Intro

I AM SEMBA 2019 –The latest contribution to the, Milan-based, event’s legacy and to the appetite for Semba in the Kizomba community? Our opinion below:    

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Synopsis

If you don’t read to the end, here is what you need to know:

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a completely negative experience and 10 being an overwhelmingly positive one, this year’s Semba rendezvous in Milan ranks, if only just, on the positive half of the scale.

Pros:

  • Everything happens in one venue making it very convenient
  • High-quality artists and teachers
  • Good music and good level of dancers
  • Much needed focus on culture, history and context of the dance
  • Attracts a highly engaged crowd that is interested in all things Semba
  • Workshop schedule was comprehensive

Cons:

  • Quality of the accommodation, service and food at the venue is fairly poor
  • Lead – Follow ratio was still not close to being balanced
  • Parties lacked atmosphere 
  • Relatively expensive city and venue

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Now, for the main event, here is what I AM SEMBA delivered this year:

Organisation

Everything worked fairly well from an organisational point of view and someone from the organisation was never too far away to help with any queries.  So, consistent with last year, organisation was on point and classes ran pretty much on time and in the rooms they were supposed to (in most cases).

Venue + Logistics

The convenience of holding the entire festival in one venue is almost enough to close our eyes at some of the more unfortunate quirks of the venue.

The service from the hotel staff was unimpressive at the best of times and quite unpleasant on occasion. Unhelpful staff, faulty room lighting explained as “a room design feature” two clothing irons & ironing boards to share between all the festival attendees and other hotel guests, to name but a few of the service-related issues experienced throughout the weekend.

Getting to the venue from the two airports nearest the venue is very pricey by taxi (around €100) and fairly inconvenient by public transport, when carrying luggage. So, sharing the cost of the taxi with other people attending the festival is probably the best way to go about it, for convenience, unless you travel light.

The food quality dipped significantly even compared to last year’s, “acceptable” buffet experience, especially since dinner cost 25 euros and lunch cost 20 euros and you got to select between two starters and two mains.

*to be noted that people with special dietary requirements might struggle for options.

*also to be noted, and this one is a good one, that breakfast was open until 11 am which made it easier to fit some rest between partying and workshops.

Daytime + Workshops + Social

The workshops throughout the three days were comprehensive, covering everything from technique to musicality, culture & history while catering to all levels of dance ability.

The workshop schedule was good and workshops ran as planned, apart from the impromptu “Bundafacio” Afro+Azonto team-up (composed of Arnold Bunda and Bonifacio Aurio) which was a roaring success. While it may have not been entirely planned, it does speak volumes about a level of trust that exists between the artists and organisation.   

Some dottings of social dancing was also present on the daytime schedule for those who had the energy for it.

In terms of vendors, we had dance shoes and tailored Africa print clothing and accessories on display.

Special mention for this festival is that it attracts a dedicated and enthusiastic set of dancers, interested in all things Semba – the classes were well attended from the very first 11 am class to the last class in the evening with dancers fully engaged in every class.

Nights + Party + Music

Music:

The DJ line-up in the main room, consisting of DJ To Costa, DJ Frank, DJ Virgin, DJ Anilson, DJ Carlos King and DJ Hugo Boss, did a good job of the music; but there was unachieved potential for greatness here and definitely room for growth and improvement next year in both range of Semba played and set arrangements. 

Ratio & Vibe:

The festival has the misfortune, as many others these days, to take place on the same weekend as two other major dance festivals in a relatively small scene, so this will always affect the number of attendees.

The ratio of leads to follows seemed somewhat improved from last year, however still not ideal and it may have seemed improved because of the overall lower number of attendees at the festival.

Last year we wrote:

ATMOSPHERE is key and I AM SEMBA needs to put in a bit more work on this front.

And this year’s edition’s nights were similarly light on atmosphere and this could be for a number of reasons from attendee numbers, to music, to artists and performances timing.

The shows and artist presentations were appropriately timed and relatively brief and the live music performances were relaxed and engaging.

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Conclusion

To wrap it up, I AM SEMBA 2019 was a pleasant enough experience overall, however, ’pleasant enough’ is not what one aims to achieve in one of these events, considering the abundance of options. So… good concept, mediocre hotel, good music, not much vibe, great dance floor, expensive city, good classes and good dancing. 

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