Cheat Sheet: Moombahton
by Philip Sherburne | January 17, 2012
There are plenty of reasons to resist thinking of moombahton as a "real" genre. There's its origin, for one thing. According to club lore, Washington, D.C. DJ Dave Nada single-handedly created the sound when he spun a copy of Silvio Ecomo's 2009 single "Moombah (Afrojack Mix)" at 33 RPM instead of 45, turning the raucous mixture of synth stabs and Caribbean drums into a gelatinous mixture of reggaeton and chopped 'n' screwed trance. A few blog posts later, moombahton was suddenly the new buzz genre for global beat fanatics around the world. A compilation on Diplo's Mad Decent label, Blow Your Head Vol. 2: Dave Nada Presents Moombahton, mapped the style's particulars -- a bouncy, 110-beats-per-minute groove; the syncopated toms and snares of the "Dem Bow" riddim; and the squealing synth stabs and pitch-bent arpeggios of Dutch house.
Of course, one compilation does not a genre make. In early 2011, when Mad Decent asked Dave Nada to put the collection together, there was apparently so little actual moombahton out there that he resorted to decades-old songs like Shabba Ranks' "Dem Bow" and El General's "Pun Tun Tun" -- righteous tracks, mind, but hardly evidence of a vibrant new movement.
Critic Brandon Soderberg captured the contradictions of moombahton in an excellent piece for the Baltimore City Paper: "Moombahton arrived fully formed, the product of a talented, savvy, well-connected DJ. The domino effect of blog coverage immediately took hold of the genre, and once one site declared it important, all the others followed -- if they didn't, they risked appearing out of touch. It helped too that D.C. had a new thing to call its own. Less than a year after the Moombahton EP, the cover of Washington City Paper announced 'Our Year in Moombahton.' A bunch of people told a bunch of other people that a new, regional subgenre with a fun origin story and a cool global sound was, like, the thing."
Still, it's hard to deny that moombahton has captured the imaginations of artists and listeners looking for a new sound to call their own. (One benefit of moombahton, for American fans, is that it's basically homegrown, despite the exotic-sounding name; adopting it as a cause may feel less fraught than latching on to funk carioca or kuduro or other global "ghetto" grooves popular with Diplo's followers.) There are blogs dedicated to it, and cheeky bootleg remixes; even NPR picked up on the trend.
In many ways, moombahton is the most modern of genres: it flies in the face of the theory that musical tribes develop naturally over time, instead favoring chance mutations out of a particular nexus of place, personality and technology. As our cultural life is increasingly signposted by memes, genres follow suit.
We've rounded up three hours of moombahton tracks into one playlist; check it out here: Cheat Sheet: Moombahton, and read on to sample a few key releases in the genre. But be quick about it: by the time you finish reading this, there'll probably be a new sound on the horizon.