FEATURE-Angola's hard-hitting beat electrifies the poor

Fri May 22, 2009 8:00am EDT

* Kuduro includes elements of rap, break-dance and hip-hop

* Resonates with Angolans in shantytowns



By Henrique Almeida

LUANDA, May 22 (Reuters) - It's not break-dance, it isn't rap either. The name is kuduro and its beat is electrifying dancers from Luanda to Lisbon and New York City with elements of rap, break-dance and hip-hop.

In Angola's capital city, men and women are often seen performing robotic moves similar to the Michael Jackson circle slide, bouncing off street walls or simply pretending to drop dead on the ground once kuduro's hard-hitting beat stops.

The creator of kuduro, which literally means "hard-ass" in Portuguese, said he came up with the sound while watching international film star and martial arts expert Jean Claude Van Damme dance in a 1994 movie.

"I always liked to imitate Michael Jackson," said Tony Amado in an interview with Reuters.

"But when I saw Van Damme dance in that movie with his ass all tight I immediately started singing: dance, dance Van Damme, dance, dance Van Damme," Amado added, as he lifted his arms up to describe how Van Damme danced at the time.

The Luandan artist went on to combine local African instruments, techno beats and the occasional Van Damme karate move to develop his beat during the 1990s, when Angola's 27-year civil war was still raging on.

But his songs also carried a strong message to the poor. One of his first albums, "Angolan open your eye," urges Angolans to "wake up to the horrors around them".

"I was also trying to make the rest of the world understand what we were going through in the ghettos here," Amado added from a porch in a hotel in Luanda overlooking just one of the hundreds of shanty-towns surrounding the crowded capital city.



THE POOR

Amado says kuduro is a hit in Angola because it allows the youth to express what they feel in a country with vast oil-wealth but where the majority remains poor.

Angola emerged as Africa's second biggest oil producer after the war ended in 2002 but two-thirds of Angolans still live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.

Today kuduro varies between fast-hitting techno dance to one in which the female dancer swings her bottom sensuously.

Males are prone to break-dance moves and compete for the most original dance. Their efforts often include facial expressions with names like the "circumcision face" or the "doll face".

When Amado's son Mark, 13, said he did not feel like dancing kuduro for Reuters, Amado threatened to invite another kid from the street to perform, which shows how popular his creation has become among the poorer classes of Angolan society.

The Sambizanga neighbourhood on the outskirts of Luanda is a case in point. Hundreds of street-children hawk everything from pirate CDs to toilet seats in a desperate struggle to make a living in the poorest and most dangerous part of the city.

Sambizanga is also home to some of the hottest kuduro bands in the southwestern African nation like the Lambas, which were the first to appear on MTV.



GOING GLOBAL

"Kuduro was invented in Luanda's urban core but the musseques (shanty-towns) have lifted it to unimaginable heights," Amado said. "I guess that's because kuduro helps the youth express how they feel about their lives."

And it's not just in Angola. Progressive kuduro movements like the Buraka Som Sistema, based in Portugal, are taking the music to new frontiers with performances sold-out from Paris to New York.

"Kuduro is now spreading to the rest of the world," said Amado, who later complained the new wave of artists were not giving him enough credit for inventing the kuduro beat.

"I've never made the cover of a magazine in Angola or received a prize for kuduro."

That may explain why he has decided to take matters into his own hands. Amado will name his next album: "Tony Amado, The Creator of Kuduro." (Reporting by Henrique Almeida; Editing by Jon Hemming)



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