If you have been dancing kizomba for a while, you may have heard/read somewhere that kizomba music is loosely described as a variation, an extension, or a mere interpretation of zouk, the music genre that many Africans fell in love with in the 1980s, thanks in part to the popularity of Kassav, the legendary Caribbean band that took the continent by storm.
What is often underappreciated is how much kizomba draws rythmically from semba, specially what we call in portuguese its “cadência” (cadency) or “compasso”, i.e. the pace (or, even better, the pulse) of a song.
Eduardo Paim, who is widely considered to be the “father” of kizomba recalled that he first arrived at kizomba music by decelerating semba. On the other hand, Paim himself is the first to admit that kizomba music has plenty of “incrustrations”, i.e. it is multi-layered and has many influencers. Therefore, defining kizomba music as just another adaptation (or mutation) of zouk music is a somewhat reductionist view.
In this video, Eduardo Paim & Paulo Flores, two pioneers of kizomba music partner in a great duet called “processos da Banda”. As Paulo once said: “kizomba derives from zouk but it has our own [Angolan] cadency, our own feeling, our own lyrics which, combined, impart a different metric.”
[NB: metric is used here as a technical term in music jargon to describe different tempos and changes thereof in a given song.]
You can see Paim (the short guy with the flat cap) handling the Roland D-50 synthetizer and the Korg T2 worstation, the latter also often called “box of rythms” because that’s exactly what it is: a single instrument that can produce (or synthetize) several sounds and beats, thus replacing – or supplementing – the need for “real” instruments played by humans.
So, the birth of kizomba music is – to some extent – also a byproduct of technological innovation. The main catalyst for its creation was, however, to make enough songs that could keep the famous Angolan backyard parties and family gatherings (kizombadas) going all night. Some of the initial kizomba songs were actually composed by Paim as a result of “trial-and-error” experimentation.
Another interesting fact that is less known outside Angola is that the first kizomba beats made in the mid- and late-1980s were heavily criticized by the older generation because they were not considered “real” Angolan music. Why? Well, as explained above, at that time, kizomba producers relied mainly on electronic instruments and that was perceived to be the antithesis of semba, the quintessential musical identity of Angola and angolaness. The skepticism from the semba purists was understandable; semba’s golden era had ended a decade ago and folks still felt very nostalgic about it hence were not ready for such a drastic departure from its recent past.
Thus, trying to dissect kizomba music with mathematical precision, although very tempting, can sometimes feel like an impossible task to the untrained ear. Probably because it is, especially for beginners. That’s why, in our humble opinion, it is rather redundant for kizomba newbies to enter into endless debates on what defines a kizomba song and pinpoint accurately how and where exactly it can be distinguished from a semba song and/or from other related music genres. Yes, in some instances, it is not rocket science to distinguish a kizomba song from a semba, a tarraxinha, a coladera or a ghetto zouk song. But the lines have become even more blurred nowadays because some kizomba musicians/producers are starting to combine electronic instruments with acoustic instruments. In addition, recent transatlantic collaborations between Angolans and Cape Verdeans have yielded a “hybrid” genre called colasemba that can be easily mistaken by just-another-fast-kizomba-song.
In a nutshell: it takes time to train your brain and ears to differentiate the different types of music under the so-called “kizomba umbrella” but one can get there eventually, with patience and dedication.
What must be avoided at all costs is people (especially instructors and DJs) inventing their own names/suffixes to describe kizomba music, such as “traditional” kizomba, “authentic” kizomba, “modern” kizomba, etc. These labels might be very convenient to those folks who like to categorize everything in silos but they are actually fallacious, confusing and misleading to kizomba students and to the dance community at large.
Our advice is therefore simple: when it comes to kizomba music, enjoy it without worrying about the labels. How you dance to it is a different story (for another day ?????).
Rui Djassi Moracén is the founder of the “University of Kizomba “, a non-profit educational initiative that aims mainly at promoting and preserving Angolan culture as well as the essence of its dances.