Meet the Newest Addition to Global Bass: Venezuela’s Changa Tuki

By 26 November, 2012

Changa tuki has come a long way since its humble beginnings during the early 2000s in the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. Not only has the sound evolved since its creation by local DJs Yirvin and Baba, but it has gone from getting zero love from Venezuelan mainstream media to being showcased as part of the global bass phenomenon in clubs from Lisboa to Caracas. Aside from the fact that the music is as addictive as crack, the sudden surfacing of the genre has been spearheaded by a younger generation of caraqueño deejays, dancers and graphic designers who, out of sheer curiosity, not only decided to dig deeper into the barrio sound being cooked in their much ignored backyard, but decided to reinvent the aesthetics and showcase them to the world. We can’t ignore it now.

Before changa tuki­ went global, there was absolutely no way to find out about the genre or any of its key players. In fact, shortly after an alliance between Caracas’s collectives Mostro Contenidos, Abstractor and Design or Die produced the short documentary ¿Quién Quiere Tuki?; others were inspired to dig deeper into the history of the genre and the place where it came from. Specifically thorough is the Portuguese label Enchufada’s ‘Guide to Tuki’, which provides much of the historical context to what we know as changa tuki today. Here at Sounds and Colours we did a little digging ourselves to bring you an abridged history of the changa tuki sound and direct you towards where you can hear more of it.

First off, to understand where the tuki sound came from, it’s imperative to know the influences. According to the DJ Baba interview featured on ¿Quién Quiere Tuki?, one of the biggest influences in terms of sound was early 90s techno, specifically Technotronic’s 1990 hit, “Pump up the jam”. This music, by itself, was termed changa, which later became an umbrella term for any and all electronic music in Venezuela. Out of this boom, DJ Baba crafted his own sound along with DJ Yirvin called raptor house. The scene was popularised through the CD-R subculture, but the biggest promotion was that the music was played in what has now become a Venezuelan institution: the minitecas.

“Minitecas are very important because they were mobile sound systems. They exist since the late 70s. […] Minitecas started with disco music,” recounts Pacheko, a DJ from the Abstractor collective who also participated in the documentary with his partner Pocz. Pacheko explains that in the early days of the miniteca, most of the music was imported from places with big DJ cultures, like New York City. “That’s how it rolled, with pure disco music in the 70s and 80s, and then that turned into house and there was a really big DJ culture through the minitecas. […] By 2000-2001, the minitecas became part of barrio culture and then […] Baba and Yirvin started making tracks and the tracks started to sound more and more Venezuelan.”

When Baba and Yirvin tracks started popping up in other minitecas and mixtapes, and the sound became more tropical and bass heavy, that’s when the music got crystallised into a new genre: changa tuki. Now, we understand what changa is, but why the added tuki? Pacheko’s partner in crime, DJ Pocz, elaborates:

“It’s a very Caracan word to define people with a certain type of style and people who listen to a certain type of music. Electronic music, as they say in the documentary, sounds like that ‘tuki-tuki-tuki’; it’s what the repetition of beats in electronic music sounds like. That’s where the word tuki came from. […] So they started to use this name to refer to people who dressed a certain way; they were people from the barrio or ghetto who used motorcycles and all that.”

So the term tuki not only became a music genre, but it also became a derogatory term for anything barrio-related. The music, the minitecas and its creators are born and bred in the Caracas favelas. DJ Baba, is from Catia, and DJ Yirvin is from Petare, one of the biggest barrios in Caracas, home to 2 million people and counting. The violence and political unrest surrounding these places (and surrounding Caracas in general), is partly responsible for changa tuki’s unique sound. According to Pocz and Pacheko, the internalisation of this violence was what started to differentiate pure changa from changa tuki; it’s what made it sound uniquely Venezuelan.

“It’s the aggressiveness of the synthesisers; the beats started to sound more Latinised,” explains Pocz. “With the 4×4, they fastened the BPM and then they started incorporating other things with Latin influences like salsa, Venezuelan drum rhythms. The synthesisers started to become more aggressive, as they say in the documentary, and people started thinking about the dancers. With the synthesiser sounds they [the dancers] imagined the dance moves. I think it also started to become more aggressive because of the situation of Caracas; it’s a pretty aggressive and violent city. The music became more violent and I think that’s where the evolution started.”

Pacheko adds that another Venezuelan component is the voices featured in the recordings, which were often made by the artists themselves. “Those voices gave it a really personal touch because that’s where the songs named after the barrios came from. One of the most famous ones is “Petare”. […] Yirvin had his studio there; a lot of the dancers are from there, so the track “Petare” was a big hit amongst the barrio youth with the whole CD-R subculture. It was a big hit at parties, but there were also similar songs from other barrios. At the big events, when the songs from the barrios came on, the young people from there would dance or sing and it would become a friendly battle. I think that’s where it gathered a lot of its identity, because the beat sounded more tropical, they were singing about a barrio, and the music had too much energy and violence, just like Caracas. That’s when it became changa tuki. People discovered it and they would be like, ‘what is this?’ pure barrio people dancing, and the discrimination was established from the start.”

As Pocz and Pacheko have mentioned a few times, dancers are a big part of tuki culture. One of the biggest names in tuki dance is a fellow Petare resident, Elberth “El Maestro”. According to Enchufada’s Guide to Tuki, “the changa tuki­ dance is a fusion between the music and the dancer. They express through their body how the melody of the synths affects them, sometimes just improvising the movements.” As the dancers started battling it out on the floor representing their barrios, they also started uploading their videos on an AssetBank & YouTube, which also helped put changa tuki on the map.

As Baba and Yirvin split up, changa tuki began to die down. Their creators started abandoning the scene and venturing into other territories. Baba started producing more tropical stuff and Yirvin created the sub-genre hard fusion. Witnessing that disinterest, a younger generation of producers started to dig into the history and the music, wanting to popularise a style uniquely caraqueño. That’s when the Abstractor family, including Pocz and Pacheko, set out to make ¿Quién Quiere Tuki? Along with the graphic design collective Design or Die, these DJs started to incorporate the tuki sound and tuki artwork into their artistic concept, capturing the attention of international DJs like Addison Groove and specifically, Buraka Som Sistema’s João Barbosa and the Enchufada label.

Two of the newest flagship DJs, Pocz and Pacheko, have taken the genre abroad playing gigs at clubs in Portugal and Spain, and officially making it a part of the global bass phenomenon along with baile funk, digital cumbia, kuduro, 3ball and a host of other genres. When asked about this connection, Pocz explains:

“Of course, each one has something original from the culture of the place and the country. But the way that it happened is basically the same thing. It’s people interpreting music with influences from their countries and their regions, and then they put the electronic touch because of the technology. Because when you have access to computers and software that becomes easier and easier to use, a lot more people start producing more stuff and then movements are born.”

For an introduction to classic tuki tracks featured in the documentary, you can download the ¿Quién Quiere Tuki? soundtrack here.

Here’s the trailer for ¿Quién Quiere Tuki? (full documentary can be watched here)

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