Intro: Oral traditions

African people have a rich oral tradition that insures the passage of cultural practices from one generation to the next. Scholars such as Malmusi, 1990, Rycroft, 1962, Stone, 1982 argue that oral literature and music are intimately connected in most parts of Africa and are often impossible to separate (Shelemany in Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicans, 2001). Listening has been an important skill that has been perfected by oral traditional practices. A number of African songs and dances were, and are still, transmitted from one generation or group to another by word of mouth.

History of Kizomba

To write or speak about the history of kizomba today is a difficult but necessary work. Difficult because facts are relatively hard to find in a whole sea of conflicting information and disinformation, but also because historians of dance and music have only recently begun the classification of these African art forms. This is the reason why this task is so important and needed. In the dance community this information is very important to not only dancers, but also DJ’s, instructors, and anyone else newly exposed. So let’s start this journey. We will start with the music, since it is the base of every dance. It’s interesting to note that the associated dances experienced similar paths as the music. Let’s take a look at distinguishing the various types of music.



Literally meaning “beat” or “rythym” in Spanish, kompa is a Haitian music genre with the stylings of Cuban contradanza, Son Cubano, jazz elements, African rhythms, and Dominican merengue. Unlike zouk, it is sung in mostly Haitian Creole. The genre was popularized following the 1955 creation of the band Conjunto International by Nemours Jean-Batiste. It is the main music of many countries such as Dominica and the French Antilles, etc. Whether it is called zouk where French Antilles artists of Martinique and Guadalupe have taken it, or compas in places where Haitian artists have toured; this méringue style is very influential in the Caribbean, Cabo Verde, Guinea Bissau, Angola and many other West African countries, France, parts of Canada, South and North America.

Sample konpa songs (Youtube):


Zouk has a fast rhythm, followed by a strong beat, and instrumentally is created by traditional instruments in live orchestra. It is sung mainly in French creole. Zouk, today often described as “retro-zouk,” had its beginnings in the 1980’s. History tells us that in 1979 in Paris, Jacob F. Desvarieux, Pierre-Edouard Décimus and his brother Georges Décimus met together and decided to make a new album. All three of them came from Guadeloupe, so they gathered musicians from the French Antilles* and formed a band known as Kassav. The first lineup of Kassav was all from Guadeloupe, but soon after it gained members from Martinique as well. These musicians were from the French Antilles and had well known careers all through the Caribbean. Their albums Love and Ka Dance were created in 1980 with influences of different styles of music from throughout the Caribbean; kompa (Haiti), cadence and merengue (Dominican Republic), calipso (Trinidad & Tobago) and others all combined with strong carnival sounds. This is how zouk was made. The meaning of “zouk” is translated as “festival,” which indeed describes the music itself very well. Encouraged by their big success, Kassav did not confine their touring to just the Caribbean and France, but continued to spread their music to Europe and Africa as well; and as history knows, to the whole world. Zouk became the base of new types of music, not only kizomba (Angola), but also cola-zouk (Cape Verde), brazilian “zouk” (or lambazouk, Brasil), and many other lesser known variations, mostly created by mixing with local traditional African music.

Zouk Guadelupe and Martinique (Youtube):


Zouk-love was also created at the initiative of Kassav’s band leader, around 1984/1985, by slowing down zouk music and turning to more romantic themed lyrics. Musically it is very similar to zouk, but loses the fast rhythm and carnival tone, and vocals are softer and more romantic. It is still sung in French / French creole.

Zouk-love Guadelupe and Martinique (Youtube):


A traditional music from Angola. The noun “semba” is the singular form of “masemba”. Semba means “a touch of bellies” in the Quimbundo language of the Bantus of Angola, a move that characterizes the dance. Carlos Aniceto Vieira Dias, also known as Liceu Vieira Dias, is considered the father of this popular Angolan music. He created the band called N’Gola Ritmos, in the 1950s. N’Gola Ritmos was also the first Angolan band introducing dikanza (reco reco) and ng’omas (congas) in their songs, instruments very common in semba. Semba is very much alive and popular in Angola today as it was long before its independence from the Portuguese Colonial System on November 11, 1975. Various new semba artists emerge each year in Angola, as they render homage to veteran semba masters, many of whom are still performing. Other styles influenced by semba in Angola are rebita, as well as kazukuta and kabetula which are primarily carnival music and kizomba. The subject matter of semba is often a cautionary tale or story regarding day-by-day life and social events and activities, usually sung in a witty rhetoric. Through semba music, the artist is able to convey a broad spectrum of emotions. It is this characteristic that has made semba the premier style of music for a wide variety of Angolan social gatherings. Its versatility is evident in its inevitable presence at funerals and many Angolan parties. Semba is the predecessor to a variety of music styles originating from Angola like kizomba and kuduro, or kuduru, which could be considered the Angolan version of techno/house.

Semba Angola (Youtube):


It is a music genre from Cabo Verde. Coladera’s history is divided in 3 different periods.

1st Period

The word coladera initially referred to the act of going out and singing the colá. According to the oral tradition, a new musical genre appeared in the 1930s when the composer Anton’ Tchitch’ intentionally sped up the tempo of a morna. Someone in the crowd is said to have shouted “já Bocê v’rá-’l n’um coladêra” (you have transformed it into a coladeira), i.e., a morna performed with the tempo and liveliness of a coladera. Technically, the coladera appeared as a division in half of the length of the notes of the morna, through the acceleration of the tempo. Little by little, this new musical genre was consolidated, absorbing several musical influences, mostly from Brazilian music. From S. Vicente this musical genre passed to the other islands, leading to the emergence of two schools, each one with its own style: one in Barlavento, centered in Mindelo, and another in Sotavento, centered in Praia. (ed.: Mindelo and Praia are the main islands in Cabo Verde).

2nd Period

In the 1950s, some innovations started to appear in coladeira, similar to the ones that appeared with morna. During this period electric instruments began to be used, and coladera began to receive international attention, either through performances abroad or by the distribution of coladera records. Coladera continued to integrate influences from abroad, from Brazilian music and also from Anglo-Saxon music. In the 1970s, with the appearance of movements against colonialism and relations with socialist countries, other influences came along, including Latin-American music (Bolero, Son Cubano, Salsa, Cumbia) and African music (especially from Angola and Guine-Bissau). In terms of musical structure, coladera began to slowly lose the traits that used to identify it with morna. It was in this period that the dichotomy morna \ coladera was established.

3rd Period

There is a strong compa influence in Cape Verdean music. During the 1960s-1980s, Haitian artists and bands such as Claudette & Ti Pierre, Tabou Combo, and especially Gesner Henry alias Coupe Cloue, and the Dominican group Exile One, were very popular in Africa. Exile One was the first to export cadence or compas music to the Cape Verde islands. Cape Verdeans artists have been exposed to compas and zouk in the USA and France. In addition, the French Antilles band Kassav and other French Antillean musicians, whose main music was Zouk toured the islands on various occasions. Today, the new generation of Cape Verdean artists features a light compas close to Haitian and French Antillean Zouk music. Tito Paris’ “Dança mami Criola”, from 1994, is a good example; this CD features music close to Haiti’s Tabou Combo, Caribbean Sextet, Exile One, Tropicana and the French Antilles’ Kassav’.

Coladera – Cabo Verde (Youtube):


Gumbe, also goombay or gumbay, is a West African style of music found in countries such as Sierra Leone and Guine-Bissau. True gumbe is a fusion of several Bissau Guinean folk traditions. Gumbe is a primarily vocal and percussive music that has been associated with nationalist thought since colonial times. Late in the 1980s it was influenced by the fast tempo of zouk style called “Zouk Béton” (music of the French Caribbean popularized by Kassav in the 1980s).

Gumbe – Buinea Bissau (Youtube):


“Technically” kizomba the music does not exist because the base to create the music is zouk and many West African countries have their own version of zouk. The name kizomba is how Angolans define their own afro-zouk, a fusion between zouk, konpa and Angolan traditional music. Caboverdians define their afro-zouk as cola-zouk, cabo-zouk or cabo-love. Afro-zouk from Guinea-Bissau is called meia-batida. In fact, afro-zouk exists in countries like the Congo, Mali, Ivory Coast, Gabon, São Tomé and Prince, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cameroon, Madagascar etc.

It is impossible to speak about kizomba and not speak about Caboverdians and how much they influenced many countries afro-zouk/cola-zouk/meia-batida/kizomba. Especially because in the beginning of the 1990s, Angola was still going through a civil war that started in 1975 (right after their independence from Portugal), and only finished in 2002. Meanwhile Caboverdians singers were multiplying every day. In the early 90s they had a band called Livity, created by Grace Evora, as they moved on from the band many of them decided to start a solo career (Grace Evora, Jorge Neto, Ze Carlos, Kino Cabral etc). Most of them used to or still live in the Netherlands including artists Gil Semedo (that call what he produces Cabo Swing), Dina Medina, Suzana Lubrano, Cabo Verde Show, Mendes Brothers, Chandinho Dede, Boy G Mendes etc. All these Caboverdian singers and their music were having a big impact on the PALOP* community at large. In Portugal was truly were people kept kizomba alive, Angola was at war and the rest of the PALOP countries were also struggling in their new independence. The love for kompa, zouk and afrozouk inadvertently had a uniting effect at PALOP night clubs frequented by emigrants arriving in Portugal.

Popular singers from Angola who resided in Portugal during the 90s were mainly Bonga, Eduardo Paim and Paulo Flores with Irmãos Verdades (having their debut in the late 90s). And we saw the appearance of artists like Fernando Santos, Carlos Burity (Semba), Rey Weba, Maya Cool, Tabanka Djaz and Justino Delgado from Guine Bissau, or Juka from Mozambique or Camilo Domingos from São Tomé and Prince. Caboverdian singers and producers had influence in Congo (Lutchiana), Ivory Coast (Monique Seka), Gabon (Oliver N’Goma), Angola, Guine-Bissau and São Tomé and Prince.

The word kizomba comes from the kimbundo language in Angola and for most PALOPS it became the most popular label for afro-zouk. Kizomba songs are many times produced with bands where you can clearly listen to the instruments with the drum being the loudest instrument and setting the pace. As for the meaning of the word “kizomba” (kizomba/quizomba/izomba), translated from kimbundo it means “party”, describing both the event and the place where people would gather to dance and celebrate, usually playing and dancing semba in the old days.

Cola Zouk – Cabo Verde (Youtube):

Cabo Zouk – Cabo Verde (Youtube):

Afro-zouk – Every Fusion of Zouk That Does Not Belong to Angola (Youtube):

Kizomba Angola (Youtube):


Another genre that has its roots in zouk is called ghetto-zouk. It started in the late 90’s mostly through the influence of singers from Cape Verde living in the Netherlands. As history shows, when new music genres emerge, various artists will give it a new name of their choosing, and the most popular or successful artists usually win out. In this case getto-zouk prevailed over cabo-Love or cabo-zouk. Ghetto-Zouk was created by Caboverdians born in the Netherlands and cabo-love or cabo-zouk was created by Caboverdians who emigrated there. In my humble opinion, Getto-Zouk could be described as the evolution of a mix between cabolove/cabo-zouk with strong R&B beats. Ghetto-Zouk is normally electronic and most of the “instruments” are synthesized, has a signature heavy beat with R&B styling vocals.

Cabo-Love – Cabo Verde (Youtube):

Ghetto-Zouk – Cabo Verde (Youtube):


The word TARRAXINHA comes from the verb ATARRAXAR. Etymology From a- +‎ tarraxa +‎ -ar. Pronunciation(Portugal) IPA(key): /ɐ.tɐ.ʁɐ.ˈʃaɾ/ Verb atarraxar (first-person singular present indicative atarraxo, past participle atarraxado)to screw onConjugationConjugation of the Portuguese -ar verb atarraxar

So all the different names you may heard about Tarraxa are just different ways to talk about Tarraxinha and do not mean any different dance Tarraxinha was a rhythm created by some Djs in Angola, the most famous was Dj Znobia, and comes from the musical genre called kuduro and not from kizomba like many people think. Most Tarraxinha songs used to be only instrumentals with a heavy beat, heavy bass and lots of sound effects, mainly because the creators were DJ’s who weren’t singers but masters of sound effects.

However, today it is very common to have voice melody in tarraxinha songs. Since Tarraxinha and Ghetto-Zouk’s development was closely tied for their electronic form and the fact that many artists from both genres began collaborating on projects, today we have many songs that are actually a blend between the two. Even so, you will notice that Tarraxinha songs have a heavier and darker tone compared to Ghetto-Zouk. Here is some links from Youtube to help you understand what songs belong to what genre.

Tarraxinha – Angola (Youtube):

Note – All the genres listed here had a big influence on what we call kizomba today and some have become part of today’s kizomba umbrella. This is just a partial list as there are other African rhythms that have had their influence on this remarkable genre we call kizomba. Most of the information on this note are from the Internet. Thank you to Guy Saint-Louis for the suggestion of one of the konpa songs.

*PALOP: Portuguese-speaking African countries, also referred to as Lusophone Africa, consists of six African countries in which the Portuguese language is the official or primary language: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Equatorial Guinea. Besides having a common language, the five former colonies of the Portuguese Empire share a strong “cultural identity, a similar system of governance and a long tradition of contacts and exchanges amongst themselves”. In 1992, the five Lusophone African countries formed an interstate organization called PALOP, a colloquial acronym that translates to African Countries of Portuguese Official Language (Portuguese: Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa).

Source: Eddy Vents

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