Playing to a shouting, hopping, arm-thrusting U Street Music Hall crowd, the live lineup of Buraka Som Sistema repeatedly vowed to keep its Afro-techno-hip-hop going till dawn. The Portugal-based, Angola-rooted sound system performed two different versions of “(We Stay) Up All Night” -- a track from its new album, “Komba” -- but the song title wasn’t a literal contract. Most dance-floor bangers don’t stay up all night, especially on Tuesdays, and some of the fans had already vanished by the time the 75-minute set ended -- 40 minutes shy of midnight.
It might not have been just the hour that thinned the crowd, though. The music Buraka played live was less varied than that on “Komba,” which combines European beats and American swagger with elements of Angolan ritual. (A komba is a celebration of a recently deceased person’s life.) The group began as a producer/DJ project, and those often sound less distinctive in person than on recordings.
The issue wasn’t a language barrier; the group’s two MCs, portly Andro “Conductor” Carvalho and lanky Kalaf Angelo, proved fluent in Anglo-hype. They regularly enjoined audience members to “jump jump jump” and “get your hand hands up”; they also often used a well-known four-letter word that’s of neither Angolan nor Portuguese origin. The communication gap didn’t increase noticeably when the vocalists, who also included fuchsia-lipsticked singer Blaya, abandoned English for the occasional chant. The metallic beats summoned by Joao “Lil John” Barbosa and Rui “DJ Riot” Pite were easily understood, even if they did have a German accent that upstaged any African flavor.
Among Buraka Som Sistema’s friends and collaborators are MIA and Diplo, exponents of electronic dance music made in the globe’s less affluent areas. But such styles often misplace their indigenous qualities when they hit the international rave-club circuit. At U Street Music Hall, the sound system’s act was mostly generic: a) enjoin the fans to “party,” b) spray them with water and c) get “the ladies” onstage for the encore. Amid such customary club-music gambits, the distinctive musical hybrid that brought the group to prominence was largely forgotten.