On the new variant of Kuduro/Batida coming out of Europe
Kuduro is an energetic style of dance music emerging from Angola. Kuduro tracks are commonly set at a BPM (beats per minute) rate of 130–140, and feature intricate, clipped drum patterns and instruments and hyped-up chanting or singing. Along with its instrumental cousin, Batida, it’s one of the ‘regional variant’ dance genres with significant global traction that have emerged from diverse world centres in recent years. (Two folkloric notes: 1. Cu duro in Portuguese = hard ass. 2. Tony Amado, Kuduro progenitor, claims the aesthetics of the genre sprang from Jean-Claude Van Damme, dancing drunk in Kickboxer.)
While it’s acknowledged to have originated from Portuguese-speaking areas of Angola, a new take on Kuduro and Batida is being made by (mostly) teenage boys from Lisbon and other parts of Portugal. From my vantage point, it’s been a process of reverse-engineering online material in order to discover more about these producers. Some of these kids look like young jerkers, while others sport YMCMB caps, piercings and dreadlocks. Their music takes influence from Angolan club music, South African afro house, Western R ‘n’ B and minimal electronic music, and, in the most aurally compelling tracks, baile funk and other South American club rhythms. The tracks are varied but often sample dramatic nylon-string buleria guitar chords or synths, which stab strategically between coarse, fastidiously programmed beats made of crackling hand percussion and drum machine samples. Vocalists are rarely featured. Instead, curtly recorded badges of each producer’s name, or hype phrases, bubble up in prominent handfuls and act as a vocal surrogate.
I was quite late to the Kuduro party. The genre developed in Angola some time during the country’s 26-year-long civil war, which ended in 2002. By the late 2000s, the genre had some prominent Western dabblers (most of whom seemed to miss the point).
In 2011, I had participated in my label Brother Sister Records’ Mobile Rekodi Situdio project, which set vocal tracks by Kenyan MCs and vocalists to electronic music made by Australian producers. The product was colourful and inconsistent, but pleasingly so. Around the time of its release, I heard of another compilation of African electronic music released through a Western label (Mental Groove’s Bazzerk). This was a more (kuduro-) focused affair. The name of one artist, DJ N***a-Fox, stood out. His bristling contribution to the release (E? Para Vacalhar) was patchy, but its frenzied rhythms and vocal badge—pitched up to Angry Troll level—were enough to send me on a YouTube journey.
My destination turned out to be a link to a .zip file containing a compilation entitled Unia?o Dos Dj_s Vol.1 (I found the link in the description section of a YouTube upload of one of the tracks). The compilation (released by Z_k Music, apparently) is crudely presented: its artwork looks like a pirated software product and is imperfectly oblong. Similar to the brief and disputed late 00’s ‘witchhouse’ genre, artists’ names are spelled differently on different tracks and are decorated with superfluous capitalisations and symbols (e.g., # Dj EdyFoOx # .ll?l?l?. and # [D]j [M]inaj # .ll?l?l?.)1. The tracks themselves are maxed out—amplified to the point of distortion and then compressed to 160 kbps (a process which removes audio signal below a certain amplitude and/or above a certain frequency). I sense that this could even be an aesthetic decision. Instead of detracting from the fidelity, this digital conditioning pushes the music to the edge of your speakers. (The tracks do sound strangled when aligned against other music in DJ software such as Traktor, however.)
Nominally, many artists follow the format of DJ [distinguishing noun or prefix] Fox. DJs N***a-Fox—who is Angolan and pushing his own innovative style of batida and afrohouse—and Edifox are joined by DJs Adifox, Dadifox, Lil Fox, Lilocox and Nunocox. Benjamin Lebrave, the French native and now Ghana-based founder of Akwaaba Music, was good enough to source an answer from Kuduro/Tarraxo elder DJ Marfox (who also appears on Bazzerk) about this naming convention on my behalf when I recently bugged him on Twitter: Marfox claims to have started the trend by naming himself after the 1993 Nintendo game StarFox.
@brothersisterr I asked marfox, he says his name comes from that super nintento game, then the other copied…!
— akwaabamusic (@akwaabamusic) May 13, 2013
These artists are also heavily active on the German audio platform Soundcloud. Tracks posted are usually briskly inchoate, lasting no more than a minute. They often disappear weeks or months later. This may be in part due to Soundcloud’s restrictions – an artist with a free account can only have so many minutes of music on their account at a time. Soundcloud is a social network: as a listener, you subscribe to each artist so that any time a new track is posted, it appears in your feed. The collective output, especially during the Portuguese summer school holiday period, is so prolific that you’ll likely be too busy listening to the sum of each artist’s latest bedroom creation—exploring and incorporating aspects of genres including kuduro, batida, fodencia du ghetto, as well as slower genres such as tarraxo, tarraxinha, and zouk—to notice the bounds of individual tracks.
In an attempt to join in the spirit of the genre, my exuberant comments feature on many of the surviving Soundcloud stems. I don’t speak Portuguese so I’ve learnt by example from the artists’ own comments on their peers’ tracks. Yet, my comments are mostly limited to “BOM SOM” (GOOD SOUND) and “Obrigado” (Thank you). My label runs a monthly mix series; I’ve made many less than successful attempts at soliciting a DJ […]fox to prepare a 30-minute mix. My requests, sent via the Soundcloud inbox, have been met with silence, emoticons ( ;-) ) or queries that can be only somewhat deciphered via Google Translate.
Though the historical link between Lisbon and Luanda is fraught, my sense is the shared language (and the large number of Angolan immigrants in Portugal) has contributed to the initial hopping-over of kuduro and its subsequent collaborative pollination/development. Additionally, this lingual commonality has effectively barred non-speakers like myself from participating in, or capitalising on, the form in its early stages. (The Unia?o Dos DJs’ search-resistant naming techniques might also be intended to bolster that effect.) It’s a cultural flow that has resulted in a brilliant and distinct genre.
Personally, my lowest moment occurred after sending such a request to DJ Adifox who, along with DJs Estraga, BebedeRa and Edifox, is one my favourite artists from this community. In my enthusiastic haste, I failed to proofread my message properly, and got my foxes mixed up. I received a heartbreaking reply:
“I’m not edifox I’m adifox
You can download the tracks:”