by Ethan Clark
"Dude, you've got to here this stuff called Kuduro. It's like Baile Funk, but from Angola. I dj'ed with this kid who played it and he just killed it!" I'm on the phone with Jay P, aka DJ Rusty Lazer. He's in New York for work and we're discussing the future of our weekly Saturday dance parties at the St. Roch Tavern. The evening started out late last year wih me playing my old soul forty fives, mostly obscure New Orleans stuff. There's only so much of that, though, and I started getting bored. That's when I asked Jay to hop on board. "Yeah," he said, "That would be awesome. I just bought a mixing board that let me dj off of my ipod."
"How embarrasing." I told him, in one of my snarkier vinyl-snob moments. Joke turned out to be on me, though, when I saw that Jay could, with a tool the size of a bread box, have access to thousands and thousands of songs. Sure, the sound quality sucked a little more than vinyl, but that's why you dj somewhere with booze. People won't notice. Furthermore, Jay could play all kinds of modern stuff that you can't even get on vinyl. So soon he was movin' the drunk booties on the dance floor with all kinds of local bounce and hip hop. This left me a precarious situation, since you can't really follow the 160 beat per minute assaults of Big Freedia and Gotty Boy Chris with some scratchy Lee Dorsey track. Total party stopper. So the purchase of a Macbook and some DJ software on my part and the playing field was leveled. And the dance floor has stayed packed.
Which means, of course, that we have to keep coming up with new tunes, so the hunt was on. Pandora, music magazines, random blogs, overheard conversations, the Partay! section at Domino Sound records, bathroom graffiti...wherever we can find out about new dance music, we'll look.
The nights turned into a big tossed salad of dance music from around the world: From Baltimore come the handclap heavy remixes of oldies station favorites like Mr. Postman and It's my Party (I'll cry if I want to). From Brazil comes Baile Funk, the super heavy, Roland 808 bottomed booty music that sounds not at all like what you would normally call "Funk", and more like 2 LIve Crew with a pissed off pitbull barking at you in Portuguese on the mic. From Chicago comes Juke, with it's rapid fire beat like an the heart of a rabbit after a few cans of Sparks. For West Coasters there's Hyphy, with its weird lyrics about getting stupiddumbretarded and ghost riding the whip (Look it up on Youtube if you're in the market for new, insanely dangerous hobby). From East London comes the punk-tinged, syruppy accents and massively chunky beats of Grime. And of course, from right here in Chopper City, comes the bombastic call-and-response barrage of Bounce.
And, now, as Jay has just informed me, we have Kuduro. Some googling, wiki-ing and downloading and I have a healthy dose of the stuff. It's a similar vibe as Baile Funk: Aggressive MC's laying barked vocals over heavy bass, hand claps and tribal sounding chirps and yelps. Kuduro's a bit faster, clocking in at around 140 BPM to Baile Funk's 130 or so, the rhythms are different, and there's less horns. The music isn't a total secret, either, world dance music high priestess has already cut a track with, from what I can tell, is the most prominent Kuduro group in the game, Buraka Som Sistema.
When Jay got back into town we compared notes on the music and he said, "Isn't it great when someone pulls back this veil to reveal a whole new realm of music to explore?" I said that it was, and meant it, but really, Kuduro has sparked the same mash-up of feelings I get from lots of music like this. It's a mixture of excitement about the music itself, yes, but it comes with a certain amount of guilt and a vague feeling of being some sort of International Voyeur. Yeah, you know, the beats are banging, and though when we did play the stuff out it seemed like it might take a while for people to warm to it, they will eventually, I'm sure. The Baile Funk stuff gets hands in the air pretty much without fail, and when I look out across a crowded bar floor at those mostly white hands, that's when I get these weird pangs of uneasiness. Who are the artists making this stuff? What are they even saying? I tried typing some of the Portuguese lyrics (the ones that I could figure out from song titles) into one of those online translator engine thingies and it just came up with a bunch of gibberish.
But from what I know about Baile Funk music, (also called Favela Funk or Funk Carioca) the songs are mostly by MC's from the slums of Sao Paolo and Rio, the Favelas. And anyone who's seen the movies City of God or Pixote or any documentaries about the Favelas know that these places are a brutal warzone of drug dealers, corrupt cops and gansters. I don't know too much about Angola (or Lisbon, the other Kuduro homeland, apparently), but I would imagine that things are pretty rough as well.
And when you live in a brutal, impoverished warzone, you really need to drink some booze and shake your booty sometimes.
All of the aforementioned styles of music (Not to mention a huge chunk of hip-hop as well, of course) were sparked by dire inner city living. Look around here at the Bounce scene with all of its housing project and ward pride.
Hence the uneasiness I feel when playing this stuff. Do a bunch of (again, mostly white) kids, mostly from out of town , really have the right to get down to all this music born from other cultures' hardships? It's like stealing the release found in dancing without going through the bad parts that it built. This feeling sharpens in my mind when I see PC white kids cringing at some of the lyrics that are laid over all these fat beats, all your typical hip-hop misogyny and violence. Is it fair to get your rocks off to one aspect of another culture's music while poo-pooing other aspects? If not, should we then be learning Portuguese, because who the hell knows what we're dancing to with all that stuff? Where do we draw the line between what is or isn't safe booty-shaking territory? Another example of this is Jamaican Dance Hall. Dance Hall is one of the goofiest and funnest modern dance music styles ever, for sure, but its also frequently tinged with violent references to Batty Men, or homosexuals. The problem got so bad that Gay Rights groups in Jamaica, Europe and the States organized mass protests of prominent Dance Hall performes including Beenie Man, Capleton and Sizzla. It got so hard for these guys to tour that the Reggae Compassionate Act was formed, and they all had to sign agreements to do away with the homophobic lyrics.
Now, that's an extreme example, and one I mostly bring up just because it's interesting. I'm certainly not saying that Bounce lyrics or Baile Funk lyrics or whatever other lyrics are that level of offensiveness, a level demanding intervention, I'm just saying that filthy, rude lyrics and dance music seem pretty well entangled (remember Tipper Gore vs. 2 Live Crew?), across the board. For some reason, socially conscious dance songs just don't tear up the charts.
And I don't even have any conclusions to reach at the end of this (somewhat coffee-fueled) rant, these are just things I think about when I'm behind the Technics 1200's on Saturday Night. When we're shaking our butts and getting down to such good music, I feel this cloud over us, one where cultural appreciation/tourism/assimilation/cencorship, are all dancing around, too, dangerously close to one another.
Of course, eventually, around 12:30 or so, the free beers and whiskeys take hold, and I just shake my butt.
Anyone else ever think about this stuff?