Buraka Som Sistema’s live album Buraka 4 Eva marks the fifteenth anniversary of their debut EP, it playfully recollects their dance-floor tailored rhythms. The dance group opens up to us about how they established themselves as decolonial cultural power, their eclectic inspiration from Angola to Lisbon, and inclusivity in the music industry, all in the name of electronic music.
How does it feel celebrating the fifth anniversary of your farewell concert and the fifteenth anniversary of your debut EP?
Coming from Lisbon, the path to worldwide appreciation of our music was never easy or obvious. We were never able to just sit back and relax, so when we decided to stop doing shows back in 2016, one of the reasons was definitely how intense of an experience it was to be a part of this group for 10 years. Five years later, it feels really good to see all that hard work and what we were able to build for the group during those 10 years, and also that all that hard work ended up becoming the foundation for the birth of an amazing music scene in our hometown, Lisbon.
To introduce your style to your new listeners, how did the band come together? Why did you settle in electronic music as your genre?
The group is a result of what it sounds like growing up in the outskirts of Lisbon. We tried to create our own perspective on the Angolan genre Kuduro by mixing in with all the electronic music that came to Lisbon via London and with other styles from the Portuguese-speaking universe. Electronic music was an obvious element of the equation for multiple reasons, not only because we loved it, but also because putting together beats was a lot more intuitive and cheaper than having to book a studio and record real instruments. It has always been a lot about DIY for us.
You have played over 800 shows during your decade as a band. In this journey, you experienced ups and downs individually and as a group. What lessons, tips, and observations did you witness and learn in the industry, during your tour, and that you still practice today?
We were mostly happy to be traveling and taking our music around the world and grateful for being able to do what we loved. In many ways, I would say that the secret was that we were always just focusing on moving forward and on different ways to make our music and our live shows better and more interesting. It has always been about being creative and innovative with our art, so there was never time to stop and think about it.
Going through individual identities, Conductor is half Cuban, half Angolan; DJ Riot is half Mozambican, half Portuguese; Branko is Portuguese; Blaya is Brazilian-born Portuguese; and Kalaf is from Angola. How did your backgrounds help you create music as one?
From the start, we have always felt like our different backgrounds were going to be an advantage because they were what set us apart from everything else and what made us sound unique. Also, we knew that there was a common thread that somehow connected all our cultures together, and we made it a clear statement to try and explore that as much as possible. So, either through phonetics, language, samples, or rhythm, the challenge has always been how we can create something that brings all these cultures together, [that] becomes relevant back home, and how it can bring people from all over the world together on a dance floor.
You mentioned that when you released From Buraka to the World, the purpose was “to build cultural bridges that could help us identify and enjoy everything that was being done musically in the space we inhabited.” Why did you want to build these bridges via cultures? Did you witness these changes flourish during your decade?
Since the beginning, one of our main goals had been to establish Lisbon as a relevant epicenter of Portuguese-speaking culture by connecting all these cultures together. It was important because it was real; it was not just a made-up narrative that looks good on a press release. There is something special about the city. The people who live here and create here are different, and we have always known it, so we decided to continuously highlight the city and its artists because we knew that at some point more people would be able to see what we saw in this community and we would end up having a music scene. It is great to be able to look back now and confirm the influence that the group had in terms of establishing a new cultural identity for the city.
Moving through the tracks in your live album Buraka 4 Ever, which track(s) resonate with you the most? What are the backstories behind them?
The way we put the album together and chose which songs to include was based on the past - all the memories we had from all the shows, our [most] special moments during concerts, and how we perceive our own songs and compositions today. Music evolves so we wanted to make sure that Buraka 4 Ever was not just kind of a “best of” exercise; it had to still be a relevant music release. It was always amazing to see the different reactions we got from different audiences to specific songs, so it was clear for us that the bigger singles are not exactly people’s favorite songs during a concert. It was important for us to pick the right songs and highlight the right moments while making sure that they sounded exactly like we wanted them to.
In a statement, you concluded that some bands can go on hiatus, but Buraka is forever, like the title of your live album. What does the future look like for you as a band and as individual creatives? Is there anything that you are excited to explore soon?
We feel like there is an important legacy that comes from how we always approached diversity and, in some ways, promoted mental decolonisation of people’s perception of music, and that is the main premise for the group. We want to try and keep this idea alive using our catalogue. What still excites us today is the idea of trying to make the music industry a more inclusive place and that is exactly what is happening with Latin and West African music going fully global. So, it is even more inspiring now to dream about the possibility that music from the Portuguese-speaking universe could also have this sort of impact on the world and right now we feel like we can do a better job at that as individual creators, producers, and artist rather than as a group. This is what we are trying to do, but the narrative will always be the same.
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