Last session in Sambizanga

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

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

In the Sambizanga Studio

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.
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.
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.

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

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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.

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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

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).
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.
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.
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.

Semba on Saturday

On Saturday (04-08-2018) Ras Kilanji invited me to the Radio Escola 88.5FM live broadcast from the Sabores 1001 bar. It was a great, further introduction to the various vogues in Angolan music. Semba on Saturday – a focus on Semba music.

Jivaga performing his hits at the Radio Escola, 88.5 FM, live broadcast at Bar Sabores 1001 on Saturday (04-08-2018).
This very cool radio belongs to an Angolan music aficionado.
Seated center is the great Jivaga, the Semba vocalist flanked to his left by journalist and scholar Ras Kilanj and to the right a music aficionado and proud owner of the cool radio.

Afro-Sonic Mapping Maiden Voyage

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Detail of a phonograph. ©Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Photographer: Dietrich Graf.

Listening to the phonograph recordings from the Congo region circa 1906, one is all at once transfixed, transported, and mad mad overwhelmed. Herein lies the fathomless foundation of Hip Hop, Jazz, Mambo, Dub, Blues, Black Punk, Samba, and R&B. But let me warn you that without previous knowledge and the application of a whole lot of imagination you might be somewhat disappointed with the lack of warmth in the actual reproduction. Yes, dear Blogites, even after the digital equalising and enhancing process, mid and low frequencies simply do not exist; there’re a lot of highs on those wax cylinders. Sadly you cannot enhance what was not captured in the original recording due to technological limitations; but I know, from personally playing antique instruments used by musicians in that era, the vast range of frequencies they are capable of producing is awesome.

All this to stand witness to the fact that technology has advanced in leaps and bounds: after all, it was 1877 when Thomas Edison invented the Phonograph recording machine, and in that epoch sub-bass was an alien phenomenon to western ears. Edison was not Dre; the Phonograph was not Pro Tools. But, irrelevant of all the above, let me emphasise that I’m so very very grateful to have been granted entry into those two sonic havens – the Berlin Phonogramm Archiv and the British Library – where the earliest recordings of African music exist. I’ve made a selection and I’m taking them back to present to the cultures from which they were taken. There they will be decoded, translated and, with a select group of traditional and contemporary musicians, I will be going into the recording studio equipped with Sanzas, synthesisers, beat boxes and drums to create some new sonic cartographic collages. First stop Luanda, Angola on this my Afro-Sonic Mapping maiden voyage.