable torrent of beats and sounds.

M.I.A.‘s Paper Planes was one of two tracks on her second album Kala co-written with �berproducer Diplo. It’s he who’s the mastermind behind this mesmerising fusion of electronica, African rhythms, Portuguese vocals and political conscience. It features M.I.A. too, on the compulsive blast of a track Sound Of Kuduro, and throughout the record there are parallels with Kala’s atmospherics, instrumentation and beats, and with its willingness to spotlight political issues.

Here the global diamond trade and Angola’s part in it, and more generally the sale of Africa’s natural resources, forms the backbone of greivance. As with the Leonardo DiCaprio film Blood Diamond, it spotlights a trade in which corruption is endemic and which serves largely to plunder the lands mined for their materials, giving little back to their peoples.

Sonically, elements of Black Diamond call to mind The Bug‘s Poison Dart sped up; other phrases recast late ’80s rave in a global underground mashup; the exact synth sound from M.I.A.’s Hussel (another Diplo collaboration) turns up on Tiroza and Kurum has a reminder of Klaxons‘s Atlantis To Interzone’s klaxon blast. It’s this marriage of the familiar and the new that makes the record such an accessible listen. The melange of Portuguese, English and other languages serves to add a global context to the music; anyone understanding all the words is surely in a minority.

But, as the releasing label suggests, Black Diamond is a thing first and foremost of the dance floor. As such it requires speakers to be turned up till the walls are shaking. Listen to it through headphones on a Monday morning and the pulverising rhythms will only urge you to find a club with a hefty speaker system, such as Fabric’s own. This is not music for a pub’s jukebox.

The second half of the record finds space between the bass for General’s acoustic guitar sample loop and low-frequency synth, lending its opening moments an air of calm amongst the pulsating, thundering bass-driven rhythms. Yet it too morphs into an electro monster that’s impossible not to dance to.

Despite its wider political scope, Black Diamond then is a record of club cuts, a catalogue of the global language of dance as it is now, a cross-cultural exchange of rhythms, views and sounds. In that context it sounds like the most modern party night yet dreamt up.

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Buraka Som Sistema – Black Diamond