"I couldn’t marry a white girl—I should only marry a black African"
Kuduro music seeped into global airwaves sometime around 2007 -- championed by MIA, Diplo, and similar international rhythm scouts. But, as is often the case, no one paid attention to the originators. In his first interview to an English-speaking audience, Costuleta, the astonishing dance machine from the birthplace of kuduro candidly talks of murder, authenticity, and the almighty Euro.
Costuleta, in the music videos that made him famous, begins by gyrating on crutches (he lost his leg as a child) while rapping, surrounded by beautiful dancing women and palm trees. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he explodes into improbable acrobatics: dancing, jumping, and flipping. To view this for the first time is surreal. But for the most iconic figure in the exciting Angolan kuduro scene, defying people’s expectation has been way of life.
Costuleta’s 2005 hit “Tchiriri,” the infectious anthem which exemplifies the genre’s mix of booty-shaking African house, hip-hop, and soca, pushed the local kuduro style (and him) to the world stage. Born into a poor family in Luanda, Angola, he now regularly plays to thousands in the French-Caribbean, Brazil, Africa and Europe.
Recently signed to Sony France, Costuleta agreed to an interview in a Paris hotel. Priest-like in a tight, white hooded shirt, loose white pants and a sandal, he made his way across the hotel lobby on crutches, settled into the sofa chair, and fielded questions from behind dark, square sunglasses for this, his first interview to an English-speaking audience. The man’s energy and charisma were palpable, and his easy, infectious smile simultaneously reinforced his humor and softened the edges of what turned out to be a very candid interview.
Tell me about your childhood.
I am from Luanda, the capital ofAngola. My mother was a housewife, a regular woman. My family was far from rich. When I was 4 years old, I was in a car accident, and lost my leg. My father died shortly thereafter. When I was 12, the wife of the President of Angola gave a present to the disabled children of the country, and sent many of them overseas for treatment and prosthetic fitting. I went to Germany. I was there for a while.
Sometimes when I had a chance, I tried to go out and break dance and rap. But it was very racist there. It was hard for me to move around. Eventually I moved back to Angola. I started dancing with Tony Amadou, one of the first kuduro artists. By that time I had been adopted away from my mother’s home by a white Italian family in Luanda, who thought I was cute as a handicapped dancer.
Did they adopt your brother too?
No, he remained behind with my mother. But when I got older, things became strained with my adoptive family: they didn’t want me to pursue dancing; they wanted me to go to school. But they also told me I couldn’t marry a white girl—I should only marry a black African. So eventually I moved to South Africa to pursue my dancing. I am no longer in touch with them. They moved to Brazil.
What happened in South Africa?
As a kuduro dancer, it’s easy to dance to house music, it’s easy to breakdance. Our style of dancing is very athletic. But in South Africa too it is difficult for people from other African countries. And it was very violent — guns, etc. So when I had the chance to go to Portugal, I did.
It seems like lot of kuduro artists get their international break in Lisbon. But the Portuguese colonized Angola until 1974. What is the feeling of Angolan artists who have to go there?
Over 80% of Angolans have a bad feeling about the Portuguese. There is a lot of discrimination against us when we go there. It is a continuation of the colonial relationship. For example, when I did my first album in Portugal, even with the hit “Tchiriri” I never got paid. Not one cent. So I don’t like Portugal. I don’t plan to go back.
How did the name Kuduro come about?
Tony Amado was a musician and dancer. He wanted to be Michael Jackson. But it’s impossible to be Michael! [laughs]
So he was influenced to start a new style while watching a movie with Claude Van Damme, and his dance moves. Instead of “cu duro” (“hard ass”), it became kuduro. This style was really started by Tony Amadou.
Kuduro is now influencing music around the world. You have Don Omar and Lucenza singing the smash hit “Danza Kuduro” and you have Buruka Son Sistema in a combination with MIA doing “The Sound of Kuduro.” What are your thoughts?
Yes, I am familiar with those songs. The first is very popular. But it’s not authentic kuduro really. And the second…those guys are actually from Portugal, not Angola. You didn’t know that? Check it out.
But you see they had to come to Angola to get the production for that song. They used the same producer I used for Tchiri. He’s very good. Real kuduro can only be made in Angola. There is something about the studios, the equipment, the sounds, the street…it has to be there.
Have you heard of Diplo?
Major Lazer? Some have said that they were influenced by kuduro in their production. [Shows Costuleta the music video to Major Lazer's “Pon De Floor”]
Ok yes, I’ve heard this song. When I first heard it I thought to myself, that’s a kuduro beat. Beyonce did something with it. But what’s this video? [watching] I don’t like it much. I like sexy videos, but I don’t like the dancing here. It leaves nothing to the imagination.
What is the social situation like in Angola right now?
There is lot of economic pressure. Life is very hard and there is a lot of guns and violence. That is why the government does not like kuduro. It is the music of the streets and they associate it with violence. But Luandais very dangerous.
In the video for “No Buraco” you are dressed as a friar walking in the streets of Luanda surrounded by young women in traditional dress. What was the meaning of that video?
Ah yes, that one. My brother had been killed on stage while we were performing.
Yes, murdered. There are gangs in Luanda, based on kuduro associations. It is very difficult there for any kudu artist who has reached any measure of success. The government is watching you, as well as other people who are jealous. It was very sad when my brother was killed. My mother was heartbroken; she died not too long thereafter, I think from a broken heart. People spread rumors that I had been killed too. So that video was me in the streets, showing them that I was still alive, that I was protected.
That experience must have been very difficult. Does that mean you don’t return to Angola that much?
I go to Cape Verde a lot. I have a house there actually. They speak a Portuguese kriolo that is similar to what we speak in Angola. They love me there. I don’t have problems with jealous artists or with government at all. The Prime Minister is actually my friend. Plus, Cape Verdean women are beautiful.