If you are reading this, I want first; to advise, that this article mostly wants to give a fast understanding about the zoukbass scene. Its main intention is to engage people to discover and search for old and new artists from the zouk, pre-zoukbass, tarraxhina, kizomba scenes.
Second, to let you know in advance that you should dedicate some minutes to read and perhaps click several music videos or music streams, (at least several seconds so you can make an idea of the music genre and its sound) by saying that, I mean this post may be worth a bookmark if your free time runs out.
Third, because since the Antilles got African slaves, until the digital era, several billion important things have happened; many names will be omitted, perhaps forgotten in the history depending who is reading the article.
The more you know about the ‘real zouk and kizomba scene’ the more names you may know, and subsequently the more vague this article will be.
My intention, is to give my own perspective as a foreign about this Zouk Bass hype.
So let’s begin:
It is not new the fact wicked sounds have been slowly getting more attention from not only listeners but also from fellow music blogs.
Zouk Bass like the early stage of Moombahton, is stirring controversy -in a good way-; generating discussions that go from either ZB is a new “branding” of an existing genre or in fact a new sub-genre in the always expanding global bass scene; it also stirs polemic in terms of cultural appropriation, while for some , ZoukBass is merely a genuine musical expansion.
No matter how you see it, it has a good outcome musically speaking: a fresh and sexy new sound that is killing it in the dancefloors.
But how on earth is this new?
Well. Like those movies in where you start from the end, we need to reconstruct the whole script so we can go full circle.
I hope you had seen Amores Perros as we will have at least few parallel stories and we may need to go back and forth.
It is well known that when people from a country immigrate to another, somehow a big part of their culture comes with them. In that sense, the world is always in constant motion, blending cultures with common elements and adding their own and perhaps actual influences.
Since slavery times, Antilles have always been a great source of raw rhythms and also since then; a great exchange of creative ideas existed between Africans & Antillean not only in their native countries, but also wherever they decided to establish in.
Music recordings suggest the idea, alongside some open immigration protocols in France, that lots of Cape Verde artists established and made a cultural connection in the Afro-french communities and at the same time they began to have deeper contact with immigrants artists from the Caribbean and specifically with Zouk music -which is from Antillean origin- in the early 40’s and 50’s.
This process like any other “roots” music scene kept steady and did not have any major change for decades except riding and flirting with the charts (mostly R&B) until zouk artists started exploring new horizons in 80’s and 90’s.
But while this was steady in Europe, in Cape Verde , they slowed down original Zouk, originating Cabo-love, Zouk -Love ( with elements of R&B and pop aesthetics) Although Cape-Verdeans were not the only ones; in Angola they did the same and call it Kizomba.
All those styles are based on a specific dance that have the same name as the music.
We need to make a pause in here as there are too many names to have as a reference point, from pioneers Kassav to Edith Lefel, bands like SOS, Afro Sond Star or dj vibe to dj Znobia, many names like jean michel rotin, zouk love, ludo among literally thousands more names came to me in the research.
Although I think it is safe to drop something more “updated” one, and show Kaysha as he seems to be one of the acts that pushed the genre to a new level/market and spread it thru the continent.
But lets get back to the 80’s in Angola.
Angolan producers took all this zouk and added their native sounds like Semba and merengue for example Eduaro Paim
and they created Kizomba.
For Paim, Kizomba was a unique thing, he claims he was not neccesarily aiming to fusion Zouk with Semba, but instead Kizomba is an Angolan original creation.
Irmaos Verdades could be a great example of kizomba. ( Again they are not necessarily the pioneers, but for sure an outstanding example)
Labels and audience never got the memo, back then, before ZOUK BASS, kizomba was called zouk, and like zoukbass, this brand new 80’s kizomba had a hard time showing to audiences it was not simply an Angolan zouk but a whole new thing.
It took a lot of releases for people to call Angolan Zouk with Angolan Rhytms like Semba, Angolan Merengue, Kilapanda, early Ku Duro, KIZOMBA. In my understanding the dance had a lot to do in that. Artists and genres became less the point of interest while dancing, one was dancing to kizomba.
The outcome, as new technologies started showing up, new approaches started showing up.
Tarraxinha makes the entry, as a new form of Kizomba, they ‘hijacked’ the instrumentals of Kizomba and made it more minimal and less pop-radio friendly.
The change may not be perceived drastically until one understands the lyrics, which became much more explicit.
Everyone points as one of the fathers (OR THE FATHER) of this style to Angolan Dj Znobia who we have feat several times:
TARRACHINA Proibida from Dj Znobia
Dj Madabaya (Mauro Madaleno)
Now, I think we all agree that this is not new for many of us who have been into the undergrounds scenes, several blogs have featured these sounds, thousands of tracks and compilations were already out. We are talking about 2004-2010 or so.
No matter how much buzz was in the under, it still was a very ghetto thing for many European listeners, and somehow perceived as mere African music, whether made in Angola, Portugal, Senegal, etc etc.
Hit videos and tracks hardly reached more than a couple million hits, which was nothing compared to other music genres topping the charts same years. It was BIG for them. Not for the rest of the planet.
Tarraxhina only reached equally Mainstream and street levels in 2012, thanks mainly to the world cup when Portugal’s soccer team got this as an unofficial anthem
So it had many consequences, for example: made it easier to dance for people who secretly liked the music, but weren’t keen to say openly they had a crush on ‘black music’ neither their dance.
Charts and youtube soared. People indeed knew about tarraxhina.
Also it didnt take too long for more people to realize all this huge selection of tarraxhina that was already available, at the same time it opened a window to lots of dudes who , back then, had started producing a “more urban”-less romantic version of tarraxhina, which became known as tarraxo.
Usually dropping kuduro influences. Either musically or just the MC.
Tarraxo is the pre-zoukbass at least in terms of attitude.
Keeping the Amores Perros style and going back again to the emigration/immigrants subject from 80’s, 90’s BUT NOW going to the 00’s, now we can focus in Europe and somehow in North America (specifically Canada) as new generations began to develop new forms of Tarraxinha.
Second and third generations, who kept strong ties to their parents or grandparents roots were the ones that started creating and expanding these sounds.
Notable example is Nelson Freitas, from the Netherlands ( again, too many names, but feel free to search for more)
But something different was happening in Portugal , it got more intense; the second and 3rd generation started to produce an impressive amount of tracks and creating crews.
Enchufada and Buraka’s Kalaf Angelo gives a good point of view about this subject and the inception behind Buraka Som Sistema HERE
A heavy collab between Portuguese, Africans and other nationalities start to become a whole new identity in where crews like Principe Discos, Mãe Produções/Pequenos DJ’s di Guetto, Filho único, Casa da Mãe Produções, Lx Monkey Beatz, Enchufada, Circus Maximus and more began exploring not only musical expansion, but also started having production lessons with old producers and find space in Lisbon clubs, thanks in part to Buraka and the Kuduro early hype.
This is the most significant compilation of those days, made in 2006, mostly with 192kbs tracks and re-released in 2013 via digital. Several Key players are in that compilation.
This whole new generation (immigrant) also started to do a darker Tarraxo.
Less melodic, more hypnotic, progressive,dark..maybe a reflection of those days which were not easy for any immigrant.
DJ N.k. – Não Chora Mais
This approach seemed to have a direct impact in France as they also adopt this raw version of Kizomba.
Mestah – Contra Voce
ALL OF THIS seems to be the BOILING pot for >
Kuimba ´s Tarraxo na Parede!
And beautifully contextualized in UMB’s Deep in Zouk Space mixtape
No need to mention, all the great new releases labeled as ZB.
So now we are full circle.. and we didnt really needed to show BSS’ boiler room setlist,
because most of new articles and blogs point Buraka Som Sistema and their members as the guys who spread the genre, which is true.
But somehow unfair.
I decided to ask Principe Discos’ Pedro Gomes and Filho Unico‘s Andre Ferreira to see how was their perception about zouk bass being these two labels the “cradle” of the scene.
How is your perception of this whole new revival:
Principe Discos: Zouk Bass is pretty much just a new “branding” (as they say nowadays) for tarraxinha, which has been going around for a long time now – and everybody in that respect is indebted to DJ Znobia, who invented it.
Locally – in what regards Lisbon – we’re aware that the first few examples of it started around 2006, hence part of the reason (and only part) of why we thought it’d be relevant to digitally reissue the ‘DJ’s do Guetto Vol. 1′ compilation. Tarraxinha was at the time and still is “just” one aspect of the kuduro, batida and afro-portuguese dance music which has been going around for almost a decade here, in a more independent manner and style – not just influenced by Angolan/capeverdian structures, but developing in a manner which is exclusive to Lisbon, in all manners natural and conceivable. A lot of music being done at the time when ‘DJ’s do Guetto Vol. 1′ was released 7 years ago, and to this day is pretty much on its own and has so many variables and progressions that don’t actually have a name – and in our opinion it’s best that it remains like that. Tarraxinha, or zouk bass as people are trying to call it now (in post-modern neo-colonialist fashion), is just one of the styles that have been very much alive in the periphery of Lisbon, in mainly african communities, and again obviously in Angola.
Through our releases, soundcloud activity and in our monthly Príncipe nights at the Lisbon downtown club Musicbox, we’ve had these styles and identities miscigenate with contemporary central Lisbon nightlife, and other new developments have occurred just from the fact that actual ghetto music is now finally and for the first time being celebrated in what were (before we started) predominantly caucasian-frequented clubs. That has broken a number of cultural apartheids on both sides, in a way which is much more consequential than any Benetton-unite-all-races cosmetic operation. It’s actually happening in a true communal, positive, constructive manner – the feedback from all sides concerned in this equation has been phenomenal, and once a month everybody is partying together in what is one of the hottest monthly nights in town – the club is always packed. It has made the music even better, it has motivated a lot of DJs who didn’t have an outlet to play their own productions in a club setting, and has brought back a number of producers who maybe thought there wasn’t any room for them in a more cosmopolitan setting, because it gave all these people concrete evidence that the city loves this music. And the central Lisbon crowd has been dropping their jaws every month at the music they never knew existed, much less that it existed a mere 20 minutes worth of a bus ride away from where they live.
Do you feel colonialism or appropriation now north American and global bass producers are starting to produce more and more zouk bass inspired tracks?
PD: Angolan people started doing tarraxinha – which is what now is called zouk bass, so i think the question should be a put in the opposite way.
What do Angolan people feel about people in Portugal doing tarraxinha? After asking that, you can ask what they think about tarraxinhas, batidas, kuduros that people in Portugal have been doing?
That way we’d actually have a constructive dialogue going on, because we’d be talking in a way which is truthful to the chronology of this music, and would be more focused on what matters – which is the incredible music being done both in Angola and in Lisbon; at least the ones which are contemporary ROOTS music (ie. it’s part of a continuum, of a lineage), and not the watered down post-colonial ghettotech that has circulated more outside of Portugal and Angola.
The only thing Príncipe Discos ever started was a label dedicated to 100% local, real dance music that didn’t have the proper platform to present itself to central Lisbon and Portugal’s main cities, as well as to the rest of the world. We’ve tried to encourage, invest in and defend the incredible music being done here, without ever compromising its core artistic and human characteristics. This music has the power to affirm itself just the way it is – it doesn’t have to concede to any fads or more superficial stylizations. Because it has a history and an enormously rich present and future. This is our investment.
So there you go. Antillean zouk, became African Zouk, which diversified in so many zouk-inspired genres in Africa, Europe and North America to the point all of them started having so many external and contextual influences they ended all been labeled the same.
It took Kizomba a lot of tracks to be recognized as a different thing from zouk, and tarraxhina, and tarraxo had also a hard time finding a stable audience.
So, it is more than normal than this “new” zouk bass, made mostly by people who have very basic to zero knowledge of the roots, cultural origins, pioneers, and processes behind the music does not get the recognition it may deserve.
Who invented zoukbass? No one invented zoukbass, it was an inevitable evolution. It was a silent collective agreement. but for sure it all aims to be a point that the whole dezima crew, and more like them were approaching in different directions.
When did it started? It seems to have this particular approach in 2006, but I am sure someone will get somewhere, somehow, a perfect example perhaps decades before.
So I personally also find irrelevant to know the exact date.
But is this 2013 Zoukbass a new thing?
I think it is. for many. Not just audience but also Music producers.
It certainly is not, for pioneers, world music connoisseurs and most of Angolan, Capo-Verdean and Portuguese audiences who had been exposed to the music and have witnessed the evolution.
But again, what really matters either you want to dance, produce, distribute, blog, or just share Zoukbass is to realize that the genre has a history, and one should respect the foundation and inform oneself before jumping on a hype train, without really engaging with the community who started, the one who dances, the one who struggles to make themselves visible to the audiences we reach and somehow right now, we can make a positive change for that HUGE community.
Either by trying to bring back the pioneers to the stages, to start collabs with many forgotten names, to add new labels and sounds to our blogs and so on.
So if you made it to this part of the post, I really thank you for reading it.
And I hope you add zoukbass, Kizomba, Tarraxhina, Tarraxo, Semba, Zouk, Calypso, and many more things to your vocab. and embrace this music with open arms.