Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave speaks fluent French and English, and can schmooze in Spanish and Portuguese. He’ll report on new African music every other week. This week, he write about Angola's tarraxinha music.
One of the reasons I started Akwaaba was because I was getting real tired of nerdy electronic music that only dudes would erratically move their limbs to. Then I discovered hiplife, and its hip-gyrating power, and the rest is history.
This underlying hip-moving motto is still key to me. Often, in the middle of a DJ set, when I get bored of playing 120BPM+ stuff, I'll abruptly slow things down to a sleazy foreplay pace. Dancehall does the trick, but my favorite way to get there is by throwing in some tarraxinha.
Download: DJ Marfox, "Sem Fronteiras"
Tarraxinha came up in Angola. It derives from kizomba, the Angolan take on zouk. Zouk is a slow dance originally from the French West Indies, which may be the musical genre responsible for the most births worldwide. It is safe to say that 99% of today's zouk songs talk about love and heartache. While zouk started with big live bands epitomized by Kassav, it has now evolved to be a much more R&B, vocal-driven, electronic genre. Zouk has spread to Francophone African countries, as well as France and Portugal. But outside of French and Portuguese speakers, zouk remains vastly unknown, for reasons I have yet to understand.
Don't talk about zouk in Angola, though. The keyword there is kizomba, a slowed down version of semba, the quintessentially Angolan genre. I can't really say what the difference between zouk and kizomba is—I know they differ historically, but if you take a snapshot today, I'm not sure there truly is a difference anymore, except for the language spoken. But what interests me here is that ten to fifteen years ago, a handful of Angolan producers decided to take things down a notch, slow down kizomba, remove some of its glossy layers, and focus on the underlying pelvis rocking rhythm.
Tarraxinha may sound similar to kizomba, but in fact the dance is quite different. It is much more sensual, erotic even, with partners practically glued together on the dance floor. Lots of rubbing. Because of this carnal nature, tarraxinha was quite controversial when it came out. "It caused a lot of confusion," as DJ Marfox tells me.
Marfox—born and raised in Lisbon, fed with all different types of Lusophone music—is a fantastic DJ who knows how to juggle between fast, hard kuduro, which is what he is mostly known for, and the slow, sensual sounds of tarraxinha. I remember the first time I heard him, when we shared a bill in Brussels, and after hours of fast electronic beats, he surprised everybody by throwing in some popular Southern hip-hop jams, probably Lil Wayne. The familiar beat got people excited, but after that came some tarraxinha, and the crowd lost it entirely.
One of the pillars of tarraxinha is DJ Znobia, perhaps the most creative beatmaker Angola has ever seen. He contributed a lot to the genre in Angola. Marfox tells me he has over a dozen very popular tarraxinhas, which no proper DJ should leave the house without. In Lisbon, more specifically in its periphery, DJ Nervoso and DJ NK are two of the main names responsible for spreading the music and the dance.
The peak was around 2006, with most tarraxinhas produced up until 2007. After that, for reasons Marfox could not explain, production diminished, and today new tarraxinhas are far and few between. This is why Marfox decided to put together a compilation of some of his favorites, Keep Calm and Listen to Tarraxinha, 19 free bangers I strongly advise you to check out. I picked one of Marfox' own tarraxinhas for this column, a typically minimal, slow and nasty beat. Close your eyes and picture what Marfox describes as "men and women rubbing in an abusive manner." Let's spread the abuse.