In Mabor, a dusty and neglected corner of Luanda, the sound of a catchy beat rising means only one thing to the area’s youngsters: time to dance the kizomba.
The Angolan dance is gaining worldwide popularity and has a committed contingent of students in Mabor who are drawn to class by its romantic rhythms.
“Stop! Boys stay still, only the girls move now. Like that, that’s good!” said instructor Vitor Especao, wearing a bright purple shirt as he guided his pupils.
The dancers followed his instructions closely, their bodies twisting in ever more suggestive ways, watched intently by a group of mesmerised small children.
“It’s what I really like about this dance — the joy, the enthusiasm and the harmony,” said Especao.
Kizomba’s origins are hotly debated.
It has Angolan roots and draws on influences from the Caribbean and Cape Verde, but it was secured in the popular consciousness by singer Eduardo Paim only in the 1990s.
Its name means “party” in Kimbundu, one of the most widely spoken languages in Angola, and has even helped shape the semba, which is considered to be the nation’s traditional dance.
The kizomba’s swaying movements are performed by a couple in a close embrace but at a slower, more sensual pace than the semba.
Angolans quickly began taking up the kizomba.
“It’s a very calm style, very suave. You don’t move too much and you dance calmly,” said Elsa Domingos Cardoso, a 22-year-old student.
“Whether it’s the kizomba or the semba, dancing brings me joy.”
– ‘Everybody needs affection’ –
In recent years the kizomba has begun to spread across the dance floors of Europe, before being taken up across the world.
“It’s natural that it works everywhere,” said Mario Contreiras, a keen amateur kizomba dancer.
“Everybody needs affection,” said the Luanda-based architect, who has become something of an ambassador for the dance.
“Elsewhere in the world, when they discover a dance which comes from Africa in which people intertwine themselves even if they don’t know each other… that really delights them.”
Kizomba has become a fashionable phenomenon. It is already being taught in places as diverse as London, Paris, New York and Johannesburg, with festivals and workshops as far afield as Shanghai, Moscow, Tokyo, Mumbai and Auckland.
Angola has been better-known for its bloody civil war, its oil wealth or president Jose Eduardo dos Santos — who stood down last month after ruling for 38 years.
But increasingly it is muscling in on the crowded global dance scene.
Local radio host Zelo Castelo Branco was at first proud of the attention that the dance was bringing Angola, but now he claims to no longer recognise the version performed overseas.
Exported too widely, the dance is beginning to lose its soul, he said.
“Everybody dances the kizomba, that’s good. But those who are teaching it abroad are changing the style,” said Branco.
“It’s no longer a traditional, family affair that we can dance with our wives and children, our parents… it’s extravagant — it’s nearly a tarraxinha,” he said, referring to kizomba’s more adult, percussive cousin which some Angolans refer to as the “karaxinha”.
In largely Christian Angola, the tarraxinha is strictly the preserve of consenting couples.
– ‘The kizomba is Angola’ –
Mateos Vandu Mavila, the leader of a dance troupe that trains in Mabor, refuses to allow his team to perform the tarraxinha when they appear at weddings or festivals.
“It all depends on the age of those who are taking part in the celebration. We don’t condone youngsters dancing the tarraxinha… It’s way too sensual,” he said.
Contreiras, the architect, is frustrated by the confusion between the kizomba and the tarraxinha.
“People are seeking to link the kizomba with sensuality and a level of eroticism (but) for us it’s something very serious, it’s our form of self-expression, our culture.”
Contreiras joined the “kizomba in the street” project, initiated in 2012 in a bid to promote the dance and defend it from outside influences.
Every Sunday night he transforms Luanda’s sea front into a giant dance floor — free of charge and open to all.
“The goal is to promote the kizomba… to give those who don’t yet know it an opportunity to learn it and to protect Angola’s dance culture,” said Manuel Miguel, 26, one of the team responsible for the Sunday night spectaculars.
“The kizomba is a mirror of who we are and for our culture. Angola is the celebration and the kizomba is Angola.”