Tuki: The undiluted sound of Venezuela’s barrios
Much of the world’s most popular music is homogenised in its sound with virtually no identifiable local influences, which is a shame but typical of our increasingly inter-connected cultures. From house and techno, through to the music in the charts, listening to most of it you’d be hard pushed to identify exactly which country it originated from. However, there are still plenty of very localised sub-genres that have developed within some countries and display very strong local influences and differences. Tuki is one such form of music, stemming from hard house and techno it primarily existed within the slums of Venezuela – only recently being discovered and shared around the world by DJs such as the Portuguese Buraka Som Sistema. It’s fascinating movement and one which I thought was more than worthy of some attention, having grown in such adverse conditions. Here’s an interview two recent exponents of the Tuki scene, Pocz and Pacheko, who shed some light on the music’s history… I’ve also included a link to a documentary about Tuki at the end of this interview, together with an exclusive mix.
Why has it taken so long for the music to break out of the barrios and into the worldwide spotlight?
A very well known Venezuelan rock music promotor named Felix Allueva always says that we are a country without memory. We are very bad at keeping a record of things, of what’s going on. There´s no music press or industry or anything. So that is the problem, at least in part. You got take into consideration that Venezuela is a crazy country, very chaotic. It was a crazy country for years before Chavez, with all the oil money, widespread corruption, and everyone living by their own rules. But now with this government that has been in power for 14 years the whole country is more isolated from the world and much more dangerous. There is little international tourism, it’s dangerous to come here, so it’s hard for outsiders to get an idea of what´s going on inside the country.
Everything in the country works in funny and sometimes very dark ways, corruption-wise, crime-wise, etc… The state has acquired too much power, it controls most of the media and tries to control life at all levels. It’s not like Cuba yet, but both countries become more similar every day. So the country has had a rough past 20 years or so, with a lot of political confrontation, an inflation of around 30% a year, every year for almost 10 years and a currency exchange control from the government witch makes it hard to connect with the rest of the world.
We are living very rough times in Venezuela, especially in Caracas where people spend an average of about 2-4 hours a day in traffic, and then the nightlife is almost dead because of the outrageous crime, with more deaths a year than Iraq, about 18000-20,000 violent deaths a year, more than 90% of these crimes never to be solved. It’s very hard to make things happen in our country, the violence at all needs to stop now.
How important do you think it is for local scenes around the world to retain their own sound?
We think that what is really important is for people to connect through music. Music is something very important for all humans, as well as getting together and dancing, and when there is a scene around a certain sound being developed at a certain place, as it has happened with bass music in the UK, with House in Chicago or now with Changa Tuki in Venezuela, it usually helps people connect even more, learn from each other and evolve, regardless of race or social class.
So we think that this scene is something very important for people because it helps to give shape to an identity, it helps us learn from each other, it’s important for everyone involved and for the kids. This is not the same as simply copying something happening somewhere else. We have influences from African cultures, pre-Hispanic cultures, from the massive European inmigration after WW2, and also influences from the Carribbean and the USA, so Changa Tuki is a form of house music that reflects all of this and more. I hope it keeps evolving into something more and more unique.
It seems as though music is so homogenised these days that it’s difficult for anyone in the world to really come out with a sound that is unique to their home nation, what do you think about this?
This is true. Everything is basically a remix of something else isn’t it? Changa Tuki is the Venezuelan remix of what we get from the rest of the world and our own daily life all blended into a sound. However, it’s amazing how similar it can be to Kuduro sometimes, or Bubbling or whatever… But the same could be said about the other styles, and though none were aware of the other, all these came out around the same time – within the past 10-15 years. The Kuduro guys didn’t know about the Tukis, but it has a similar vibe. It’s the internet age we are living in. Imagine how it would be in the next 20 years… 40 years… It’s all coming together with the internet isn’t it?
For sure, and how has Enchufada’s involvement helped Tuki to develop?
We’ve been sharing Tuki music with Enchufada for about two years and they have been the Number One international supporters of the sound ever since. They immediately connected with the Tuki sound as it was also 140bpm music to smash a dancefloor, just like Kuduro, but also different. They have been like a family for us, always trying to go to the root of things and to give proper credit and respect to the original artists of the scene. It’s something they also did with Kuduro, they went to Angola and worked with DJ Znobia and other original Kuduro innovators. So they help present these sounds to the world in an objective and respectful manner. It’s definitely an inspiration for us with our Abstractor crew.
In the documentary it says that Tuki was dying out at one point, why was that?
The proper Changa Tuki and Raptor House scene began sometime around 2003-2005, and lasted until approximately 2010. There are various reasons as to why it was disappearing. One of the reasons was that the most important crew (Raptor House Crew) broke apart. Yirvin soon after created a mutation of the sound (called Hard Fusion) with his new X Dimension Crew, and a lot of the dancers followed them, but the sound of Changa Tuki was slowly fading away elsewhere, and less people were doing it.
We think that it has to do with the way the word Tuki turned into a sort of insult. Almost nobody wanted to be called a ¨tuki¨ anymore; it became a pejorative term, there was just too much prejudice around that word, it meant you were a type of thug, someone of a lower class, with an ugly ghetto style, although the word initially came from the music. It’s crazy how everyone adopted the word as an insult and never cared to find out where it came from or what the music was really about.
Also the increasing violence in Caracas made it harder and harder to do events of any kinds. We know in the mid 2000s there were big events and matinees, many organized by the Minitecas themselves, and unfortunately lots of underage kids were drinking and going crazy at these events. ¨The kids would go mad at this matinees¨ is what we hear from Yirvin all the time, thus the parents and the police started boycotting the events, and eventually these matinees were prohibited in most places. That was a big downer for the scene. And there was the barrio gang trouble that gave an awful reputation to the scene and to electronic music in general. Incidents like that Carl Cox shooting didn´t help either.
Most producers changed their sound to ¨safer¨, more socially accepted styles such as commercial electro house and reggaetton.
Has it now broken out of the negative image that it had in the past?
It’s slowly starting to change. Younger kids that watch the documentary are learning what the word Tuki really means and where it comes from. People are starting to understand the reality of this scene, it’s history, and especially that it’s really all about the music and the dancing and not the violence. We also have a radio show every Thursday on a local FM station.
At midnight we play Changa Tuki along with Kuduro, bass music and whatever we want. So people are a bit more aware about it now and the scene is gaining more respect.People are starting to know the DJs and producers that created this sound, the dancers and their original moves, the anthem tracks of the scene and what they’re about instead of dismissing the whole scene as ¨Tuki¨ in a negative way. The press in Venezuela is starting to pay a bit of attention too.
How have European audiences been reacting to the music?
People definitely dance to it. With Kuduro, Bubbling, Juke and other styles being played it’s not that hard for crowds to pick it up. Young kids are very open now. People are very curious, they want to know more about it and get the music, but it’s very hard to get. Senseless Records, a label from the UK, was the first to release some of Yirvin’s Music in the past year. They actually travelled to Venezuela and met him and the dancers.
With the documentary we put out a 20+ track compilation for free here: www.whowantstuki.com/extras
There`s also a new release of ours with Enchufada, which features a collaboration with DJ Yirvin, and next year there`s a new compilation called Changa Tuki Classics coming out on Vinyl, CD and digital formats on swiss label Mental Groove. So the sound is definitely getting some attention here! And these releases will help.
Have you had any interest from any of the better known house DJs/producers? (Apart from Buraka Som Sistema of course).
It’s still very underground, but DJs such as Toy Selectah, Chrissy Murderbot, Cardopusher and even Addison Groove from the UK have been supporting the sound in one way or another, playing some Changa Tuki tracks in some of their sets. One of the great things about Tuki is that it can be played alongside dubstep, or kuduro, or tribal guarachero, or even techno and house as it can be mixed around 132-140bpm. So it’s really fun to play alongside other styles, that’s the greatest thing about it, it’s a great condiment for special sets.
What are your hopes and ambitions for Tuki’s future?
We want to put up a Pocz & Pacheko Tuki Showcase to present at festivals in Europe 2013 with some of the Tuki dancers and hopefully Yirvin as well. We hope that people in Venezuela stop stigmatising Tuki and pay more attention to our own scene, our own history, especially what goes on in the Barrios. Musically, we´d like the Changa sounds to keep evolving and mutating into new places. And we hope that Venezuela becomes a safer place; we want a safer country, so people are no longer afraid of going out at night. We truly believe that music can bring people together; we just have to work hard for it to happen.barrios, Carl Cox, changa, music, Pocz & Pacheko, Tuki, Venezuela
Recent Posts on Arts
- Friday Book Design Blog: The Ariel Poems, and other seasonal pamphlets
- Children’s book blog – Ask the illustrator: Rebecca Cobb
- Piggott's post: Jacobson, Heller and reflections on "real life"
- Ric Blackshaw tells us Scrawl about his street art enterprise
- Children’s books for November: The Something, The Imaginary and Eren
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter