Hey everyone! Do you remember the Lambada? During a recent visit to the Kopps Records location in Oshawa, I came across an entire 2-disc compilation album filled with Latin bands playing music dedicated to the dance craze. Simply titled “Lambada,” the collection was originally released in France in 1989, but distributed in Canada via Musique Plus, which was Quebec’s version of Much Music. It super charged my long repressed memory banks of that brief moment in time when the Lambada entered North American pop culture full of heat and sizzle. It was 1990, I was in the 9th grade, and I wanted to Lambada! But, as established in previous Vinyl Stories, I didn’t dance, and I was desperately awkward with girls, so my Lambada dreams were crushed as soon as they were realized. But I really loved the big hit affiliated with the dance – “Lambada” by French/Brazilian band Kaoma! I didn’t know what the heck they were singing about, but it was hot! Was Kaoma on this LP? You bet they were! Didn’t matter that I didn’t know any of the other artists on the album. I was bringing it home to revive my dreams of Lambada which had been laying dormant for over thirty years.
Originally out of the clubs of the Caribbean and Latin America in the late 1980’s, the Lambada became an international sensation due to the popularity of Kaoma’s hit. Nicknamed “the forbidden dance” by the media, the dawn of the 1990’s was perfect timing for the Lambada. Mixing aspects of forro, merencie and salsa, it looked a lot like the raunchy style of dance introduced in the film “Dirty Dancing” in 1987, but with more style and a Latin beat, which pushed the dance’s heat factor up to eleven. At the time of its popularity, the Lambada was white hot. The girls’ skirts flew up revealing their thong underwear, the boys were stripped down to their waste and dripping with sweat. You could feel the heat of the dance by watching it on MTV. Now if you are interested in the actual dance, you can read all about its history on Wikipedia, and I suggest you do because, as I said, I don’t understand dance. I’ll never be able to explain it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a story or two to tell about the Lambada. As I fell down the Lambada rabbit hole I found a few tales untold to the North American audience who embraced it for a moment and forgot about it just as fast.
A massive international hit in the summer of 1989, Kaoma’s “Lambada” sold over 1.8 million copies in France, and another four million throughout Europe and South America upon its initial release. At that time, this made it the best-selling international hit released by CBS Records (we can assume that record has been beat by now). Although they were a Latin band, Kaoma came out of France, where it was formed by Jean Korakas and Olivier Lorscac around 1988. On lead vocals they had a Brazilian born singer named Loalwa Braz, who sang in Portugeause. The band started gigging in Paris night spots, and quickly put out their first album, “Worldbeat,” in 1989.
Now where the song “Lambada” originated is a bit more convoluted. Look up information on the song and immediately you get hit over the head with information over the fact that the song didn’t originate with Kaoma. I mean, people are really adamant at making sure we know this. On “Worldbeat,” Kaoma credited the song to one Chico de Olivera, but it was later revealed that Chico didn’t even exist (or did he?) The actual origins of the song goes back to a Bavarian folk music group called Los Kjarkas who initially released their version of the melody in a song called “Llorando se fue” in 1981. Then there were multiple rewrites, rerecordings, translations and so on and so forth and it gets kind of confusing (I found one chart that listed nineteen different versions of the song recorded prior to Kaoma’s version). In 1991 Los Kjarkas successfully sued Kaoma’s producer Jean-Claude Bonaventure for his unauthorized recording and release of the song, and to have the actual songwriters, Alberto Maraví, Márcia Ferreira and José Ari, credited with writing Kaoma’s version. But, while we can all agree some kind of shadiness went down on the credits for Kaoma’s “Lambada,” it doesn’t stop their recording from being the most recognized version of this song.
So when CBS decided to push the song into North America, they obviously had to promote it with a video. In America, a dance hit is okay, but without a memorable video on MTV your song probably wasn’t going to get noticed. Well, “Lambada” got a great video with a sweet storyline that quickly caught the attention of worldwide audiences.
Flying Kaoma to Trancosa, Brazil, camera crews set themselves up on Cocos Beach for sun, sweat and, of course, the Lambada. They hired some good looking club dancers dressed in the appropriate Lambada style gear and had lots of skin, lots of sun, lots of boobs and butts and, of course, two little precocious children that just wanted to Lambada. Huh?
Here’s the basic premise of the video’s storyline. Kaoma is set up at a café on the beach and they are having a great time. Things are swinging, happy beautiful people are Lambadaing and everybody is having fun. Well, there is this little boy playing with the band, and he notices a little girl working at the café as her father watches her with hawk eyes from the bar. They keep looking back and forth at each other, and eventually the boy goes up to her, takes her hand and before you know it the two little pre-tweens are on the dance floor doing the Lambada. The other dancers are delighted, but when the girl’s father sees this little boy gyrating up against his daughter, he flips out and interrupts them by smacking his kid up the side of the head. Cut to the next scene, and Kaoma has left the café and are now jamming on the beach. Despite the disturbing case of child abuse a few minutes before, the music is still going, the vibe is still happy….except for the two kids, now separated, who are bored and sad. But suddenly the boy looks up from where he is sitting on the beach, and he sees the little girl running towards him. He gets up, they embrace and, soon enough, there they are again doing the “forbidden dance” on the beach. But a dark cloud hangs over the happy scene because, uh oh, Dad has caught wind of what’s going on and he sees the boy literally dry humping his pre-teen daughter and he comes to intervene again. But, this time, singer Loalwa Braz appears out of nowhere to save the day, and she grabs Dad and forces him to dance with her. The man looks confused at first, then smiles, and now everybody is doing the Lambada. The music get faster, the dancing gets hotter, everybody’s having fun, love conquers all. DANCANDO LAMBADA!
Although it might have been considered kind of adorable in 1989, the video is highly problematic today, especially by the violence towards a child and the oversexualization of the two kids in the video. But, in 1989 those two kids became so popular with audiences that they had a brief career of their own. The kids were played by two ten-year-olds named Washington “Chico” Olivera (wait….where did we hear that name before) and Roberta de Brito. Well, they managed to charm Kaoma and their entire production and management team so much that when the video hit big, Kaoma’s manager Jean-Claude Bonaverbure went back to Brazil and signed them to a recording contract. With the members of Kaoma penning songs for the kids, Chico and Roberta released an album of their own, titled “Frente a Frante” in 1990. The album did hit big in France and was certified gold, but despite this success, Roberta and Chico, not even teenagers yet, didn’t continue recording together and slipped back to Brazil and into obscurity. Roberta did some acting and Chico became a priest, but I can find no information about their current whereabouts beyond this.
Although the world went Lambada crazy in 1989, it wasn’t until 1990 that Lambada fever hit America, and it was everywhere for a second. I think I first saw it on an episode of “Saturday Night Live,” followed by repeated airplay on Much Music. Surprisingly, the song wasn’t as big of a hit as you’d expect it to have been. Although it could be heard everywhere, it only went as high as #46 on the North American Billboard charts. Although I never remember seeing the album “Worldbeat” in stores, I do remember that Kaoma’s “Lambada” became a best selling “cassette single.” For those who don’t remember, cassette singles were a failed experiment as a replacement for the .45 rpm as vinyl was dying in North America. It was basically a cassette that had only one song and sold for about $3.99. I only bought two of these in my life and, yes, one of them was Kaoma. The Lambada fad came to its peak when not one, but two, motion pictures were released simultaneously, on the SAME DAY to celebrate the dance craze in 1990 – “Lambada” and “The Forbidden Dance.” The two battled it out in theatres, but it didn’t matter though. Both movies were a blip on the cultural radar and are largely forgotten today.
And as quickly as it had came, by the end of the year the Lambada was over. I don’t really know why. All I remember was that Madonna did the Vouge and the Lambada was out. Kaoma released another album, “Tribal Pursuit” in 1991 and the group continued in one form or another until 1999, but at least in North Americas, they remain to be one of the 1990’s first “one hit wonders.”
But there is one more tale to tell about Kaoma which, somehow, was under told in North America and shocked me when I found out about it. This is the final fate of singer Loalwa Braz. Last seen by us doing the Lambada on the beach with Daddy Dearest. That dark shadow would block out the Brazilian sun and the dance would not last forever. On January 19, 2017, Loalwa’s body was discovered in the trunk of a burnt out abandoned car on a deserted road in Rio de Janeiro. She was 62 years old.
A successful vocalist in Brazil and France both before and after her affiliation with Kaoma, Loalwa didn’t remain with the group very long after the success of “Lambada.” Leaving France and returning to Brazil, her success as the vocalist on “Lambada” kept her getting gigs, but her fame never grew past her one big musical success. Eventually she opened a hostel for travelers in Saquarema, which she ran throughout the 2000’s.
But on the evening of January 18th, Loalwa was awoken by a disturbance and went into the hostel to find three intruders robbing the office. Loalwa confronted them with a knife but was quickly overcome by the men and stuffed in the trunk of the get away vehicle. The car was driven to an abandoned area and set on fire. Police later discovered that $45000 US was stolen, as well as her gold record awarded for “Lambada,” which hung in Loalwa’s office.
Days later three men were arrested for the robbery and murder. Although their identities were not released to the media, it was reported one of the men had been a former employee of Loalwa’s who had been fired fifteen days prior to the robbery. The killers insisted that they did not plan to murder her, but the robbery, meant to be only revenge, had gone wrong very fast and escalated beyond their intentions. I can find no details on their trial or their sentencing.
Although the Lambada was a brief craze, looking at videos of the dance reminds me how provocative it was, and listening to the record reminds me just how much of a banger Kaoma’s song was. Best recognized by the current generation of pop music fans when it was heavily sampled in Jennifer Lopez’s 2011 dance hit “On the Floor” featuring Pitbull, it’s a simple tune that continues to inspire people to dance. Now that I own this Lambada collection, even I can get my Lambada on!