What is Semba Dance?

Semba (masemba in plural) is a traditional music genre and dance genre from Angola that became popular in the 50’s. It is the product of an evolution as it was influenced by different ethno linguistic groups from Angola as well as several different African rhythms. In the context of dancing, the word Semba means “the body of the man that comes in contact with the body of the woman at the level of the belly button”.

In one of the national Angolan languages called Kimbundu, Semba can also have the meaning of “Umbigada”. Umbigada describes also a dance movement when the contact between the two bodies is provoked by the man who suddenly takes the woman on the hip and brings her towards his belly button. The Umbigada movement is exactly what is still done today in the traditional dance from Angola called Rebita and other African dances.

Semba Music

Semba is the predecessor of a variety of music styles originated from Angola of which three of the most famous are Samba (from Brazil)13, Kizomba (from Angola) and Kuduro.

The cultural origins of Angola are tied to the traditions of the central Bantu people and the ancient kingdom of Kongo. Therefore, Semba music has been much influenced by their tradition. Furthermore, Kazukuta and Kabetule rhythms strongly influenced Semba music as well. We can say that semba is an alteration of the Kazukuta rhythm.

It is important to understand the lyrics of Semba music. They deal with stories regarding day-to-day life, social events and activities. Often, the message of Semba was also about the freedom of Angola. This was especially relevant during the Angolan War of 1961–1975. Semba lyrics often contained messages of freedom to open the eyes of the people. Tradionally, Semba songs are sung in Kimbundu but  also in other national languages such as Umbundo and Kikongo. Other than in Kizomba, Portuguese is not used in traditional Semba music production. However, some young Angolan singers started using Portuguese in modern Semba songs as well.

  • CLASS: Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba & Semba
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