Many years ago, when war was inexorably crippling the country and hope seemed to be lost to the people, I spent three or four months living in Angola. The period was short. I arrived in September and by Christmas had left. Another post, and another day, may be the occasion to share some of those Angolan experiences because there were many. Though my time was short the weeks were among of the most intense and trying of my life. And though I’ve often said Angola was where I endured my personal ‘long night of the soul’ the country made a deep impression on me.
I am in the middle of an amazing book written by an American academic called Intonations: A Social History of Music and Nation in Luanda, Angola, from 1945 to Recent Times which shows how “Angolan musicians and audiences…developed their politics and sense of nation in and through the activity of producing and consuming music: buying records, hanging out with friends and family, and dancing in clubs moved them ‘into nation’”.
Angola’s music of the 1960s and 70s is popularly referred to as semba. And though the semba rhythm is but one of the many to grow out of the lush Angolan landscape, along with others like kabetula, rumba and rebita. To Angolans of the last generation of Portuguese rule and the first generation of Independent Angola, all of these musical styles are simply semba which at its most basic level meant ‘Angolan music made by Angolans’.
Luanda, the capital of Angola, was a fast growing, large relatively sophisticated commercial center under the Portuguese. Outside of South Africa, Luanda was the most ‘European’ city on the continent. (When I was there in the early 1990s the city seemed to be a set out of Apocalypse Now, the sky constantly filled with planes, helicopters and refugees flooding into the slums. But I digress).
And like all colonial cities it was divided into zones: African and European. The neighborhoods where Africans lived were (are) known as musseque “a Portuguese word deriving from the Kimbundu mu-seke which means, literally, ‘sandy place’. It originally referred to areas of the city where the asphalt did not reach.”
In these musseques Africans developed, performed and consumed their own music in their own clubs. It was their mini-country, a place where neither the colonial masters nor the exiled nationalist leadership intervened. And in the clubs, among the bands and singers that performed semba there developed a strong sense of political angolanidade (Angola-ness).
In effect the Angolan city dwellers self consciousness and national identity and political agenda developed in the beer drenched night clubs of Luanda’s sandy places (musseques). A very nice thought!
And so tonight the Washerman’s Dog presents semba hits from the golden era of Angolan music, the 1960s-70s. This is music by some of Angola’s seminal bands and singers as well as obscure tracks not widely heard outside of Angola. The CD was included in the book I’ve quoted from but I’ve created the cover.
Some brief notes on some of the perfomers.
Ngola Ritmos: formed in the 1940s and considered Angola’s first and most influential group. Mainly made up of educated Angolans Ngola Ritmos drew on folk themes and musical styles and by promoting a distinctly Angolan music made a political anti-colonial statement.
Os Keizos: One prominent Angolan music producer has stated that it is unpatriotic for Angolans NOT to know the music of this group. Members of the group were executed by the MPLA, the current ruling party in 1977. Their song Milhorro was a big hit in 1970 and was a direct critique of the Portuguese police which includes the line “In our land where we were born, we only cry”.
N’zaji: a band of MPLA fighters that at one time included the current President of Angola, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. Very popular with the fighters, this music mixed folk with overtly political themes.
Paulo Flores: a contemporary Angolan musician who continues the tradition of writing socially and political provocative songs.
01 Kia Lumingo (Urbano de Castro)
02 N'ginda (Tony de Fumo)
03 Semba Kassequel (Dina Santos)
04 Muximo (Ngola Ritmos)
05 Madya Kandimba (Gardo e o Seu Conjunto)
06 Joao Dumingu (Ngola Ritmos)
07 Chofer de Praca (Luis Visconde)
08 Milhorro (Os Keizos)
09 Diala Monzo (Elias dia Kimuezu)
10 Bartolomeu (Prado Paim)
11 Kaputu (N’zaji)
12 Valodia (Santocas)
13 Na Rua da Sao Paulo (Kaboko Meu)
14 Amanha Vamos a Procura da Chave (Uniao Mundo)
15 Poema de Semba (Paulo Flores)