History of Kizomba

You cannot talk about Kizomba until you talk about Semba

Semba (masemba in plural) is a traditional music genre and dance genre from Angola that became popular in the 50’s. In the context of dancing, the word Semba means “the body of the man that comes in contact with the body of the woman at the level of the belly button”. In one of the national Angolan languages called Kimbundu, Semba can also have the meaning of “Umbigada”. The Umbigada movement is exactly what is still done today in the traditional dance from Angola called Rebita and other African dances.

Semba – The Music
Semba is the predecessor of a variety of music styles originated from Angola of which three of the most famous are Samba (from Brazil), Kizomba (from Angola) and Kuduro. Semba music has been much influenced by central Bantu people and their traditions. Furthermore, Kazukuta and Kilapanda, Caduque rhythms strongly influenced Semba music as well. Semba music (lyrics) deal with stories regarding day-to-day life, social events and activities. Often, the message of Semba was also about the freedom of Angola. Traditionally, Semba songs are sung in Kimbundu but also in other national languages such as Umbundo and Kikongo. Other than in Kizomba, Portuguese is not used in traditional Semba music. However, some young Angolan singers started using Portuguese in modern Semba songs.

Semba – The Dance
In the beginning, Semba was also called dança de roda (circle dance), lundu, batucada, varina and several other names especially when we talk about Semba for carnival (single dance). Initially, Semba was a single dance in which the man danced in front of a woman. The man would then put his hand on the woman’s hips and would bring her with a sudden movement to him which would provoke a choc (Semba). Today, Semba has evolved into a couple dance with large steps on a fast beat. The steps can be very acrobatic. There is a lot of room for improvisation.

Kizomba is the result of an evolution. It describes both, a music style and a dance style. Kizomba is an Angolan word which means “party” in the Kimbundu language.
The Angolan expression Kizombadas in the 50’s referred to a big party, but there was no link with the dance nor with the music as we know it today. Traditional dances like Semba, Kazukuta, Rebita, were predominant at that time. Most of these dances are primarily carnival dances.

Kizomba – music genre
Kizomba music was born in Angola in the 80’s following the influences of traditional Semba music and Zouk music from the French Caribbean Island Guadeloupe. On this basis, Kizomba music emerged as a more modern music genre with a sensual touch mixed with African rhythm. Unlike Semba, Kizomba music is characterised by a slower and usually very romantic rhythm. Given that Angola is a former Portuguese colony, Portuguese is the principal language spoken in Angola and thus, also most Kizomba songs are sung in Portuguese.

Kizomba – The Dance
Kizomba today is an evolution of the traditional dance Semba. It is evident that Kizomba dance as we know it today evolved after the introduction of Kizomba music. Angolans simply danced their traditional Semba movements also to the Zouk music.
In the 90’s when the actual Kizomba music got more and more popular, also Kizomba dance started receiving more and more credit and began to take the form it has today. What happened is that Angolan Semba dancers started to adapt their Semba steps according to the tempo and flavour of the Kizomba beats. Technically speaking, Semba danced in a slow way to Kizomba music is the basis of the Kizomba dance we know today.
Angolan Semba dancers love their Kizomba music and when Kizomba music is played they often danced and still do dance Semba on the tempo of the Kizomba music they are listening to. We can say that at the beginning of its development, Kizomba was dancing Semba at a slower tempo according to the beat of the Kizomba music. This was the origin and is partially true until today – what makes the difference now is that with time certain typical Kizomba movements have been developed which are explicitly danced to Kizomba music and not necessarily to Semba music.

It is important to underline that in Angola there is no big difference between Kizomba the dance and Semba the dance. But they do make a big difference between Kizomba music and Semba music.