Lungu Lungu: Bison’s Tarraxinha

January 16, 2014

It's tarraxinha time

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 writes about the surging Portuguese style of tarraxinha.

Last year, I wrote about Marfox and tarraxinha, a dance which has since been revived. In a way. Tarraxinha is a more carnal take on kizomba, which itself is, for the sake of simplicity, Angolan zouk. Tarraxinha's musical backbone is a stripped-down, minimal, oftentimes instrumental and slowed-down version of kizomba. It is also the main inspiration behind "zouk bass," a term coined by Buraka Som Sistema in their Boiler Room video, and intensified by Generation Bass' DJ UMB.

I personally am not a fan. I like dance music that makes people dance. Seems pretty obvious, but I defy anybody to dance to zouk bass. It cannot be achieved. At least not in an elegant, or even remotely sensual way. But I have to give it up to UMB: thanks to his interest in zouk bass, he has revived interest in tarraxinha itself, and that has led to him putting out some great music.

Enter Bison, a young beat-maker who was born in Angola and raised in Lisbon. Like anybody making tarraxinha, he is largely influenced by one of my personal heroes, Luanda producer extraordinaire DJ Znobia.

Znobia has left more of a mark on Angolan music than anybody of his generation. Not only was Znobia one of the most sought-after kuduro producers, he also practically invented the tarraxinha sound. One song I play anytime I have a chance to throw in slower jams is Znobia's "Tarraxinha Proíbida." One of Bison's favorites is "Marimba."

Bison is not the only one looking into tarraxinha. There seems to be a tarraxinha revival in Portugal, perhaps driven in part by the zouk bass thing, probably part of a more general shift towards electronic music based on Angolan and African rhythms. Last year I wrote a story about how batidas, i.e. instrumental kuduro, are finally taking over in Portugal, a few years after Buraka introduced the term kuduro to much of the world. The same way kuduro has been stripped of vocals to make it in Portugal, kizomba is stripped of its R&B hooks, and tarraxinha is now expanding into new scenes.

"Right now people are really into beats in Portugal" Bison tells me. "It's also sticking in Angola, because the people there enjoy dancing." There you have it: Bison is able to maintain the tarraxinha groove, people who dance tarraxinha can get down to his beats. I inadvertently tested it on my girlfriend, who enjoys dancing kizomba, and immediately demanded I put this song on her phone seconds after I started playing it:

Download: Bison, "Ghetto Tarraxinha"

Bison's EP is a nice musical bridge: I can play his tracks here in Ghana, and people vibe to it. Yet it is minimal enough that it will probably work outside of Africa as well, especially within global bass circuits. Get the full EP from Generation Bass, check out more classic tarraxinhas here, pick your favorites and see if they can help you deal with the winter weather!

From The Collection:

Lungu Lungu
Lungu Lungu: Bison’s Tarraxinha