Angola's Accidental Star Takes 'Hard Ass' Dance Global

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Because this unique sound is coming to a club near you.

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Kuduro, Angola’s signature dance style since the late 1990s, moves the masses … and the asses. From the coolest dance floors of Luanda’s lively nightlife to the city’s sprawling slums and the most far-flung villages, the blaring beat takes center stage. Literally translated, kuduro means “hard ass” — and it’s what you’re likely to have if you can keep up with the masterful moves of Cabo Snoop.

The 30-year-old rose from the slums to become an Angolan sensation on the back of an engaging personality, slick dance moves and, of course, catchy tracks. Next on his agenda? Conquering Africa … and beyond.

[Cabo Snoop’s] music is more polished than his more underground peers, and thus it markets better outside of Angola.

Claudio Silva, managing director of Luanda Nightlife

His rise is all the more impressive when you consider where he came from. Born Ivo Manuel Lemos when his country was in the throes of a 27-year civil war, he grew up in Bairro da Cuca, in Cazenga, one of the many overcrowded slums of Luanda. In these places, survival is constantly threatened by poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation and a host of other perils. Ivo would have been one of five children, but two of his siblings died young. “My mother used to call me ‘No one’ because she said that no one knows if you will live or die — but thanks to God, I did,” he remembers, with a mix of sadness and gratitude in his voice.

Within the confines of Bairro da Cuca, Lemos found his love for dance. His Michael Jackson moves came naturally to his limber figure and provided endless entertainment for his friends and family. “I was never able to listen to music and not dance,” he says. “It came naturally to me.” His natural talent and passion for movement motivated him and kept him believing that he was a contender for something big.

Still, this wasn’t his career plan. His older brother signed him up for university, but Lemos showed up once and never went back. He found work at Power House — the studio that would ultimately launch his career — as a movie set assistant. There he met Hochi Fu, a producer who ran the studio and took to his style and extroverted personality. It was also Fu who recognized his talent after hearing him sing over an instrumental piece. From there, the two collaborated to get Cabo Snoop his first hit in 2010, “Windek,” that now has over 2.5 million views on YouTube. Fu was also responsible for branding the kuduro star with his name. Fu’s strict style of running his studio like a military school earned his assistant the rank of Cabo, or Private, and his perceived resemblance to the lanky famed rapper Snoop Dogg gave birth to the name Cabo Snoop.

Kuduro is an integral part of life in Angola, born in Luanda’s slums and finding global renown through artists such as the Portuguese electronic dance music group Buraka Som Sistema. “As an Angolan, there’s no way to get around kuduro; it’s everywhere,” says Claudio Silva, managing director of Luanda Nightlife, Angola’s leading digital food and lifestyle platform. “Kuduro is an urban music form and a real, gritty example of life in Angola’s slums. The fact that it’s so catchy and unique propagated it around the world.”

And in the crowded world of kuduro artists, Cabo Snoop stood out quickly — in large part because of Fu. The veteran producer’s eye-catching and colorful music videos allowed Snoop to show off his original dance moves, stretching his lengthy frame.

Silva describes Cabo Snoop’s music as “incredibly catchy, youthful and humorous” and is not surprised at how quickly he became popular in Angola. His Instagram following is over 200,000, right up there with the very popular Puto Português and far ahead of Amo Noite e Dia and Nagrelha, who some argue is the most famous kudurista in Angola right now.

The appeal extends outside Angola, and Snoop has performed around the region. “His music is more polished than his more underground peers and thus it markets better outside of Angola,” Silva says, though he adds Snoop’s marketability outside Africa could use some work.

That’s what Snoop’s older brother, Adao Manuel Lemos, is working on. The elder Lemos is encouraging his brother — whom Adao contends is unchanged by fame — to learn English or go to university to learn the business side of music, all the better to grow his brand outside of Africa. “Because today you are famous and tomorrow you may be out of the spotlight and all those people that were around you will disappear,” Lemos says.

But for now, Cabo Snoop, husband and father of two, aspires “to become one of the best, if not the best, musician in Africa [by] 2020. I started with music accidentally and now I am the most recognizable Angolan musician in Africa.” He released an album in early 2018, and his calendar is full for the remainder of the year with concerts in Tanzania and Malawi, as well as preparation for a new album for 2019 that will include collaborations with DJ Snake, from France, and Congolese singer Awilo Longomba. You can bet there will be plenty of ass-shaking to go around.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Snoop’s attendance at university. He showed up once and never went back.

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