Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave speaks fluent French and English, and can schmooze in Spanish and Portuguese. He’ll report on new African music every other week. This week, he writes about Guinea Bissau's Buruntuma.
I have a pretty serious addiction to Lusophone music. I have stopped counting the number of columns I have devoted to Luso music, whether here or for This Is Africa, and I have no intentions of diminishing the pace.
One country I have been particularly curious about is the small West African nation of Guinea Bissau, which only seems to be making headlines when a Western journalist stumbles across a few kilos of cocaine there. I’ve been fortunate to come across an artist from Bissau once already and we are back at it today, with an absolutely scrumptious bit.
Download: Buruntuma, "Homenagem ao Heroi"
Guinea Bissau inherits two marvelous musical traditions: fertile Mandingo roots, with a thick layer of Luso influences. Bands like Super Mama Djombo have this incredible guitar sound, somewhere between Angolan or Cape Verdian and Malian or Guinean music. Although I could listen to Super Mama Djambo all day any day, today we’ll focus on a reinterpretation of one of their classic songs.
Buruntuma was born in Bissau, where he lived until he was 12 years old. “I grew up in a family of music lovers," he says. "As a child I remember hearing all kinds of music: Brenda Fassie, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Monique Seka, Pépé Kallé, Oliver Ngoma, Youssou N’dour, Miriam Makeba, Lucky Dube, Phil Collins… this mixture of music from all over the world ha influenced me to this day. I would also hear most Guinean artists: Justino Delgado, José Carlos Schwarz, Super Mama Djombo, etc.”
Buruntuma is a DJ and producer, with a passion for house music that he can trace back as far as his childhood: “The funny thing is, in a sense I already had a certain interest in house music, because in those days in Guinea you could hear various global dance music hits from the ’90s: Robin S, Nightcrawlers, Haddaway, Reel II Real.”
“After this I moved to Portugal to study in better conditions, and it’s as if I disconnected from African music," he says. "I switched to listening to Western music, everything I saw on MTV, etc. I moved to Coimbra, a city famed from its academic tradition and student parties. This is where I really discovered house music, and from then on, I was hooked.”
He discovered music production by chance in 2006 when he stumbled across a computer program called Hip Hop Ejay. He started making hip-hop beats with it, without ever losing sight of house music. “A crucial moment was the summer of 2011, a time when afrohouse did not have the fame it has now in Portugal. There were no mixes of that genre on YouTube, so I decided to post one, and to my surprise it got a lot of views. So I felt encouraged, I then created a SoundCloud account, a Facebook page, and started posting my sets.”
I’ve been talking to Buruntuma for a year or so, but what struck me with his latest song is the distinct Bissauan flavor. Combining his clean, afrohouse production with Mama Djombo’s irresistible guitar riffs is a sound which immediately sticks out from the mass of SoundCloud afrohouse.
“The music of Guinea Bissau is incredible rich and diverse, but it needs more support," Buruntuma says. "We have great artists, but they need support. The political situation of recent years also doesn’t help.” The country has a minuscule population, and happens to be one of the poorest in the region. It is also very unstable, victim of a recent coup and powerful drug lords. So if you are looking for any form of structure to create or carry music, look elsewhere. There is a small diaspora in Portugal and France, with artists like Buruntuma or Patche di Rima reinventing the on Bissauan sound. Much like Patche, Buruntuma hopes his success can propel Bissauan music: “I think I can help, because I can bring new markets and audiences for Guinean musicians, much like what happened in Angola.”