Humble Obeisances

IMG_7025

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

img_7262.jpg

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.

IMG_7263

 

Last session in Sambizanga

IMG_7238
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.
IMG_7023
Sacerdote and I in the studio. The last session was long: from 11am to 12:30pm – lots of rendering and laying down track #11.
IMG_7231
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

IMG_7126
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).
IMG_7118
MC K11 and Sacerdote pictured across the path from the studio.

In the Sambizanga Studio

IMG_7098
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.
IMG_7094
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.
IMG_7095
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.

Jack Nkanga Concert

Went to the Jack Nkanga gig last night at the Jun Kembo Restaurant/Bar situated in the Matambo district of downtown Luanda. Jack played a long acoustic set featuring himself on vocals and acoustic guitar and a percussionist who played the cahon throughout the set. There is something very hauntingly melancholic about his compositions, which one could place in an indie folk rock vibe. The falsetto that he often uses in his vocal deliveries are very reminiscent of our dearly departed purple one – Prince, RIP. Jack originally hails from the DRC but came to Angola at the age of six: look out for his new album, which will be released early November.

IMG_7076
From right to left: Ndaka Yo Wini and my friend Kabuenha at the Jack Nkanga gig. FYI: Ndaka has a concert on Friday and Kabuenha has a performance on Saturday – look out for images and sound bites.

Voice of Resistance

Voice of Resistance-IMG_7044
MCK concert held last night (2018-08-06) at the Tivoli in downtown Luanda.

Eu tenho f’e para uma Angola justa
(I got faith for a just Angola)

One of the boisterous chorus’s chanted out by the participatory audience at the MCK concert held last night at the Tivoli in downtown Luanda. The concert I witnessed was the sixth attempt by internationally recognised Hip hop artist MCKapar to reach his devoted audience. The concert had been censored five times by the previous dos Santos regime, his apartment was ransacked, his passport confiscated and his fans beaten up by the authorities. MCK is an important radical voice of resistance. His lyrics address the disparity and disenfranchisement that ravages the 70 percent of the 7.8 million Angolans living in the Musseques (slums). Angola now has a new President but it’s still the same political party. MCK is an engaged Rapper, an activist and the voice of resistance for the Angolan masses. In fact, resistance musicians have played very important roles in the various regimes that have existed in Angola for instance Bonga, during the 1970’s and is still currently active, and Paulo Flores, during the dos Santos regime, more on that history later.

Voice of Resistance-IMG_7048 (1)
Angolans pumping their fists at the MCK concert.

People let me add, I’m very happy to report that over the weekend I was hanging out with Sacerdote – a great Kudurista1. I visited his recording studio which is situated in Sambizanga2, a musseque3 not far from where I live. With a group of local musicians, producers and a Spanish ethnomusicologist we listened to the phonograph recordings of Herman Baumann and Karl V Laman. Today, Sacerdote and I will start creating the beats for the Afro-Sonic Mapping album.

1 A person who produces Kuduro music.
2 This neighborhood has a long tradition of being home to many musicians.
3 A Shantytown; Favela/Ghetto.

Arriving in Luanda

IMG_6969
This street game Näo te irrites (Don’t be Angry) is an Angolan dice game akin to Ludo, but it utilises numbers, so it involves some strategic mathematics. These two guys set up on the ground floor corridor of the building where I’m staying. This corridor has multi pop-up functions, such as a nail salon, hair braiding salon, casino, etc. And the backyard also functions as a restaurant. I ate Mufete there on Friday (03-08-2018).
IMG_6970
Mufete is an Angolan national dish. This was my first one, but let me tell you, the one I ate on Monday (06-08-2018) was the best thus far. The meal is comprised of grilled fish, callaloo, beans, cassava, plantain, sweet potato and Funje, which is cornmeal: in Swahili it’s Muhogo; in Yoruba it’s Fufu. This dish is soooo familiar to me in its myriad of versions on the continent of Africa and throughout the transnational African diaspora. Food is a social unifier – hey peeps, we are what we eat.
IMG_6971
Flip Flopped: Yes peoples, I was gutted. My red Croc flip flops have been with me for nearly ten years. They have walked the streets of Cali Colombia, Nairobi Kenya, Dakar Senegal, New York, Detroit, LA, New Orleans, Berlin, London and more; but here in Luanda they flipped and snapped. They couldn’t handle the miles I’ve been walking on the Luandan sidewalks, dodging cars at crossroads resplendent with non-functioning traffic lights caked in dust like epistemological sculptural objects.
IMG_6968
I was struck by this sign above a door in a residential neighbourhood in downtown Luanda. After a little investigation, I found out that MAG is the Mine Advisory Group. In case you’re not hip, Angola endured a 27 year long civil war: the longest in Africa. There are more than seventy different types of land mines paralysing the rural areas halting village expansion and preventing fields from being cultivated. Muito Perigoso translated into English means Very Dangerous.