Here, one can witness the polar opposites of the vertical constructions on the Luanda cityscape. Many of the skyscrapers seen in this shot (left) are in fact ghost buildings. On the other side of town, the horizontal structures are being suffocated in the red dust and bulldozed down.
In the locating, unpacking, and mapping of music from Angola, one must also unpack the innumerable forced migrations of its people. The estimated total count reports that a quarter of the slaves exported from Africa came from Angola. Those Atlantic sea-soaked, invisible sonic scores, archived/etched in the minds, bodies, and souls of the millions of slaves, were indeed very much preserved. The condition and evolution of that which has remained in contemporary Angola is what I’m attempting to unpack here.
The long history of antiphonal exchange and sonic legacy is ever present in the contemporary musics that are witnessed here today; for instance during the yard party that was held the other night one building up from mine. It was in full force til around 4:30 in the morning. The dynamics expressed in the cacophony of distorted, competing conversations and the distortion of the Kuduru beats emanating from a distorted sound system are very much akin to the distortion witnessed in the late 19th/early 20th century digital copies of the phonograph wax cylinder recordings that I have returned (brought back) to this country and in turn borrowed as a fluid foundation on which to create a new African/Diasporian music. Kuduru does not have the sub bottom-end dub sensibility of musics like Dancehall, Grime, or Hip Hop – sure, it’s there, but it’s just not as chakra rumbling. There is an unnerving high-end screech tendency, which is situated somewhere in the max disturb zone; it’s that frequency that screams for change. It demands recognition of the Musseque dwellers, the disenfranchised – that sector of the population that has no running water, that wades in clouds of dust to fetch water, that is forced to syphon electricity from telegraph poles. It demands recognition of those who barely exist in the frequencies of survival. It screams to upset and topple the elite here; it calls for an even distribution of wealth.
The inhumane torture, the brutality and horror of many, many years of war have impacted its people with a myriad of creolised complexities pre- and post-independence. On that note, worth more than just a mere mention is the celebrated band Ngola Ritmos – created in 1947 – that chronicled and rallied against colonial rule with songs sung in their native Kimbundu language, to the great annoyance of the PIED – the Portuguese secret police. The band leader, Liceu Viera Dias, was a founding member of the MPLA. Dias and co-founding member of the band, Amadeu Amorin, were arrested in 1959 and deported to the Tarrafal Prison on Cape Verde and remained incarcerated there for over nine years. In 1978, internationally renowned visual artist and filmmaker Antonio Ole made a film, O-Ritmos-do-N’gola-Ritmos, which featured the band. The film was censored in Angola for eleven years. In fact, it was Agostinho Netto – the first president of a then independent Angola – who lifted the ban, making it possible for Angolans to view the film.
With the various Congo legacies and the weight of drastic conflicts, a very specific brand of Angolan Rock and Death Metal came into existence, coming out of cities like Wambu and Benguela. The award-winning band M’Vula – the most prized Nu Metal Rap/Rock band of Angola – won the All Africa Music award consecutively in 2015 and 2016. It’s kinda logical – in fact, it makes total sense – that this firebrand of rock is conceived in a country whose rural landscape is pockmarked, literally scattered with un-detonated land mines; and whose national lingua franca is the language of the colonial master. Yes, it’s Portuguese – voted in by the people. Please note: it could have been Kimbundu. Many folks here can no longer speak their indigenous languages. Cosmopolitan colonial capitals imposed a self-loathing. Accents and command of language have always been social signifiers and an important element in the stratification of race, class and gender politics.
When I hear the counterpoint syncopation of distorted guitar lines, the condition and evolution of that which has remained in Angola is what I want to unpack. Then, in turn, I look at the oeuvre that was forced – transplanted – from the 16th century on.
Here in Luanda on Sunday the 19th – the day of my departure – I reflect on my initial impression of this divided urban sprawl. After three weeks of on-the-ground, intense interaction, so to speak, what have I been able to unravel? What will I depart with and what have I contributed to the varied clusters of folk that have opened their doors and hearts for me to glimpse the conditions of their syncretism of Black Atlantic music, their dialectic of transnationalism?
Alongside all of the in-your-face music, exist what I term the soft, compassionate, courteous genres of music. When you hear Semba, you understand Samba. Hey, the Berimbau and Quica, two Brazilian musical instruments that are synonymous with Brazil, are in fact Congolese-Angolan instruments, and the lull of Bossa has its roots in Angola. And that leads me to the next stop on this Afro-Sonic Mapping voyage: Salvador, Brazil.