The word lambada refers both to the rhythm - a fusion of Carimbó and merengue - and to the dance, which incorporates elements of forró, samba, merengue and Maxixe (the 19th century Brazilian dance which was a tremendous success in Europe).
The dance is sexy, yes, but it is danced by all kinds of people, of all ages and sexes, without the "dirty" connotations given to it by very bad Hollywood movies. It's very graceful, fast-paced, and believe me, when you have to move your feet and body that fast on the dance floor without tripping all over yourself and falling on the dance floor, the LAST thing on your mind is sex...Anyway, the rhythm originated in the Amazon, was later adopted by Bahians, who proceeded to create the steps...and the rest is history!
History of Lambada
This is a quite interesting story since it is made of lots of contemporaneous tales. It's quite difficult to get the same one version from anybody since everyone seems to pull out the thing to it's own flavor.
I had the fine opportunity to start dancing around Brazil very before the explosion of the so called Lambada, hence I had the chance to follow the ascension and decline of this rhythm in Brazil and in other countries.
I have been in Pará (this is the Brazilian 2nd greatest state located at the north part of the country, very near to the south Caribbean isles with a local and secular typical style of culture, food and dancing) and other states down the north-eastern coast of Brazil ending at the Bahia state, researching for this story throughout.
Hence I couldn't resist and wrote these lines to you...
The origins - The "CARIMBÓ"
Since the time Brazil was a Portuguese colony (which happened between year 1500 a.d. till 1822 a.d.) there was a common dance in the north part of the country called Carimbó. It was a loose and very sensual dance in which the woman tried to cover the man with many spins and rounded skirts. The music was played mainly among beats of drums made of trunks of wood, thinned by fire.
As time passed by, the dance changed as did the music itself. It had many influences from the Caribbean music due to its geographical proximity, and a reminder of this is that even today one can listen to Caribbean radio stations when at some north states of Brazil like the Amapá state. This strong relation also generated some new rhythms like the Sirimbó and the Lari Lari, and so it changed forever the way the Carimbó was danced.
The NAME and The FATHER
After a while, a local radio station from Belém (Pará's capital city) started to call these new type of music as "the strong beated rhythm" and "the rhythms of Lambada" (Lambada is another word in local language for a strong hit). This last name "Lambada" had a strong appeal and began to be associated with this new emerging face of an old dancing style.
Then the Carimbó dance started once more to be danced in couples, in a 2-beat style, something very close to the Merengue, but with many spins. I once danced this kind of music back in 1983, in Belém and Macapá (Amapá's capital city). I also bought some LPs from a guy called Pinduca, who is a very well known singer at the north of Brazil for it is strongly believed he is the true father of Lambada, although he never got to be known anywhere else.
The fusion between the metallic and electronic music from Caribean brought again a new face to the Carimbó, which started to be played throughout the north-eastern region of Brazil (a place well known for its tourist approach), although this new Carimbó went with the name of Lambada.
The LAMBADA FROM BAHIA - The 1ST BOOM
As the Lambada traveled through the coast until reaching Bahia (the elder Brazilian state) it started to receive some influences from the Forró dance (another strong beated and old Brazilian style of dance), and finally it became a 4-beated dancing style, in which we can definitely say it was different from the original Carimbó.
The way of dancing this Lambada was with arched legs, and the steps were done from one side to the other, and never from front to back. This was also the time in which the tight skirts fashion were up, and both things (the dance and the fashion) got too close to one another. Still today, at some places like the Lambar (a night club in Sao Paulo) this match of a girl in a tight skirt and a man in long trousers still has it appeal on an outdoor.
During these years the Carnival from Bahia was beginning to increase in popularity, and so every summer a new kind of dance aroused, only to disappear during the year due to lack of tourists, and the arising of another dancing style and rhythm on the following summer. A few years before the Lambada, we had the Fricote and the Ti-Ti-Ti among others dances, which truly disappeared to never be remembered anymore.
Among with the "Trio-eletricos" (Big movable trucks covered with speakers, on top of which musicians play during the Carnival in Bahia) the Lambada started to become popular in Bahia, and established itself in the city of Porto Seguro. Still, in this first boom of the Lambada, the south-east region (the most economical evolved region of Brazil) despised the rhythms which came from Bahia on a regular base (those were believed to be only summer hits).
It is worth to mention that there is a tale concerning about a prohibition to dance Lambada long ago, back to the 30's, but that is solely a plain confusion. What really became forbidden was a dance called Maxixe because of its spicy lyrics and movements. What really happened to Lambada was that in its peak it was mistaken for something of pornography, by people who knew nothing about the dance itself and tried to make "news out" over something which, at best, was a sensual way of dancing. The funniest part of all this, is that many years later, nowadays, there are some really-sexual related dances like the "dança da garrafa", like many other ones, and people don't seem to bother anymore about it. (The "dança da garrafa" is a kind of dance in which the woman goes alone, dancing and crouching down over straight up bottle, trying to get the closer she can with her sex to the top of the bottle without touching it).
Although it was recognized to have became a summer-fever, the Lambada was far away from having its true world-wide success. The many first lambaterias (a place to dance Lambada) which opened couldn't stand the low tourism of the winter station and all of them closed a few months later, but this wasn't the end...
AN INTERNATIONAL BEAT
Meanwhile in Brazil the Lambada was being buried at winter, some people at Europe had other plans for it.
At the end of that very summer, a couple of French business man came to Brazil and bought the musical rights of something like 300 lambada-music. They went back to France, and created the Kaoma Band, boosted up some serious bucks on Marketing, turning Lambada a world-wide known style, reaching even the far east of Japan in which Lambada is danced until nowadays.
THE 2ND BOOM
The world-hit was so strong that brought something almost unbelievable: it came back to Brazil, but this time at the economically evolved south-east region (a region on which decades over, Brazil imported foreign music). This re-insertion of Lambada changed the way people danced, and for the first time in more than 30 years since the Beatles, young couples started to dance together once more. If today we in Brazil have thousands of Ballroom dancing schools, a web-list, and plenty young happy people dancing together, we owe it to Kaoma's international success.
This second wave I call the 2nd Lambada Boom. This was a far greater happening which let us with strong new marks on our culture. Besides the fact that young people came back to the Ballroom dancing, the Lambada became internationally known as much as the Samba.
A funny irony on this story is that the world most known Lambada music: "Chorando se foi" (which means: the one who left crying) is in fact a Bolivian music called "Llorando se fue" (which has the same meaning). At the cover of that Bolivian album, the title was Lambada, and here goes another tale: that Lambada had its origin in Bolivia, which definitely is a great mistake.
With world repercussion, the dance reached far distortions. Due to a lack of fine Lambada dancers to make films and shows, most professional dancers started changing the way it was danced. Rock spins and steps were added (like those from Jive and East coast swing) , and also some acrobatic movements became more common-placed.
Just to make a point, I myself remember to have watched to a Lambada contest at "Lambateria UM" (a place of Lambada) in which the contestants were to be eliminated if ever they became separated during the dance.
Among with the Lambada music playing in every radio station, some musician tried to follow the trend and recorded some songs who became real hits. Some of these guys were like Sidney Magal and Fafá de Belém. Soon enough although, these well-known singers showed themselves as just a few guys wanting to make some easy money and were forgotten as a reference on Lambada music.
THE DECLINE AND THE NEW MUSIC
After these up's & down's the Lambada composers were starting to fade away. The music and dance lost its strength, and let hordes of millions of fans all over the world helpless.
Some very resistant dancers started to use other music styles to keep on dancing this so early discovered pleasure before it died forever.
This way, people gathered the habit of using many of the Caribbean music like Soca, Merengue, Salsa and Zouk to dance the Lambada. (During that time...) There was also another band which sold plenty discs in Brazil associated with Lambada: the Rumba band called The Gipsy Kings.
Finally the dance recovered most of its original way and style, with less acrobatic moves, smoother, intimate and closer contact. Unfortunately as stated by some people like Israel Szerman (a Brazilian teacher), nowadays the dance changed its name to Zouk (on most parts of Brazil), mainly because of our orphanage.
After all, I inquire myself whether it is indeed so wrong the dance should now be called Zouk. One way or the other Zouk is a kind of step-father or even an adoptive-father to our Lambada dancing style.
This issue seems to philosophical to me. The main purpose on bringing this text to you is to contribute on a history which I had the luck and opportunity to live along, and so try to record the truth as it did really happen.
Happy shall be the people whose country has a so rich culture in which one can choose its own national rhythm.
And even happier shall be the people who can take care of its own culture as it shall never die.
A great hug to all "Lambadeiros" and "Zoukeiros"
Chico Peltier - Sao Paulo - Brasil
Translated by Claudio Falcao of Rio de Janeiro