SINGAPORE: The lines on Jiak Kim Street snaked all the way to Robertson Bridge. Never mind the hours-long wait, the excitement to get into Mambo Jambo night was palpable, just like it was more than 20 years ago for many who had come right from work in office wear.
Nicole and Samantha (who declined to reveal their last names) had not been to Zouk for more than a decade, but on Wednesday night (Nov 30), they were determined to take a walk down memory lane, as it was the last "Mambo" at Zouk's current digs before it moves to Clarke Quay.
“We just want to get inside and reminisce!” both women, clad in all-black outfits said, all ready to Mambo their hearts out, the long wait not dampening their spirits one bit. "We first came when we were 18 years old," Nicole said. "We have not come (to Zouk) for many many years – and we're here because it's the last Mambo."
Zouk’s Mambo Jambo night has been a mainstay in Singapore’s nightlife scene for more than 20 years. Held on Wednesday nights since mid-1991, it is known as a rite of passage for teens to get their virgin clubbing experience here.
Mambo night, which features mainly 80s and early 90s music, sees crowds dancing with wild abandon to retro classics. Heaven is a Place on Earth for those here, especially the ones who count themselves Forever Young. Those that make it to the podium normally have their synchronised (some say cheesy) moves down pat.
The crowd goes wild when classics such as Love in the First Degree come on. (Photo: Nicole Chang)
For many at the swansong Mambo at Jiak Kim, the mid-week clubbing experience, dancing to old hits was the best part of their youth. It was all about having a blast with friends, sometimes in the Summer Rain, making pacts that they would be Together Forever – even if in their Electric Dreams.
“You’re 18 and you come with your friends every week … and gossip about the regulars on the podium,” said Clara, 32. “They become like cult figures, and you always talk about them outside of Zouk.”
The Mambo kings dominating centrestage on Wednesday took the lead with gusto no matter the song. Among them was a man with greying hair, clad in a leather jacket and white gloves - a familiar figure, many would attest.
Those on the dance floor ranged from hopeful young adults, some first-timers at Mambo Jambo, the occasional auntie and uncle, and middle-aged folk. One of them was Mr Tong Yee, 42, who executed each move with precision just metres from the Mambo kings, while donning a Mambo t-shirt just for the occasion.
The social entrepreneur, who started going for Mambo nights in 1994, said he would not have missed the final night for the world. Calling the event a “national institution”, the grin on his face said it all when Belinda Carlisle’s Summer Rain came on.
What makes Mambo nights magical for him is not just the music, but the community that make up many stories. One of his favourite memories is coming back to Zouk at age 38, after his third child was born. “I couldn’t stop tearing. The nostalgia and reminder of such amazing carefree days was amazing,” he said.
Past three in the morning, the dance floor surged with energy. Amid strobe lights and pounding music, the crowd sang in unison to Bananarama.
For two minutes, it was all about putting your hands in the air and living in the moment. Some had drinks in hand, others enveloped their friends in a group hug, and almost everyone on the dance floor looked up smiling.
And as the mood of the crowd soared, confetti was unleashed and everyone scrambled for their mobile phones, eager to document it on social media, only to be met by a blast of cool air and mist, that obscured the dancers' sight for 30 seconds.
Even though songs from the past decade - Katy Perry's Firework, and Bruno Mars' Just the Way You Are - came on, the Mambo kings pressed on with their rehearsed moves as if it were staples like Square Rooms and She Drives Me Crazy. Even Kit Chan's signature ballad Home got everyone swaying together, even foreigners.
Mambo regular Ron Tan, 31, summed it up: “No matter where you’re from, no matter who you are, everybody is so happy. Everybody is synchronised to the music; there’s a certain synergy you can’t find anywhere else."
Part mass-dance, part karaoke, with a unique Singaporean flavour - that's why thousands held out for hours on Wednesday night, even though Zouk confirms that Mambo Jambo will be making a comeback at its new premises, on an adhoc basis.
Still, some think it is an end of an era. "It's a different place, different kind of vibe, different location - just different," said Nicole, of the soon-to-be-opened Zouk at Clarke Quay.
At the end of the night, cigarettes littered Zouk's exit. There were groups gathered trying to decide on a supper venue, others huddled in deep conversation, and one could hear bursts of laughter.
The power of one song lies in its ability to bring people of all backgrounds together, no matter your name, age, or agility. And while things may be different over at Clarke Quay when Zouk makes its big move, perhaps a new generation of stories will emerge, fitting for a new start for the stalwart club.