TL;DR: Ghetto Zouk is the name that the boys band “Quatro Plus” from the Netherlands gave to their music in the late 90s. The band dissolved and they all moved on in the 2010s, but the “kiz” world keeps the name alive and apply it to other similar-ish music; however, slow, romantic Zouk started over 10 years earlier with Zouk Love in the Caribbean.

Confused? I sure was! So remember that you don’t need to know any of this to dance. Just stop thinking and feel the music – and it’ll be OK 😊

From the Antilles to Africa

As we commented in another post, Zouk was huge from the beginning of the 80s in the Caribbean. Soon, Kassav’s own music turned softer and more romantic (which got called Zouk Love), and lots of countries had lots of bands playing local variations (in the mid-90s, about 250 albums were published each summer!).

African countries in particular developed various flavors of Afro Zouk. Music also moved through colonization links; artists from the French Antilles published music in France, and even represented the country in international competitions (like Zouk Machine’s Joelle Ursull in Eurovision 1990).

Meanwhile, Zouk also had a huge impact in Angola (like in the rest of Africa), and Kassav’ toured there in 1985. The only museum of Zouk (named Casa do Zouk) in the world is in Luanda!1 For a long time, this was widely considered the seed for Kizomba: the Afro Zouk from Angola, infused with Semba.

Museum “Casa do Zouk” in Luanda – the only Zouk museum in the world

However, Eduardo Paim (typically called “the Father of Kizomba”) has repeatedly said in interviews (including his interview with University of Kizomba) that actually the music that later would be called Kizomba started around 1979. By then, there was no Zouk yet! Paim mentioned that if anything the influences came from Haitian music like Konpa and Kadans.

As another example of local Zouk fusions, Cape Verdeans mixed their Coladeira with Zouk to get Cola Zouk / Cabo Zouk / Cabo Love.

One jump further: Cape Verdeans in Europe

In the late 90s, a group of 5 singers of Cape Verdean descent in the Netherlands2 created a boys band named “Quatro Plus”, and started advertising their music (together with Johnny Ramos) as Ghetto Zouk at the turn of the 21st century. 3

Ghetto Zouk (feat. Quatro Plus)
(Listen carefully at 3:25 – the lyrics advertise the new style and their record label!)

Interestingly, they published their music in France – where African and Zouk music already had publishers and public. And they were just on time to ride the incoming wave of Kizomba dancing! So, for a few years around 2010 it was hard to hear anything other than Ghetto Zouk and Zouk Love in European “Kizomba” classes and festivals.

Eddy Vents‘ theory is that Ghetto Zouk’s proximity to R&B makes it simpler to understand to non-Africans – and made life easier for European instructors and DJs. However, it’s worth noting that the meaning of R&B itself keeps evolving. And Ghetto Zouk is not the only branch of Zouk that mixed with R&B; there is for example a style named “R&B Zouk”. Like Jean-Michel Rotin’s hit “Le Ou Lov”:

Jean-Michel Rotin - LE OU LOV

How to distinguish the styles? If the lyrics are French Creole, it’s probably Zouk Love; notably, Kassav’ made a point of singing in Creole to reclaim their heritage. In contrast, Ghetto Zouk is typically sung in English, sometimes with a sprinkle of Portuguese Creole.

Ghetto Zouk in the 2020s?

Quatro Plus used the name Ghetto Zouk as their brand, and their music remains memorable even today. However, a couple of the singers have commented in interviews that they are happy to move on from that era, and even get annoyed when people think that their music was limited (even in that golden era) to Ghetto Zouk.

So it’s probably fair to say that Ghetto Zouk was a fashion that came and went, just like the music of other boys bands. For example, in 2017, an online petition for a Quatro Plus revival concert only got 55 signatures. For comparison, Kassav’ original Zouk still fills stadiums today – 40+ years later.

However, in the world of “Kizomba-inspired” dance styles (“kiz”, etc), Ghetto Zouk seems to remain a key reference point. In the late 2010s, someone even invented a “Ghetto Zouk dance” in Europe – which confusingly doesn’t seem to actually use Ghetto Zouk music. A couple of Urban Kiz dancers I asked said that it looks to them like some variation of Urban Kiz or Tarraxo 🤷‍♂️.

To add to the confusion, Ghetto Zouk is also used by some as a handwavy, generic name for any slower music with a Zouk-like beat (like much of C4Pedro’s music).

Ghetto Zouk in Angola?

As an European, in Angola it was surprisingly rare to hear slow, Ghetto Zouk-like music in a party; it was rather for an “end-of-party-dance” – where actual couples might stay for a last dance (rather Tarraxa!) while the rest get the hint that it’s time to leave.

Personally, I think this contrast is very interesting because it helps understand the musicality of those who grew up with this music: Ghetto Zouk is generally too low-energy to sustain a walking feeling, but it’s great for a “huggy” or “floaty” feeling. So, if you don’t feel like walking to Ghetto Zouk and Zouk Love, don’t worry – you’re on the right track 😄.

Odds and ends

  • Cape Verdeans are said among PALOPs to be good musicians and businessmen. Both are on display here 😉
  • Zouk Love music has its own dance in its native Caribbean. It’s danced differently to Kizomba (barely stepping), closer to Tarraxa, which again is a big hint towards how to understand the music. See the demo by the great Amaryllis Ag and Miguel Wawasse:
Zouk Love - Dance Demo - Mon soleil Ama & Miguel {Caribbean Zouk} Melbourne Australia

  1. A short documentary on the museum is available in Youtube. ↩︎
  2. The band “Quatro” (“Four” in Portuguese) was first formed by Nelson Freitas, Nilton Ramalho, Nelson Oliveira and Adilson Ben David. Then Edson Freitas joined and the band renamed to “Quatro Plus”. ↩︎
  3. Many more details in University of Kizomba’s interview with Johnny Ramos. ↩︎

Expanded from a Facebook post published originally on April 7, 2021

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