Kizomba is...

"An embrace means I don't feel threatened by you, I'm not afraid to be this close, I can relax, feel at home, feel protected and in the presence of someone who understands me. It is said that each time we embrace someone warmly, we gain an extra day of life."

A quote from Paul Coelho (one of my favorite authors) that describes for me what dancing kizomba is like.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to Recognize Tarraxinha, Kizomba and Semba Music

NOTE:  I am not native to the cultures that gave us these musical genres and dance styles but I love the dance and how it enables me to connect to the music and my partner a lot faster than any of the other dances that I know. This article is designed to help those that are starting out, providing the key differences that have helped me identify the music with some examples. Music evolves, just like dance and so tracing its origins and evolution can be very convoluted and be a lifetime study all on its own.  This is just the tip of the iceberg: there is so much to know about this music and the cultures they come from that the discovery of this is a journey in itself. 

As a dancer, you cannot ignore the music because it is the lifeline of  your dance. SO, even if you don't know what music is playing and you don't care to know, if you really listen to it, it will tell you how to move.  Updated this article again on June 17, 2016. 

Kizomba is a dance that comes from Angola and is danced to Kizomba music. The music is essentially a marriage of Zouk (from the Caribbean) and Semba (native to Angola). The "marriage" of Zouk and African music was not just limited to Angola as Kizomba became popular in Cape Verde, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau.

What most consider Kizomba can often be confused with Tarraxinha and GhettoZouk. Here in the US, it is likely that the first Kizomba song you heard will be a GhettoZouk. GhettoZouk songs have a strong R&B influence compared to the Kizomba songs that retain more of their African roots.  Another sub-genre is Tarraxinha which typically has a heavy electronic base.

As the dance and music gain popularity, the fusion of music styles also occurs and it can be difficult to identify exactly what style of music is being played. Many songs will have elements from multiple genres.

With this article I focus on how you can identify Tarraxinha, Kizomba, and Semba. I've also added another section to explain the music that Urban Kiz dancers would be drawn to.

In the beginning, most people described these genres by the speed of the music. As you will see from the descriptions, the speed of the music is NOT an indication of the type of music. I do provide the music speed as a reference and example to show the overlap between the different musical genres. What is more important AND what then translates to differences in movements for dancers is the characteristics in the sounds of the instruments and vocals within the music, the beats that drive the music and the feeling evoked but the music.

This music is characterized by a very strong electronic sound and a heavy electronic bass. The music is produced entirely synthetically: drum machine, keyboards and vocals. The resulting music has a very heavy and pumping feel to it and is typically danced with more emphasis on isolated hip movements, undulation and steps that do not travel a lot. For some folks, this heavy base does drive movement but it is more punctuated and less melodic. Tarraxinha music ranges from 80 - 100 bpms (beats per minute).

This is also a dance where the ladies express the music more through their hip movements. Oftentimes mistaken for grinding, the body movements are initiated with the lead's leg, hip or arm  (on the ladies lower back/hips) movements. Less is more and this dance is very much about the connection between the dancers: the energy is very much focused internally. From the outside, it might sometimes look like two people standing very still while the music is playing.

Examples of Music:
Tarraxinha set courtesy of DJ Adon on Soundcloud
Lukeny and Dj Callas - Isso Doi on Youtube

Is a blend of zouk and semba music. It is more melodic than tarraxinha. The dance is characterized by a smooth yet grounded walk in close embrace between lead and follow: torso's are touching with incidental contact between the legs when walking (if you've attended my classes, I refer to these touch points as the three magnets). The energy of the dance is also focused on the inside: between the lead and follow. The range of speed for kizomba music is 80 - 120 bpms. There is a wide range of music in this genre that can be confusing to the untrained ear because they may sound very different and evoke a different movement from the dancers.

Here is an example of the base beat that is characteristic of kizomba music.
Source: created by Kizomba Dance by Benjamin Nande and DJ Hugo Leite

Here are some of the sub-genres:

GHETTOZOUK songs are a blend of Zouk and R&B. Like Tarraxinha, it is often produced with electronic instrumentation but the vocals are more melodic. Many GhettoZouk songs will also have Tarraxinha elements within the song and sometimes sounds like tarraxinha.

Examples of Music:
Mika Mendes and Saaphy - Bonnie and Clyde
Nelson Freitas and C4 Pedo - Bo Tem Mel
Kaysha - Diamonds

KIZOMBA (also referred to sometimes as Old School Kizomba - which is a misnomer because music is still produced this way in present times) is also produced with live instrumentation: along with the singer, you will hear drums and other percussion along with guitar and horns.

Because this music contains many of the elements of the root dance, dancers often dance to this much like they dance Semba without the showiness or tricks that are more characteristic of semba dancing.

Examples of Music:
Tabanka Djaz - Silencio
Kyaku Kyadaff - Entre Sete Sete & Rosa
Eduardo Paim - A Minha Vizinha
Matias Damásio - Saudades de Nós Dois
Puto Portugues - Minha Passada

And, as is true of how musicians fuse their music with other sounds that they hear, this example is like a fusion of GhettoZouk and Kizomba: DJ Prata and Twenty Fingers - Podem Falar

INSTRUMENTAL KIZOMBA: There is also another style of music that has no vocals and is purely instrumental with a much more slow and languid feel. I'm not sure what to call this style but I refer to is as a Purely Instrumental Kizomba. Tied to this music is a style of dance call Urban Kiz (also referred to as French Kizomba).

Here are examples of that style of music:
Remix by DJ Ghost Face - Bamboo Flute Kizomba
Cinematic Orchestra - Arrival Of Kizomba by DJ C.C.Ron Symphonic

Semba is the root dance for Kizomba. The music style has an upbeat quality to it and does NOT contain the zouk beat. The syncopation (beats that are not on the base beat)  beats in a Semba rhythm will often give the music a feeling like you're about to gallop (as a friend said, its a giddy up feeling). On average, music speeds range from 90 to 150 bpms.

Semba music is produced with a variety of instruments: drums, reco reco, piano, horns, string along with vocals. The dance itself has an outward energy unlike Kizomba and Tarraxinha. In spirit, the movements and playfulness are much like merengue and casino where the lead can be seen as playing and "showing off" while the follow walks to the base beat strutting her stuff. The dance may have more separation between lead and follow (compared to kizomba and tarraxinha) and requires a firmer frame than kizomba.

Remember that this is a dance that is danced with family and friends and so the nature of the dance is very social (which is a lot like the spirit of casino dancing or even bachata in the Dominican). There is the social aspect of the dance and then the showy aspect of the dance with lots of tricks like drops, leans, and "checking out the shoes". When you watch dancers dancing semba you can see their energy because of its outward flow.

Examples of Music:
Carlos Burity - Tia Joaquina
Tropical Band - Vagabundo
Leo featuring Yuri De Cunha - E Bumbar
Yuri De Cunha - Kuma

As I said this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other music styles from the Carribean (Kompa, Kassav) and Cape Verde (Coladera, Morna, Funana, Mazurka) that have influenced what we now know as kizomba.

I believe in constantly learning and growing and in this particular area, I would never be able to write or teach if I didn't have some great teachers and fellow learners (aka geeks) to work with.

Here are some of the few links that I can share to help get you going if you want to know more about the general differences:

A highly entertaining introduction to Semba by Hernury Jamba Jamba (Angola/Czech Rep) and Liliana Barnó (Spain/Czech Republic) at the 2013 Sawa Sawa Kizomba Festival in Washington DC. [Thanks to Oscar BA for sharing.]

Another brief primer on the differences between Tarraxa, Kizomba and Semba by Joao Rocha and Giedre.

I've also found some great percussion snippets and semba rhythms from this facebook page: Yasmane Santos Percussion

For you dancers out there that are still confused by all the music and are unsure about how to dance to what you hear. This is my advice: just DANCE TO THE MUSIC. I tell my students all the time, pay attention to the music playing, it will tell you how to move.

I would also like to publicly say THANKS to these folks who have in some form or another influenced the content for this post and have helped me beef up my music knowledge
Eddy, Yair, Philippe, Eric, Guelas, Ana, and Petchu


  1. Great piece of work, thanks a lot!

  2. Hello Frances, Very good article! I do have one question. You posted Kizomba in the range of 80-140bpm. Can you give one example of Kizomba song equal and above 120 bpm??I have never seen anything in that range before.

  3. Thanks Ctel Ctel and double thanks for pointing out the BPMs for Kizomba - that was something i missed - it should be 120 on the high end of the Kizomba range, not 140. I'll correct it in the post.

  4. Thanks for such a quick Response! This is a great resource, including the links to Jamba and Joao. I will point my students to this blog as reference. (Real name: Carlos Cardoso)

  5. I'm happy to hear that it helps - please share as you need Carlos :)

  6. Btw, I have an additional comment.I was thinking, would it be helpful to add "reco reco" as an instrument for Semba, considering it is specific to semba and can be used to help identify a semba song.

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  8. Thanks Jack Men - I'm glad that you enjoyed the entries and found them helpful.

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  12. I really like your post. It’s really informative and interesting.I really appreciate that.
    During the passing years
    Kizomba was developed and spread worldwide as a music that catches your ear and a dance that catches your soul. Join a Kizomba Tanz class and learn this new dance craze.