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  • Writer's pictureKemi OG

What is Ndombolo?

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Dance Style: Ndombolo

Country of Origin: Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) & the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa)


(Hey y'all! This blog post is a live excerpt of the learning notes I've had as I learn and grow as a dancer and teacher. This is an imperfect document that's on a journey too. It will constantly be updated and edited as we learn and understand more. Thanks!)


What is the history of Ndombolo?

Ndombolo is both a dance and a musical style. It is a dance style that was created in the 1990s among 3 main Congolese bands: Wenge Musica (JP Mpiana), Quartier Latin (Koffi Olomide), and Station Japana (Radja Kula).

The musical aspect of Ndombolo is credited to Tutu Kaluji from Wenge Musica who was the singing vocalist of Wenge Musica. The dance aspect of Ndombolo is popularly credited to Bouro Mpela, but I have read some say that Radja Kula from Station Japana actually created it first (waiting on more information to confirm this.)

Ndombolo is mainly made of sebene and moves. Each sebene has its choreography to go with it. Some say the choreographies, like other African dance styles, are created in the streets, the local communities, or by smaller groups. As they become popular, they become incorporated into popular songs and music videos, and that's how they grow even more in popularity. Another example of this is the "Shaku shaku" dance step from Nigeria in 2017, which started in the streets of Agege and then got popularized with artists like Olamide in songs like "Science Student." The difference is that shaku shaku is a singular move, while Ndombolo could have full choreographies. So I guess in that way, it could have some similarities to the Jerusalema dance. Now that doesn't mean iconic moves can't come out of those choreographies. I have a theory, but I'll wait till I have more information to share later.

The concept of sebene:

Congolese music is made of 2 main part parts. There is a musical part at the beginning, and there is a sebene. The sebene, or the chant, is the second, more instrumental part of the song. It includes drums, guitar, and the animateur (the mc that shouts out which dance steps to do.) I kind of like to think of it as similar to when the beat drops when a DJ is playing, and then it's a whole bunch of awesome, really danceable beats, except in this case, it's Congolese rhumba and soukous style with the electric guitar. Some sources online say the credit goes to Guitarist Henri Bowane in the 1940s.

The concept of Animation:

When you listen to the sebene, you can hear the mc during this time making all kinds of fun, creative sounds. Sometimes the sounds could be simple words and instructions to the dance, sometimes they can be imitations of another musical sound; and sometimes it's just the creative invention of the MC. It might not have a meaning. It is more to add another layer to the music. In a way, the mc's voice is yet another instrument that the dancers can follow along with.

Breaking down the dance Ndombolo:

Many African steps often mimic a move. For example, in Naija street style "Laba laba" by Bboyweywisdom mimics the moves of a butterfly. Some African steps however, mimic a behavior. "Ghetto dance" and "Konto" mimic the behavior of being crazy. Ndombolo is like this. It mimics the behavior of martial arts. This is why you will see a lot of kicks, squats, and hands in defensive positions. This allows a lot of freedom and creativity in Ndombolo, because it allows individual dancers to create within a broader context while staying true to the form.

Other dancers to follow to learn more about Ndombolo:

Dancer - Brotha E (Instagram - @brotha.e)

Dancer - Deewin (Instagram - @mrs_deewin)

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