The music style named Zouk appeared with this song in 1984: “Zouk-la sé sel médikaman nou ni, by the band Kassav’. A band from Guadaloupe, in the Caribbean, and a song with French Creole lyrics and Meringue feeling. It was such a huge hit, that the first word of its title turned into the name for the music style. Even The New York Times wrote about this first zouk hit and the ensuing fever.

Zouk-la Sé Sel Médikaman Nou Ni

And over 40 years later, Kassav still fills stadiums across the world!

Kassav was hugely influenced by the existing style Kadans (AKA Konpa) from neighboring Haiti, but also brought in other French Caribbean influences, like Gwoka and Biguine. And then other Caribbean bands started using the name Zouk to try to distinguish themselves from Kadans/Konpa, even if some say that all of these styles are basically the same.1

OK, so what about Brazil? Turns out that these were also the years when lambada dancers in Brazil were running out of lambada music, so in the 90s they started using the existing Zouk music for their dance – and that’s what turned into what now some call Brazilian Zouk2.

In summary: Zouk appeared as Caribbean music (with its own dance) in 1984, while Brazilian Zouk appeared in the 90s as a dance without its own music.

Still later, around 2000, a slower off-shoot of Zouk music appeared (Ghetto Zouk, in Europe), and its slower feeling and strong beat was a good match for what Brazilian Zouk dancers wanted.

  1. Kadans and konpa are similar because they were born copying each other in Haiti. But zouk’s case is different; the name got so famous that it commercially eclipsed other names. For example, a Haitian musician complained in the 80s that he had been playing the same music all his life and now people were calling it “zouk” because it was the fashion. (I need to find the quote!). Interestingly, this is similar to Tito Puente’s complaint against the marketing of his music as “salsa”! ↩︎
  2. With its own history of substyles and names, which I won’t try to cover. ↩︎

Expanded from a Facebook post published originally on February 23, 2021

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