A few months ago I asked if kuduro is dead. The question wasn’t all provocation: my recent trip to Luanda has shown me first hand how prevalent house music has become in Angola, in just a few years. But this is not to say kuduro has disappeared—far from it. Although we could have an endless debate about the evolution of musical creativity within Angolan kuduro, one thing is at least certain: kuduro is becoming more and more accepted by Angolan society. Case in point: the Kuduro International Conference I attended last month is symptomatic of a general choice by Angolan media groups to use kuduro to promote Angolan culture abroad.
This anecdote may help situate how bold this evolution is: On my first morning in Luanda, I stopped at a pastry shop with some of the other panelists, where a guy asked us where we were from, why we were here. When we started to explain we had come for the Kuduro International Conference, the guy stared at the heavens, and started going on and on about how Angolan culture is rich and varied, and how misled we were to look into kuduro, which is hardly culture, not even music and really not worth talking about at all, etc. A few years back, this was the dominant opinion, at least in the cidade, the center of the city, which still concentrates most of the wealth and power. But recent efforts to give kuduro some shine have been working—if you don’t trust my word, or the Angolan establishment’s word, take Killamu’s.
Download: Killamu, “Africano”
Killamu is a second-generation kuduro beatmaker. He was too young to be part of the first wave, in the early to mid-1990s. But by the time kuduro started to truly dominate Luanda’s musseques in the early 2000s, with groups like Os Lambas and Puto Prata, Killamu’s beats were playing throughout the city 24/7. Over the following decade, he continued to be one of the most sought after kuduro producers. Still, when I met him in 2009, he was unsatisfied with how little he saw in return for kuduro’s success, both in Angola and abroad:
When we spoke, the idea was that I could help him develop an international career and give him an alternative to the limited sources of income he could hope for in Angola. Well, things didn’t really turn out that way. Although I do hope my efforts to promote his music globally have given him some kind of clout in Angola, the real improvement for Killamu has come from Angola’s growing recognition of kuduro, which gave him more respect and—more to the point—more business.
And I find myself just as addicted to kuduro as ever. Sometimes fellow DJs tell me it doesn’t matter where music is made anymore, but in the case of kuduro, I couldn’t disagree more. Even within Luanda, geography matters. If you didn’t learn how to make beats in Luanda’s ghettos, or if you don’t have some kind of direct lineage to such beatmakers, then you may be making good music, but it certainly isn’t kuduro, as defined by Fruity Loops masters from Rangel. (I don’t mean to tell aspiring producers from around the world not to make kuduro. Go for it. It doesn’t need to sound like it’s from Luanda to be good. And if you really want that sound, well, it’s possible—check out DJ Marfox, who does it extremely well without ever setting foot in Angola.)
Killamu’s song above, “Africano,” is a very simple batida, but it sums up my musical preference: the beat might be considered repetitive by some, or the production value not that high. I suppose so. But for me perfection lies in Killamu’s ability to make a computer sound bouncy. I grew up on hip-hop, MPCs, Premier, Pete Rock. Those guys didn’t make complex beats, they just perfected the art of the loop and made machines sound good. This is an art I feel is neglected all too often. Most successful dance music producers I can think of have a lot of talent—as sound engineers. When it comes to creativity in their beats, though, when it comes to the essence of what makes people dance, I feel they are mostly missing the point. They are too focused on sound design, and that’s why I always turn my head back to places like Luanda, where the art of making people dance is more spontaneous and, consequently, infinitely superior.