Buraka Som Sistema

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Komba Review

by K. Ross Hoffman

Komba, as a voice-over early in Buraka Som Sistema's so-titled sophomore album helpfully explains, is an Angolan religious tradition that's roughly the equivalent of an Irish wake: a massive party held a week after a death, celebrating the life of the deceased. The accordingly spooky and festive title track, which is primarily sung in English (and, in part, as though from beyond the grave), together with several references to Bantu tribal rituals in the opening "Eskeleto" (Skeleton), sets up the notion that the album will be something of a cultural guided tour. But save, perhaps, for the ominous, drum-driven instrumental "Macumba" (whose title refers to Afro-Brazilian folk religion), there's no other indication here (at least to Anglophones) that Portugal's Kuduro champions have any such edificatory intentions in mind: for all practical purposes, Komba is "conceptual" only in that -- as could only be expected -- it's just one hell of a party. Not tampering too much with the formula that made 2008's Black Diamond such an undeniable, explosive experience, Komba essentially delivers more of the same: fierce, hard-hitting, yet decidedly playful, fully polyglot electronic gutter-funk. The average intensity of these new tracks may have come down a notch (though they're still plenty fiery), and there's an uptick in what might seem like crossover pop concessions (not that there's anything wrong with that) -- incorporating elements from R&B ("Voodoo Love") and blandly populist dance-pop (first single "[We Stay] Up All Night" is something like the African tech-funk version of Kesha), as well as the self-explanatory reggaeton hybrid "Burakaton" -- basically, it's just the group indulging its omnivorous and well-established pan-global pop wanderlust. (See also the nutty "LOL & POP," which combines childlike taunts, Clipse-referencing raps, and shout-outs to past BSS tracks with a frenetic, vaguely surf-punky riff.) There aren't quite as many standout tracks this time around, but there are no real low points to speak of (although the dopey ghetto-tech vocal sampling of the incessantly blip-happy "Hypnotized" comes close), and there's plenty to enjoy, especially from a beat programming standpoint -- or, even more especially, from the center of a crowded, sweat-soaked dancefloor. Not at all a bad way to go.

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