Session at Radio Vial Studio

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MC Khris, Activist Rapper representing Angolan women in righteous flow.
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Bony, owner and head engineer at Radio Vial. I’m sooo lucky, as he is not only deft at his craft, but also speaks perfect English.
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MC Khris working on some lyrics.
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The legendary Congolese guitarist and Zapeur Teddy N’singui gracing the Afro-Sonic Mapping tracks with his own brand of criss-cross syncopated grooves.

Unthreading Thoughts on the Riot in My Head

Treason, uprisings, riots and revolts.
Manifestation mais oui yes walk la manif on your bare hands of reason
the creeds on the banners, and the slogans all flutter,
the chants ricochet off the buildings and collide with the cold biting northern wind.
Not incognito, We, we traverse terrains très un-still with
the old detonated land mines of some near-forgotten coup d’état.
Those cosmopolitan Babylon City pavements are tremendously loaded.
Loaded with the daily trundle of footsteps swathed in, in, in some brand or fake brand
the masses that flocked to the capital to seek their fortune
only to find unemployment at the shrine of the Job Centre
and those that fly in, in private jets to exploit those at that very same shrine.
You’re not encouraged to, but you might want to Ne go she ate,
Negotiate with what? with who? negotiate to unravel a crowded future loaded with fossilised burdens.
Yet we all witness the full moon, we all swim the oceans, we all make love,
we all have the propensity to love and be loved.
When the patriarchal stalagmite crumbles into dust and the ying and yang unite
then we might begin to see the light at the end of the long winding tunnel.
– Satch Hoyt, 2018

Tuesday afternoon at Fortaleza de São Miguel

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Tuesday afternoon at Fortaleza de São Miguel – the 16th century, Portuguese-built fort – after a long lunch with my good friend, Angolan visual artist Kiluanji Kia Henda. A part of Kiluanji’s practice investigates his country’s colonial history. Kiluanji’s knowledge and analysis of the post independence period is really impressive, and has led to the creation of bodies of very informative and visceral works. More on Kiluanji and the Revolution later.
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One room in the fort contains floor to ceiling friezes surrounding the room. This one depicts the 1483 arrival of the Portuguese. As Kiluanji so succinctly put it, ‘up to that moment, no white person had stepped onto Angolan / Congolese soil; that was the moment which ushered in centuries of conflict and the trauma is still ever present.’
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Depicted here is the first meeting of Queen Nzinga and Portuguese dignitaries. The Portuguese saw fit to not offer a throne for Nzinga to be seated, so she ordered one of her maid servants to offer their back as her throne.
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The Baptism of Queen Nzinga: she later denounced Christianity and remained a vehement enemy of the Portuguese until her death. She is an extremely important figure in Angolan history.

Humble Obeisances

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I received this sad news from Jared Nickerson, bass player of Burnt Sugar – The Arkestra Chamber.

I would like to send out my condolences to all of the Tate family on the passing of Pops Tate, departed to join Florence: the parents of my very good friend Greg Tate – the writer, cultural critic and band leader of Burnt Sugar. Two amazingly enlightened souls, who graced this planet with their presence and who remained woker than woke – fully engaged in the struggle.

Please accept my humble obeisance.
RIP Pops Tate.

Sonic Resistance

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When we talk of resistance music in Angola we must reach back to 1483. That’s the year in which three Portuguese caravels sailed into Cabinda at the mouth of the Congo River. The Pende have an oral saying, which I’m sure was sung, that chronicles that very ominous occasion.

“One day the Tukusunia Tungunga (white men) arrived in ships with wings, which shone in the sun like knives. They fought hard battles with the Ngola and spat fire at him. They conquered his saltpans and the Ngola fled inland to the Lukala River. Some of his bolder subjects remained by the sea and when the white men came they exchanged eggs and chickens for cloth and beads. The white men came yet again. They bought us maize and cassava, knives and hoes, groundnuts and tobacco. From that time until our day the whites brought us nothing more but wars and miseries.”1

Kingdoms and tax systems were firmly in place long before the arrival of the Portuguese. Politics, power, war, dogma, and domination were no strangers to the peoples of the Congo region.

In an interview I conducted last week with Angolan scholar and journalist Ras Kilunj, he mentioned the last interview he conducted with the late Jaka Jamba (1949-2018): a politician, intellectual and revolutionary. Kilunj refers to Jamba’s chronological four-step breakdown of the associated protest music of the various Liberation movements in Angola.

The first was the pre-independence era; the UNITA period of resistance to the Portuguese colonial presence. There were many songs of protest against colonial domination – not all were sung in Portuguese (the national language). A good example is a folk song sung in Luvale, Salazar Kuputuoku Mona Bonguetu, which translates to mean Salazar sits in Portugal looking at our riches. He gave them to his children, but ours were not taken into account. The topics found in Angolan folk songs have informed and mobilised the grass roots masses, enabling them to find their voice and recount their struggles in the urban and rural areas.

The second step was songs with a more militant military flavour that also chronicled aspects of Angolan history. With the need for a prolonged resistance, the goal of these songs was to mobilise the general population. UNITA, Jamba’s party, took a clear and decisive stand by creating a national song book with traditional themes and included it in their manifesto of culture of the people. These helped win more recruits from FAPLAS, FALAS, and ELNA.

The third step was the live reciting of engaged national poetry, some of which was translated into song and widely broadcast on regional radio. The propagandistic role that radio played in the mobilisation and politicisation of the masses will be investigated later in this essay.

The fourth step was songs that reached the masses through the church. The Africanisation of Christianity in Angola has roots that reach far back into the early 16th century – the Mani Kongo Ngola was baptised Dom Afonso. The UNITA party engaged Henriques Capingala Sukakuetchu, an organ player whom Jaka Jamba considered an important personality, who was able to combine religious songs with the concerns for the liberation of Angolan people from colonial repression, which was then in full force.

Music has and always will accompany every revolution; when the call for change is announced, it’s the artists who herald in that change. Music, dance, theater, literature, and cinematography all play a major role in bringing about revolutionary change. Here in Angola, whenever I open up a conversation on the subject of resistance music the first reference given is Semba music. Some of its main protagonists are David Ze, Lilly Tchiumba, Sofia Rosa, Teta Lando, Elias Diarimueco, to name a few. Bonga, Waldemar Bastos, and Paulo Flores are now living abroad in Portugal. All mentioned above were an extremely important force and vital element in bringing about change. Marissa Mormon describes 1961-1974 as The golden years of Angolan music. After 1975, music was used as a nation-building tool: Music became politicised: Music served as a template for independence.

In Sambizanga, which is one of the most celebrated Musseques/slums in Luanda and from which many important people hail (i.e., the former President, Eduardo dos Santos), the sound of resistance is a multi-layered crescendo, resplendent with myriad cacophonies and melodies, dominated by the gritty, grinding sounds of on-the-edge survival. The diversity of the merchandise for sale and the animation of the vendors in the Sao Paulo urban market place is quite mind boggling. Stalls are placed within one foot of each other – one is literally obliged to turn sideways to enter some of the narrow alleys. Once inside, one witnesses every Chinese manufactured copy of top brands under the sun: Gucci, Fendi, etc. That’s the inner core on the square; lining the outer periphery are more vendors, either seated on the floor or on plastic stools, selling fresh fish, chicken wings, used clothes and shoes, vegetables, florescent sneaker laces, etc. When it gets dark, they switch on their little LED lamps, or ignite kerosene-soaked rags, which spew out of the neck of beer bottles, accompanied by mid-range calls to buy buy buy. This frantic urban performance is within walking distance from my abode. The distorted megaphone calls beckon one to purchase wares; the clash of the un-megaphoned voices in unison with the throngs of people moving thru the streets like conveyor belts, accompanied by their competing conversations, with the click of flip-flops and sliding feet, literally creates big A-tonal chord clusters.

The candongueiros’ announcements of places they travel to are boisterous and penetrate the air. In general, the noise pollution reaches deafening decibels. The frenzied urban drone tones of this city occupy unique dynamic frequencies. Let’s just say that after spending ten days in Luanda it’s really no surprise to me that Kuduru music was born here, because Kuduru’s extreme 140 BPM, armed with all its distortion and spat-out lyrics, existed way before the music format was invented – way before the term was coined.

1 G. L. Haveaux, La Tradition Historique des Bapende Orientaux.

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Last session in Sambizanga

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Skiminy, a Congolese Kuduru producer, visited the studio last night. He, Sacerdote and myself created a fierce beat, then I played a bass line. That, folks, is #11. I now have 11 foundations, so to speak, on which to add layers in Salvador and Lisbon; but the Congo element in Luanda is far from over. Tuesday we move to the next level with former Franco guitarist Teddy N’sugui. I will also add some spoken word by inviting some MCs to spit lyrics on certain tracks – more on that when it happens.
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Sacerdote and I in the studio. The last session was long: from 11am to 12:30pm – lots of rendering and laying down track #11.
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Silas, the engineer, with a friend of the studio and some of the budding DJs/MCs. There has been a constant flow of neighbourhood children drifting in and out of the studio. Their presence became part of the process and they kept it realer than it already was. Sacerdote and his team are doing an amazing job mentoring kids and youth from the local community. Sacerdote was born in the house that is now the studio. His mum turned up after church on Sunday.

Ndaka Yo Wiñi Concert

IMG_7156Ndaka Yo Wiñi has a very strong stage presence, with which he holds center court. Resplendent in a flowing customised African robe, he clutches a calabash that holds some kind of elixir, which he intermittently drinks. This is my first time witnessing Ndaka in performance. I met him this week at the Jack Nkanga gig; by the way, that strong presence is ever present.  

Flanked by his group of excellent musicians, who he loves, Ndaka gives immediate grand Kudos – in fact, their introduction occurs after the first song – unlike most vocalists, who wait till the end of the set to introduce their musicians. Ndaka wants us to know who is up there on stage with him creating those grooves and swathes of ambient waves on which he can glide from bird-warbling sounds to smooth tenor, dynamically rising to a choral-like falsetto all in the space of a very impressive, but way too short, set. At times I am transported to a smooth Shadesque light jazz vibe: the music stays clean, no rough edges here – which I must say, I think he could benefit from (that’s just my personal opinion). I like grating frequencies, so yeah, Ndaka’s sound is smooth, but in a very personal way, and it’s all Africa, and he just keeps pouring it on. Noteworthy in the group is the bass player, who shines both on bass and through glowing personality; and yeah, the brother has got some cool dance moves. The entire group gels; it’s obvious that they love to play together and love to play with Ndaka.

Ndaka Yo Wiñi has a new album coming out this month. Sorry not to be able to give you names and the album title – that will happen soon. Watch out for the interview. 

Outside the Sambizanga Studio

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Today there was a power outage in Sambizanga, just as we were working on the seventh track, so we were unable to work late. In the picture you see Sacerdote, Silas, a studio friend, and a local neighbour fetching water. We’re on our way to get a candongueiro, the beat up little blue and white vans that offer a private alternative to public transport (which does not exist here in Luanda).
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MC K11 and Sacerdote pictured across the path from the studio.

In the Sambizanga Studio

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This is the vocal booth in Sacerdote’s Sambizanga recording studio with a blurred, abstract self portrait. We have thus far worked on five compositions. Next week I will take the project into a bigger studio with more facilities to record live instrumentation – the idea is to keep it pretty minimalist to leave space for additional over dubs in Salvador and Lisbon. The tapestry is slowly being woven and it’s sounding fresh with the Sambizanga layers as a strong foundation. It is an honour and privilege to be working and welcomed into the community: there’s always children parading in and out of the studio. Sacerdote is an activist and mentors many youth and aspiring young Kuduristas.
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MC Sacerdote in a meditative moment jamming on the Balafon. Btw, that Balafon/Marimba belongs to my good friend, DJ Producer Johny Leandro. Fortunately for us he did not take it back to Luanda, but left it at Arleth’s – his sister’s home.
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Silas, the very patient engineer, deep in the process of the Afro-Sonic Mapping album. Silas speaks a little English, which I am thankful for as my Portuguese is pretty non-existent; but, I do have an abstract base in the language after all the years that I’ve visited friends in Lisbon, Portugal.