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A Lota Lambada

March 22, 1990

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ It took France to make lambada, the sexy, Brazilian bump-and-grind, a smash hit in its own country.

The truth is that lambada, dubbed ″the rage of the 1990s″ by New York and Paris dance clubs, until recently was a backwoods jig danced mostly by poor countryfolk in remote northeastern Brazil.

But when it seduced Paris, Madrid and Rome, Brazilians suddenly wanted to know what the dipping and grinding was all about.

Now, less than a year after turning on Europe, the lambada has become the hottest dance craze in Brazil and a strong rival to carnival samba as the country’s most popular rhythm.

It also has whipped American filmmakers into a frenzy, with at least three lambada movies in production. The first two, the Cannon Pictures’ production ″Lambada″ and ″The Forbidden Dance,″ produced by 21st Century Film Corp., opened March 16. Joel Silberg’s ″Lambada: The Movie″ is to be released in May.

″Even though its our own dance, lambada needed to conquer Europe and the United States and get a first-world stamp of approval before Brazilians acquired a taste for it,″ said Mauro Trinidade, a music critic for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil.

Lambada, from the Portuguese verb ″to whip,″ dates as far back as the 1920s. It first arrived on Brazil’s northern coast from radio stations in French Guyana, which intensely played Caribbean salsa, merengue, cumbia, rumba, reggae, mambo, soca and compas music.

Mixed with slow native rhythms, lambada caught on in the northern Amazon state of Para. The name came from musicians ″whipping″ their guitar strings to provide the beat.

But the dance, performed with the man’s right leg thrust between his partner’s thighs, was considered obscene and relegated to slums and villages.

After a right-wing military coup in 1964, the lambada became a form of protest in northern Brazil against censorship and repression.

Later it moved down the coast to Bahia state, the center of Brazilian black culture, where it gained a heavier, bolder step. Musicians beat their drums or rudimentary percussion instruments with their hands and combined heavier beats taken from Afro-Brazilian dances such as carimbo, sirimbo and forro.

After the country returned to civilian rule in 1985, the dance got even steamier.

Both sexes started rolling their hips in unison, yanking their partners chest-to-chest close, and women began sliding one thigh high up the man’s hip while being dipped until her hair nearly touched the floor.

Indeed, when French record producers Jean Karakos and Oliver Lorsac first saw lambada in Porto Seguro, Brazil in 1988, they planned to market it - as one spokesman at CBS records put it - ″as an alternative to sex in the age of AIDS.″

They hit the right chord. Sexy lambada videos began flitting across American and European TV screens and dance schools filled with young people aching to learn the lambada.

The ″queen″ of lambada is Loalwa Bras, 36, vocalist and leader of the seven-member band and dance troupe Kaoma. Bras has netted $12 million in royalties since 1986, when she started giving lambada shows in Paris.

Her latest LP, ″Worldbeat,″ released by Epic Records in June, has already sold 6 million copies worldwide.

Now, following a triumphant return from Europe, lambada has Brazil’s adrenaline, and cash registers, pumping.

Rio’s classiest dance clubs, such as the Hippopotamus Discotheque, which requires black tie only, and the trendy Banana Cafe in the beachfront neighborhood of Ipanema, are promoting ″Lambada Night″ Sundays.

Posh nightclubs such as Rio’s Canecao are packing audiences at $15 a seat with shows by lambada singers Elba Ramalho and Beto Barbosa. On weekends, it is common to see beachgoers gyrating to lambada music under straw-roofed pavillions along Rio’s sandy shores.

Four top lambada albums titled ″Dancando Lamabada,″ ″Lambateria Tropical I,″ ″Lambadas Que Eu Gosto″ and ″Lambateria,″ have sold more than 1 million copies nationwide since July.

Carlos Santos and Geronimo, two of the hottest lambada stars from Para state, together have sold more than 3 million records in this nation of 150 million people.

The boom has even inspired a new lambada fashion. For women, lambada wear consists of black suede shoes, halter tops, glitzy sashes, and miniskirts that fly up above the waist at the slightest twirl, revealing string bikini underwear.

Lambada boutiques are popping up in major cities around the country and retailers are frantically trying to keep up with the latest colors and fabrics.

″Our best sellers are black, silk miniskirts with mustard fringes. We can’t keep them on the shelves,″ said Jiojanna Fereira, manager of the Chicletes com Banana boutique in the southestern city of Belo Horizonte.

Despite some puritanic grumbles, many Brazilians see the sweaty, sensual dance as a release from economic woes and an electronic, impersonal computer age.

″What you look for in lambada is not the lyrics or melody but a sense of freedom, of celebration,″ said Lea Oliveira da Silva , 27, a City Hall employee. ″When I’m on the dance floor, I feel hot, like I can let myself go and not think twice about it.″