“Two dances from Angola are becoming unexpectedly popular around the world.” by Lula Ahrens, published on magazine Universo.
Original article: http://universo-magazine.com/digital/Universo_42_-_June_2014_E/
Angola’s semba and kizomba dances are seeing a surge in popular demand at home and a tremendous breakthrough worldwide. The country’s top dancers are excited, but are also worried about a loss of the dance’s Angolan ginga, or authentic natural movement, when performed outside their national borders.
Every Sunday after 5pm, semba and kizomba enthusiasts meet at a small square on Luanda Bay to dance all the way through Luanda’s magical sunset. A group of regular and new admirers gathers each time to watch.Dance teacher and oil reservoir geophysicist Paulo dos Reis, created Kizomba na Rua ‘Kizomba in the Street’ in December 2012. Interestingly the event was a replica of one in Europe. Dos Reis got the idea from a Cape Verdean friend, Adilson Rodrigues, who set up ‘Kizomba in the Street’ in Paris on the banks of the river Seine.
Semba and kizomba have quickly gone global. “Six years ago, one could only find foreign dancing competitions – salsa, tango, house, and so forth in Angola. Now, it’s the other way around; Angolan kizomba and semba form part of the international dance scene. We have taken them onto the big stage,” Mukano Charles told Universo.
Charles is the ‘godfather’ of Angola’s very own International Kizomba Contest, which he started in 2009. Every year, the two contest finalists go on to represent Angola at the international competition África Dançar (Africa Dancing) in Portugal, which opens the doors to other dance opportunities around the world.In Angola itself, semba and kizomba are also seeing a rapid increase in popularity. “Our country is growing. More and more young people are taking an interest in dancing. Unlike in the past, we now regard semba and kizomba as an art. They run through every Angolan’s veins,” said Charles.
As well as Portugal, the countries in which these native dances are most popular include Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, East Timor, Brazil and the territory of Macau (all former Portuguese colonies).
However, since around 2010, they have been also stealing the show in Belgium, the United States, Australia, Spain, Poland, France, Hungary, UK, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, SLovenia and Serbia. It is an exciting development, but with some downsides as well.
“We Angolans dance naturally,” award-winning Angolan dancer Bonifácio Aurio explained. “Eropeans tend to ‘mechanise’ the rhythms, because they don’t learn and listen to the music in its natural context. Foreigners take a workshop and then call themselves a ‘dancing instructor’, which in the West is a lucrative profession. Outside our borders, these types of low-quality ‘teachers’ spread like a virus.”
“Our dances are misinterpreted abroad, and turned into a type of tango or salsa due to lack of information,” Mukano Charles told Universo. “We need to respect the Angolan ginga of semba and kizomba. The Angolan contest finalists do that by bringing the dances’ true nature to the four corners of the world.”
Semba has been popular in Angola since the 1950s. The word semba originates in Angolan indigenous language Kimbundu and derives from masemba, which means a ‘touching of the bellies’ – a characteristic semba dance move.
Semba music was strongly influenced by the ancient Kingdom of Kongo and central Angola’s Bantu people. Centuries later, it underwent further transformation as Angola became more urban and music developed in line with new Western technology. Traditionally, semba songs are sung in Kimbundu, and sometimes other national languages such as Umbundu and Kikongo. Modern tunes are in Portuguese.
Lyrics often tell a cautionary tale day-to-day life, usually in witty manner. During the Angolan War of Independence (1961-75), semba songs focused mainly on Angola’s fight for freedom. The versatility of this dance music is evident in its inevitable presence at both Angolan funerals and parties.
Several new Angolan semba artists have broken through each year, rendering homage to the veteran masters, many of them who are still performing. The legendary band Ngola Ritmos has contributed enormously to the spread of this music. Barceló de Carvalho, the singer known as Bonga, is one of the most successful and best-known Angolan artists to popularise semba internationally. Other icons include Liceu Vieira Dias, Domingos Van-Dúnem, Mário da Silva Araújo, Manuel dos Passos and Nino Ndongo.
Portuguese colonisers brought over a broad range of European and other dances to Angola, and these soon mixed with traditional local dances. These included the Argentinean tango. Tango incluences appear in both semba and kizomba. Curiosuly, the tango originally developed under the strong influence of Africans, most of them – again – from the Kingdom of Kongo, who where taken to South America as slaves.
Kizomba and TarraxinhaSemba is the precursor of various music and dance styles including Angolan kuduro, Brazilian samba and Angolan kizomba. The name kizomba these days is confusingly used to describe both semba and kizomba.
In Angola in the 1950s, the Kimbundu expression kizombada referred to a party. After Angolan independence in 1975, zouk music from the French Antilles became popular in Luanda. It mixed with semba to form kizomba in the 1980s.
Angola’s SOS Band spurred this development. Former band member Eduardo Paim, regarded as one of the founders of the kizomba genre, moved to Portugal in the 1980s, taking the music with him.
Kizomba, in turn, gave rise to Angola’s most explicitly sensual or even sexual genre, tarraxinha. Tarraxinha is danced within both semba and kizomba on the music’s slow intermezzos, but has developed into a genre of its own.
“Tarraxinha is the baby, kizomba is the mother and semba is the father,” according to Bonifácio Aurio. “In Angola, we don’t take tarraxinha very seriously. In Europe, they do.”
So what is so beautiful and enchanting about Angolan semba and kizomba?
“The connection!” exclaimed Paulo dos Reis. “The possibility to talk without speaking, to lead and follow, without one being superior over the other. When the woman understands my every little signal, and it just flows… that’s too beautiful.”
There is, however, a clear difference between the male and female roles in both dances. The man not only leads, he is also the creative brain and by far the more active of the two. “Semba and kizomba are most difficult for men to learn,” Aurio said. “The man is the ‘fighter’, he performs and creates most tricks and has to develop his own style and charisma.”
Bonifácio Aurio won Angola’s International Kizomba Contest and Lisbon’s ÁfricaDançar in 2012, together with his former dancing partner Conceição Matauia. This year, he is one of the contest’s jury members.
To reach a high level as a male performer takes time, effort, talent and enthusiasm, he explained. “I started dancing kuduro as a child. Semba was very mysterious to me, I used to watch it a lot. One day when I was 10, my mum put me on her feet. That’s how she taught me to dance. To this day semba is my favourite dance alongside Afro house. I danced everywhere I could, the took semba, kizomba and other lessons every day for four years at a well-known local dancing school called Kandengues Unidos. In 2009 I became a teacher at the school.”
While semba and kizomba have become a lucrative business in the rest of the world, Angolan teachers still face a lack of opportunities at home. Mukano Cahrles, Paulo dos Reis and Bonifácio Aurio all agree that Angola is in dire need of professional dancing schools.
Aurio moved to Portugal in May 2013 to study International Relations and give dancing classes. “In Angola, I don’t see a long-term professional future for myself as a dancer. There is a lack of opportunities – professionally speaking, it is an underdeveloped area. Angola desperately needs a professional dance academy, also for our traditional, regional dances. Our country has many talented dancers, so I believe that day will come.”