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What Happened to Zouk Bass?

Kalaf from Buraka Som Sistema wonders what it takes for a marginal scene to turn into a global music phenomenon.

Editor's note: In February 2013, Buraka Som Sistema brought the first Boiler Room to their hometown of Lisbon. "We're gonna introduce you to something new. We call this zouk bass," said the group's MC Kalaf by way of introduction-and just like that, a new genre took off. This month, Lisbon label Enchufada celebrates the hypnotic, tropical sound with a compilation calledWe Call It Zouk Bass Vol. 2. and an accompanying mix, which you can listen to below. Meanwhile, Kalaf wonders what happened (or didn't happen) in the years since that seminal Boiler Room show. He asks an important question: what is necessary to turn these marginal scenes into global phenomenons?


The global explosion of zouk bass happened exactly two years ago, in February 2013, during the first Boiler Room event to be broadcast from Lisbon. Because there is no better platform or better city to serve as a starting point, we have to say that Buraka Som Sistema's sense of timing couldn't have been better. Who could imagine that it only took a catchphrase-"we call it zouk bass"-and a song called "Tarraxo na Parede" for the genre to explode almost overnight?

Then, in 2014, Lisbon label Enchufada cemented the movement with a compilation called We Call It Zouk Bass Volume I. For a few moments, it felt like we were witnessing a musical revolution. There was a sense of hope in the air: maybe those ten tracks made by the new architects of zouk bass would rescue dance music with a global appeal from the periphery to which it had been relegated, returning the spark that was felt when baile funk or kuduro emerged.

Excited by this possibility, listeners rushed to take sides, consecrating heroes and villains, messiahs and impostors of a genre that was barely even born but already so divisive. "What is zouk bass?" asked suspicious journalists, either out of curiosity or by not wanting to be left out of the hype.

Hype, that intoxicating perfume that clouds everyone's judgement. Today, there are many countries with interesting dance music scenes, from South Africa to Venezuela. You can find these sounds with a couple clicks on your search engine of choice. But the real question is: what is necessary to turn these marginal scenes into global phenomenons?


There are many ways to answer this. Some people point to questions of mobility and socio-economic context-without the support system of a thriving music industry and local economy, it's difficult for artists to launch themselves onto the international stage. Some believe the solution is in the hands of the tastemakers and opinion-makers (hi, Diplo!). Others leave it up to journalists to be more aware and willing to leave their comfort zones.

But let's go back to our initial question: what happened to zouk bass, after all? Or if you prefer, what didn't happen to zouk bass?

Seeing how popular styles like zouk and kizomba are, it was puzzling to see how long it took for zouk bass to truly be heard inside the clubs that were already consuming tropical music, from reggaeton to cumbia and moombahton.

According to what we could observe in these last two years, there were two things missing. There wasn't one or more songs that were able to cross over to the mainstream, which isn't absolutely necessary to consolidate a genre or a scene, but it certainly helps. Second, there weren't any local scenes dynamic enough to consume the hundreds of songs with the #zoukbass hashtag that bedroom producers are uploading to SoundCloud every day.

Experience tells us that for zouk bass to truly carry the torch for global club music, it needs more of the rest of the world in it. It needs to find allies in other scenes that share a common goal of slowing down dance floors. What we began as an exploration of kizomba rhythms for 21st century clubs now shares DNA with Peruvian cumbia, Puerto Rican moombahton and Brazilian baile funk-all of them tropical counterpoint to the "harder, faster and louder" credo of the current EDM-dominated scene. In other words, zouk bass needs to be less of a music genre, and more of a musical safe haven for downtempo tropical music to get bodies moving.

Songs that are aiming to do exactly that were included in the second volume of Enchufada's We Call it Zouk Bass compilation series-which is out now-proving that while this doesn't pop up in your newsfeed as frequently as it should, it's still very much alive and vibrant, searching for its space inside DJ sets and iTunes playlists worldwide.

We Call It Zouk Bass Vol. 2 Mixtape Tracklist:

Branko - Lost Arps
Bison & Squareffekt - Voyager
Mala Noche - Pa Bô
Lechuga Zafiro - Sexo Con Ropa
DJ Paparazzi - The Dreamer
Dotorado - African Scream (Kizomba)
KKing Kong - Tarraxo da Meia Noite
Poté - Zhoukoudian
Castro - Twitch (feat. Branko & Poté)
Riot - Bounce
DJ Blass - Traga Trak
Dance Kill Move - Threepeat
JSTJR & Mala Noche - Catena
Stonn - Rompimento

We Call It Zouk Bass Vol. 2 is out now on Enchufada