Kizomba as a Musical Genre

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The role of Semba and Zouk in the genesis of Kizomba

Many people just becoming familiar with these musical genres, erroneously confuse (traditional) kizomba songs with being semba. A common misconception is that if a song has faster tempo then it should be a semba song.

Albena de Assis

So, in order to understand this "mystery", let's look at the history of Kizomba, by learning a little bit about its predecessors.
According to Prof. Jomo Fortunato, a renowned Angolan historian, the oldest references to the word semba, absent from missionaries' dictionaries published between 1591 and 1805, first appeared in 1880 in the book “Os sertões d’África: Apontamentos de Viagem” by Alfredo de Sarmento, a writer associated with colonial literature, and later in the novel "Nga Mutúri”, by writer and journalist Alfredo Troni, published for the first time as newspaper serials in the year 1882.
A batuque consists of a circle formed by dancers, where a black person goes into the middle, and after performing a few steps, gives the person of his choice a belly-bump, known as a semba, who then goes into the middle of the circle to replace him

Alfredo de Sarmento

In turn, Alfredo Troni, an intellectual with the greatest knowledge of Luanda culture, describes a batuque in Luanda, at the house of “Nga Mutúri”, as follows: “It was a spoken batuque… There was a knock on the door at midnight and in came Serra, who had just arrived from Casengo, in Cunga. Nga Mutúri was delighted and returned the two sembas Serra had given him."
Both according to Alfredo Sarmento and Alfredo Troni, the word “semba” preserves the meaning of “umbigada”, regarded as a metaphor for sexual intercourse and highly criticised by the more conservative segments of colonial society. Furthermore, Alfredo Troni illustrates the dance environment and the “spoken batuque”, vital to the contextualisation of “Massemba”, the rhythmic basis of which lies in the semba we know today.

Massemba / Rebita

Massemba, a popular “belly” dance executed by pairs of dancers, is the plural of semba, the name which came to be given to the most representative musical genre from the Luanda region. Danced in the street on free afternoons and on moonlit nights, massemba, progressed to the graceful guitars of Liceu Vieira Dias, José Maria and Nino Ndongo, giving rise to semba. Massemba was referred to by the Portuguese name of Rebita when it began to be played in dance halls, where it was backed up by the accordion and the concertina.
The process involving the mixing of massemba and rhythms of kazukuta to the guitar, a type of accelerated massemba, gave rise to the “wild batida” of Liceu Vieira Dias and semba in the form of the innovatory proposals of José Maria and Nino Ndongo, in their most varied known rhythms.


Semba is currently one of the most important rhythms in Angola, and the predecessor of several music genres such as Samba (from Brazil), Kizomba and Kuduro (both from Angola).
Angola's cultural history is tied to the cultures of the central Bantu people and the ancient kingdom of Kongo. Therefore, semba music has been strongly influenced by their musical traditions. Furthermore Kazukuta and Kabetula rhythms strongly influenced semba music as well, and some say semba is a modification of the Kazukuta rhythm.
Important traditional semba artists include Bonga Kwenda and Ngola Ritmos, Jovens do Prenda, Kiezos, Bangão, and many more.

Foreign Influences

The influx of Angolan instrumentalists to urban areas and the evolution of western musical technology had an influence on the rhythmic structure of the sound of semba. Groups which used acoustic guitars, dikanzas, snare drums and shakers in their early days began to introduce electric and electrified instruments. An interesting phenomenon occurred with the group Africa Show, the first Angolan musical band to successfully introduce the organ, representing an aesthetic posture which was different and more geared to the demands of an urban audience, which followed equally the evolution of European and American music.
Important modern semba artists include Puto Português, Yuri da Cunha, Matias Damásio, Kyaku Kyadaff, Don Kikas, Paulo Flores, Daniel dos Santos, Carlos Burity, and many more.


As a result of the closure of the main recording studios after the independence of Angola in 1975, zouk music began to take over at parties, and the majority of Luanda´s radio stations played this type of music. A rhythmic mixture of semba and zouk, often played at parties which back then were simply called kizombas, became young people´s music of choice in the 1980s. Kizomba (a word in Kimbundu , the local dialect in Luanda, simply meaning party) became synonimous with this new style of music.
It is considered by many musicians and historians that Eduardo Paim was one of the most important founders of kizomba as a musical genre. Other important contributors to its creation were Paulo Flores with his lyric writting techniques, and Ruca Van-Dúnem with his use of synthesizers. It should be reiterated that the musical projects Kijila I, II and III, the result of Eduardo Paim, Ruca Van-Dúnem, Ricardo Abreu and Luandino having met up in Portugal, can be regarded as a milestone in the creation of the rhythmic structure of the kizomba genre.

Distinguishing Kizomba from Semba and Other Sub-Genres

The difference between kizomba and semba is mostly the kind of instruments that are used to create the sound, not the tempo of a song. kizomba songs tend to use more electronic instruments, while traditional semba songs will have a preference for acoustic ones. This distinction is not a strict rule, as there are many modern sembas that will employ a vast array of instruments, both acoustic as well as electronic, and by the same token, some kizomba songs will be closer to semba in their choice of instruments.
To complicate matters further, many Angolans simply use the term "Kizomba" as an umbrella term that includes other styles such as tarraxa, ghetto zouk, colazouk (a mixture of coladera from Cape Verde with zouk), together with Semba and actual Kizomba.
As a general rule, the following instruments are preferred by each of the genres:


Kizomba, Semba music - keyboard


Although it can be present in semba music as well, the keyboard in kizomba is predominant, a legacy from zouk
Kizomba, semba music - bass guitar

Bass Guitar

Another influence from zouk, the bass guitar in kizomba tends to be strong and very predominant
Kizomba music will often make use of other live instruments such as drums, guitars, horns (trumpets, saxophones, etc), and other percussion instruments, an influence of its Semba roots.
The following examples show classic kizomba songs that may be mistaken by novices for being semba, in order of appearance:
  1. Matias Damásio: "Agi Sem Pensar"
  2. Konde Martins: "Negra"
  3. Nelo Carvalho ft. Jacob Desvarieux: "Mamã Falou"
  4. Caló Pascoal ft. Belisse dos Santos: "O Santo Desconfia"


    Kizomba, Semba music - Dikanza


    Also known as reco-reco, the dikanza is a fundamental percussion instrument in semba
    Kizomba, semba music- batuques


    Conga drums, also present in every semba song
    Kizomba, semba music - accordion


    A classic instrument present in every traditional semba song
    Examples of recent semba songs, in order of appearance:
    1. Don Kikas: "Sexta Feira"
    2. Paulo Flores ft. Carlos Burity: "Poema do Semba"
    3. Puto Português: "Tá Sair Male"
    4. Ary: "Meu Marido"

      Tarraxa / Tarraxinha

      Kizomba, Semba music - keyboard


      Most instrumental sounds in Tarraxinha are made using a keyboard
      Kizomba, Semba, Tarraxinha music - Drum Machine

      Drum Machine

      Exclusively used, instead of a regular drum set used in Kizomba or Semba
      Tarraxinha, or simply Tarraxa, is characterized by a strong electronic sound and a heavy electronic bass. This style of music is produced entirely synthetically with a drum machine, keyboards and vocals. The resulting music has a very heavy and pumping feel to it and is typically danced with more emphasis on isolated hip movements, undulation and steps that do not travel a lot. The following examples show some popular Tarraxinha songs, in order of appearance:
      1. C4 Pedro Ft. Ary: "Pokemón e Picatchú"
      2. Badoxa: "Eu Não Danço Contigo"
      3. Yudi Fox ft. Nelo: "Só Quero Tarraxar"
      4. DJ Callas: "Isso Dói"


        Kizomba, Semba music - keyboard


        Most sounds in GhettoZouk are made using a keyboard
        Kizomba, Semba, Tarraxinha music - Drum Machine

        Drum Machine

        Exclusively used, instead of a regular drum set used in Kizomba or Semba
        Similar to Tarraxinha, GhettoZouk songs will employ electronic instrumentation but with a heavier R&B influence in it. As a result the vocals tend to be more melodic. Many GhettoZouk songs will have common elements with Tarraxinha and therefore will sound similar. The following examples show some popular GhettoZouk songs, in order of appearance:
        1. Nelson Freitas ft. C4 Pedro: "Bo Tem Mel"
        2. Kaysha: "Diamonds"
        3. Landrick: "Filha da Goda"
        4. Anselmo Ralph: "Não Me Toca"

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