- It is a circular couple dance characterized by a close connection within the couple and soft and grounded movements. It has origins in Angola, but it has developed simultaneously also in other PALOP countries.
- It is a type of music, with influences mainly from Semba and Caribbean Zouk.
- It is a way to socialize in Angola and many PALOP countries, going to kizombadas in the backyards or bigger parties.
- The word itself means "party" in Kimbundu, a Bantu language spoken in Angola.
There is some confusion as to what really is kizomba music. This is because the word has also become a kind of umbrella term that incorporates several different genres, including the real kizomba, coladeira, cabo-love, ghetto zouk, tarraxinha , and even European remixes. If we talk about the umbrella term, the music can be sung in Portuguese, Creole, English, French, Spanish or even other languages. Or it can be instrumental. But if we use the narrower term, then most songs are sung in Portuguese, as they have origins in Angola or other PALOP countries, or it is sung in Creole, as quite a lot of the music also comes from Cape Verde.
But, we cannot really talk about Kizomba without talking about Semba first. Semba is a traditional type of music and dance from Angola. The name comes from Massemba, meaning "a touch of the bellies". In Angola, the dance Semba has been danced since the 50s. And Semba music appeared on the scene in Angola with the group called Ngola Ritmos, led by Liceu Vieira Dias.
Although kizomba has been influenced by many genres, like kompa, coladeira and other African music, semba, and Caribbean zouk are said to be its main influences.
Opinions on the origins of the music differ a bit. Some say it started in the mid-80s, when musicians in Africa, mainly Angola, started mixing influences from Caribbean Zouk into their creations. This happened after the Caribbean band Kassav, which invented the new Zouk music, toured in Africa. In Angola, the musicians mixed the Zouk with Semba. Initially, it was called semba-zouk.
One singer, in particular, has been called the father of Kizomba. Eduardo Paim, an Angolan musician from the band S.O.S., was definitely one of the pioneers. He claims that musicians in Angola already listened to and were influenced by Zouk since 1979, so it really started before the mid-80s. It is also said that Bibi, the percussionist of S.O.S, is the one who in an interview was the first one to give this new music style its name.
"Kizomba" was first used to describe the music and later on to name the dance that previously had been danced to different kinds of music, like Semba and even to Bachata music for example. This was something people called "plena".
The dance seems to have emerged pretty simultaneously in several PALOP countries, danced to similar music, but with some different names. However, it was in Angola where the development was the strongest, and the name Kizomba took a stronger hold, becoming the household name when the music and dance started conquering the world.
When this music became more popular in the 90s, more and more dancers in Angola started adapting their steps to this music.
So, the music was born out of the fusion between Semba the Caribbean Zouk. And the dance was primarily steps from Semba, adapted to a different kind of music.
In the 90s, it was getting more and more popular. It was growing in the PALOP countries, and also in Portugal where the communities of immigrants from PALOP countries started clubs focused on this music and dancing. This was the first foothold that Kizomba got in Europe.
From around 2007 and onwards it started spreading in Europe. At first coming to Spain, France, and the UK. Other countries where classes were being taught early on were Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, and Hungary. Thereafter, it started spreading all over Europe around 2011 and onwards.
There are some important reasons that contributed a lot to the spread in Europe and the world.
One of them was Africadançar, a festival and competition held for the first time in Lisbon in 2008. Several of the earliest and most well-known artists within the scene started their careers and popularity by participating in this competition during the first years. Some examples of these artists are Albir & Sara, Tony Pirata & Cherazad, Morenasso & Anais, Bruno & Mafalda, Nuno & Nágyla. Many other international artists have participated in later editions of the festival and are now teaching worldwide.
Among the first teachers in Lisbon was Mestre Petchú, Avelino Chantre, Zé Barbosa and Tomas Keita. Petchú created what he called the "geometry of kizomba", an attempt at describing the dance in a more structured way, breaking down moves, describing them and giving them names so it would be easier to teach. This probably suited the Europeans a bit more and made it easier to absorb the dance.
And the probably most important reason for the spread was Youtube and social media, and videos that spread on these platforms. Even if many of these videos were not showcasing the true kizomba, and often using Ghetto Zouk music, this is how many people were first exposed to the name and the dance. Some videos reached millions of views already early on.
From around 2010 other festivals started to show up in Europe, like Batuke in London, LIKE in Lisbon, Warsaw Kizomba Festival and Kizomba Swimming Festival outside Paris. Since 2011 the number of events and festivals in Europe has been growing exponentially every year.
The dance kept spreading to other countries and continents and now (2020) you can find people dancing some version of it in almost every corner of the world. In Europe, there are normally countless festivals and smaller events every weekend.
Pretty much since Kizomba started spreading outside of PALOP countries and Portugal we have seen a slightly different dance than the original. There are probably many reasons for this. Some of the most important ones I see are:
- Ghetto zouk, a music style, was played a lot in parties and festivals ever since the beginning when the dance and music started spreading in Europe. Due to Ghetto Zouk's electronic feel and influence from RnB, this music was very easy to listen to for European ears and also called for a slightly different way of dancing, which started affecting the way people danced. For example, people started using more syncopations.
- This slight change in the way people danced increased even more when Europeans started to put other elements into the dance. Many people who started dancing came from other dances, carrying an influence from those dances and incorporating movements from those dances.
- During the first years, there were not many people traveling to teach. The only option for many people was to spend most of the year learning from watching Youtube videos and similar. There were not many festivals to learn in, there were hardly any online courses and very few parties to practice. So, the right way of stepping, the way of hearing the music, the feeling, and the cultural aspects were not as easy to imitate or absorb when people first started dancing in Europe.
There were probably more forces in play that created this change in the way people were dancing, this Europeanised version of the dance, but I think these are some of the most important ones.
Very early on when Kizomba was conquering Europe, there was not much debate going on. People were happy to teach and learn, go to parties and go to festivals even if it didn't look exactly like people danced in Luanda or Lisbon. People didn't really care that much. But pretty soon things started to change.
Maybe already in 2012, we started hearing about "French Style". A way of dancing that originated in France. Besides dancing in just a slightly different way, for the reasons mentioned above, there were a lot of dancers starting to incorporate new moves in the dance. Influences from hip hop, tango, semba show, and other dances were added and gave the dance an even more different flavor than it already had in Europe. People started dancing to different music, more electronic music like ghetto zouk, pop- or RnB-remixes, etc. This led to even more different dancing.
The fact that a lot of people in France and other countries were dancing in a different way, led to a lot of discussions about what is Kizomba and what is not. Many people called for a new name for this new way of dancing, while others claimed that it was the same dance, but just a different style.
There had been many suggestions for names, like french style, Kizomba 2.0, new style, etc.
In the end, it was decided that a new name was needed. So in 2015, it was finally decided to call it Urban Kiz. Urban, because of the music this way of dancing was often danced to (RnB, Ghetto Zouk, and remixes), and Kiz because of the connection to, and origins in Kizomba.
Urban Kiz developed in the dance community in Europe, and primarily France. One big driver behind the development was probably the music that was played in many parties across Europe, which called for a different way of dancing.
The main differences between Kizomba and Urban Kiz are:
- In Urban Kiz the dancers generally keep more distance to each other. There is no connection in the chest.
- Urban Kiz is not a circular dance but rather danced in a more linear way.
- In Urban Kiz legs are generally more straight, compared to Kizomba where you have slightly bent knees.
- The feeling in Urban Kiz is more “up” compared to Kizomba which is very grounded.
- The energy in Urban Kiz is different, with more tension in the body to make it possible to quickly change directions, do syncopations, taps, etc.
In addition to these differences, Urban Kiz has also included many moves and inspiration from other dances, like Hip Hop, Tango, Semba Show, Brazilian Zouk, Salsa, and Bachata, while almost eliminating typical moves like vírgula for example.
Dancing Urban Kiz looks very different. Urban Kiz is not a circular dance but danced in more straight lines. But, not everyone dances either one of these two dances.
A lot of people also dance something called Kizomba Fusion. So, what is this?
Well, I think I have called the way I have been dancing Kizomba Fusion in almost all my videos, since around 2014. Because the way I danced was not quite Kizomba, it had other influences too, but it still had a lot of the fundamentals and was still very fluid. When the name Urban Kiz was introduced, I couldn’t say I danced Urban Kiz because I moved in a softer, more fluid, and more connected way.
To me, if you want to say that you dance Kizomba Fusion there are some things that you need to do. First of all, you need to keep the essence of the original dance to be able to call it a Fusion. If there is nothing left of Kizomba, there is no Kizomba Fusion. Then it is something else, maybe Urban Kiz. And, besides the essence, to dance Fusion you add something else. You add the fusion part, but it still keeps the essence of the original. So, it is a fusion.
And to me, the essence of Kizomba is primarily three things - basic steps, connection, and fluidity. So:
- You use basic steps. You do for example vírgula and retrocesso in your dance. This makes your dance circular.
- You dance in a connected way. You are mostly connected or very close in the chest. You make moves together with your partner, as opposed to moves when you move in the opposite direction from your partner.
- You move in a soft and fluid way.
So, what creates the “fusion” part of the dance?
- Besides basic steps and passada you also do other moves or steps, from other dances or own inventions. These moves mostly have the same feeling as in Kizomba. There can be some different techniques, but the feeling should be mostly the same. So, the moves are still pretty soft and fluid. They are still pretty connected.
- But sometimes you can allow yourself to do some disconnect from your partner, either with more distance or with moves in different directions. And…
- Sometimes you add sharper moves, mostly when the music is a bit sharper.
So, you still have a lot of the original feeling. But, sometimes you allow yourself to do other kinds of moves. Often those moves come from Tango, like the pivots and slides (ochos and barridas), from Hip hop, or from Urban Kiz for example.
Both Urban Kiz and Fusion have many dynamic changes of tempo, with slow tempo, normal tempo and syncopations, done to the music. And a lot of the techniques are the same in Urban Kiz and Kizomba Fusion. But, Fusion is more similar to Kizomba - it still keeps more connection and more fluid moves. And you still have the fundamental steps.
Since Urban Kiz lacks the circular moves it is danced in a more linear way, with a more tense body, not as grounded, and doing more touches/taps. There are usually also more spins and turns included. If you dance Fusion you usually stay more connected.
DISCLAIMER: There are many different opinions on both the history of the dance and the music, as well as on the definitions of what kind of dance a certain way of dancing is. This is what I have learned about history, and what I consider the most important similarities and differences between the dances/styles.