MARISSA MOORMAN: THE ESSENTIAL HIP DEEP INTERVIEW
HIP DEEP ANGOLA would not have been possible, or even as good, without the generous contribution of time, information, and music made by Dr. Marissa Moorman, associate professor of history at Indiana University. In the fifteen years since she first traveled to Angola, she has spent a great deal of time on the ground, and her knowledge of the turf, both spatial and temporal, is impressive.
HIP DEEP ANGOLA, PART ONE: MUSIC AND NATION IN LUANDA is based largely on material in Dr. Moorman’s book, Intonations: A Social History of Music and Nation in Luanda, Angola, from 1945 to Recent Times (Ohio University Press, 2008), and we even used some tracks from the CD that’s included with the book.
While she was visiting New York in August, Dr. Moorman came to Ish Labs in DUMBO to sit down with HIP DEEP producer Ned Sublette for the HIP DEEP Master Interview.
Ned Sublette: Tell me a little bit about yourself . . .
Marissa Moorman: I’m an associate professor at Indiana University in the Department of History, and I do research in Angola. I’ve written a book called Intonations, about the relationship between music and politics in late colonial Angola, and now I’m working on a project on the history of radio in the Cold War.
NS: What was it like when you first arrived in Luanda?
MM: I made my first trip there to do pre-dissertation research in 1997. I arrived in a place that I understood very little about. I had studied some of its history. Most of what was available was written in Portuguese. In 1997 what was available on the Internet about many places was limited, but for a place like Angola there was nothing. I don’t think that the Angolan Embassy at that time even had a webpage. I don’t think the CIA even had a country study up yet. So I knew a fair amount about the country’s history, but I knew very little about what day-to-day life was like, or how to navigate the city.
When I first arrived in Luanda, the husband of a friend of a friend of mine had said he would pick me up at the airport if he could. He was a stringer for Reuters, and he said that he had to file a story, but he would be there if he could. And he was really my only hope because there were no taxis. Surely a bus system existed, but I didn’t know where I was going. Luckily he filed his story and got to the airport, and somehow we found each other.
I managed then to get by, through a series of very lucky events, to keep myself there for nine months with not a lot of money in an economy that was very expensive, and that since 1997 has gotten more and more expensive.
NS: How did your work proceed?
MM: Well, I didn’t even know what I was going to do research on, exactly. I had a vague idea that I wanted to research something related to nationalism and the struggle for independence, about which a number of things had been written, but nothing that really treated the angle of what regular folks were doing, and nothing about how cultural practices related to the national independence struggle.
I had spent 1992 living in Zimbabwe, which was the year of the first elections in Angola. I had seen a series of events which I had watched through the Zimbabwean newspapers related to the elections going on in Angola. I had seen a photograph of some people who looked like they had been dressed up for Carnival, but it wasn’t around Carnival time because the elections weren’t in February. They looked like they were dressed up in costumes, or they were wearing masks, and I made some association between cultural practices and this political event.
I had also seen, while in Zimbabwe, a film on the battle of Cuito Cuanavale made by the Cubans. I had known about the battle as an important, signal event, that had then led, in the accounts of many, to the downfall of apartheid in South Africa, and the withdrawal of South African troops from southern Angola. But I was struck by the fact that the Cubans were actually making films about this, and about the Angolans. There were these shots of Fidel with his cigars, worrying about whether the troops were getting enough protein and enough vitamin C. And I was struck that the Cubans were also engaged in this kind of cultural production, clearly propagandistic, but around this event in Angola.
I was interested in this intersection of cultural production and political events. When I got to Angola I started talking to local historians, and people started to point me in the direction of music. I had heard about this band, Ngola Ritmos, being quite important in the 1950’s, but I had never read anything about music after that. But people began to say to me that during the period of the struggle for independence, between when the struggle began in 1961 until independence in 1975, that music had in fact been incredibly vibrant and exciting, and that this was something that hadn’t been studied but that was quite important. So I began to look at that much more seriously, to see if that was something that I could study, and I began to try to talk to key figures.
NS: What obstacles did you find?
MM: The basic struggles of everyday life in a place where infrastructure hadn’t been maintained in a way that it might have been if there was not a civil war. Even people with good jobs, who worked in the civil service, often weren’t paid, and struggled to make ends meet, and were doing any number of other things to make ends meet, to make money, and just to get by.
In 1997, there were not cellphones. So it meant a lot of walking around, trying to track people down in various places, making phone calls when phones were working. It meant that people were often troubleshooting lack of water or lack of electricity, and so they would cancel appointments or interviews. Or some days I was sick, or trying to troubleshoot lack of water or lack of electricity, and I had to cancel appointments.
NS: Let’s look at the arc your book covers. What is Luanda like in 1945?
MM: In 1945 Luanda is a smallish but thriving colonial city on the Atlantic coast. It’s under the Portuguese colonial regime. The dictator Antonio Salazar had come to power in Lisbon through a coup in 1932, and had begun to centralize power. So by 1945 life in Luanda has taken on a different cast then it had in the ‘20s. It’s beginning to be much more segregated, with downtown occupied largely by Portuguese settlers.
There is less formal construction in what is called the musseques. These exist initially from the seventeenth and eighteenth century within the more built stone part of the city, but are increasingly pushed out to the edge of the city, where eventually by the 1950’s and 60’s are where the asphalt ends, and you just have sand streets. So you begin to have a division between a cement downtown and a sandy streeted musseque area that’s largely on the margins of the city. And that distinction, that border, becomes clearer and clearer in the twentieth century, particularly the second half of the twentieth century.
So there are these divisions that become much more clear-cut in colonial society — distinctions between the Portuguese and the Angolan population, and divisions within the Angolan population between those who were considered to have Portuguese citizenship, called assimilados, who had “assimilated” status, and the rest of the population who were considered to be indigenous.
NS: What did it take to qualify as an assimilado?
MM: You had to speak Portuguese, you had to eat with a knife and fork, you had to sleep in a bed. You had to be, usually of the Catholic religion, sometimes just some form of Christian religion. But it was often quite arbitrary, and the percentage of the population within the Angolan territory that ever came to achieve assimilado status was never more than one percent of the population, despite the fact that larger numbers of people would qualify for the status.
NS: And this was a formal status?
MM: Yes, it was a formal legal status. It allowed you to receive a formal ID card. Otherwise, you would, sort of like South Africa, have received a sort of passbook.
NS: How does this begin to change, and what role does music have?
MM: By the early 1950’s, we begin to see nationalist organizing. Because both Portugal and Angola, as well as Portugal’s other colonies, are living under a dictatorship, there is no political organizing allowed to opposition parties. You can organize, of course, if you’re in favor of the state and the state’s party. There is the Mocidade Portuguesa, the youth party that is in favor of Salazar’s state, but there is no way of organizing in opposition.
But small groups of people who are nationalist in character begin to organize. They’re sympathetic with the Portuguese left and the Portuguese underground, and they begin to organize an underground in Angola. We see a number of writers who are sympathetic with this movement, and we see people involved in theatre, people who organize things like a theatre group and a cinema group, and within these movements then, people who are also involved with music – so, a number of people who were involved in various kinds of arts activities. None of these activities were necessarily separated out — people did various activities that were mixed together, so a theatre group had a musical component or things like that.
Early on some of these figures became involved in quite clandestine, explicit political organizing. So on one hand there was a sense of what it meant to be Angolan, or a sense of difference. What people began to call and identify as angolanidade – Angolan-ness, identifying what it meant to be Angolan instead of Portuguese. And that meant identifying with Angolan food, idenfying with the Angolan territory, identifying with things Angolan.
Whereas the assimilados would have been taught in school things like Portuguese geography, Portuguese rivers, railroads, these people began to say, “you know, we have never even been to Portugal. This is our land, these are the things that we identify with. These are the things we do culturally, this is the food we eat. We eat mandioca, we eat palm oil, we eat this kind of fish. We live in these kinds of houses, we speak Portuguese in this way, with this kind of accent. These are the kinds of plants we identify with, these are the kinds of trees that we see every day, these are the kinds of trees we sit under in our yard.” They began to identify with the land. Over time, this began to take on a more and more political and politicized character.
Earlier movements had existed. There were precedents for these kinds of things in Angola in the late 19th century, so it wasn’t completely novel, but it takes on a particular character in the 1950’s. Some of these people begin to organize in a very clandestine underground movement, and a number of them are caught. And they are organizing in such a way that they don’t know — they are in very, very tiny cells, and they can’t speak to anybody else about it, and the cells are so small, in the classic way that underground movements occur. Your best friend might be in a cell, but you wouldn’t know, because you absolutely don’t talk about it.
And in the case of this very, very early band called Ngola Ritmos, at least two or three members in the band are involved in these clandestine underground movements. Then a whole number of them are arrested and jailed in what is called the Processo de Cinquenta in 1959. when fifty-plus people are arrested.
This particular band had been playing music based on local folk tales, traditional forms of music, the kind of songs that were sung at wakes and at traditional ritual ceremonies and things, but were playing them on guitar, musicalizing them in different ways, playing them out for a longer period of time. They became very much associated — they form this kernel of an association, of a connection between music and politics for the first time.
All of these guys get thrown in jail, and there is a huge crackdown on any kind of political organizing at all. And it becomes even harder to organize, as if it was easy before that. There was even much more pressure not to organize. And then in 1961 there is a huge explosion of three expressions of anti-colonial sentiment, three very strong and violent ones.
NS: What was different about Ngola Ritmos’ music?
MM: The musical environment in 1940’s and 50’s Luanda was primarily a Portuguese musical environment. There was a sizable settler population. Salazar had encouraged the immigration of Portuguese citizens and settlers to Angola. Those people were meant to set up agricultural settlements in rural areas, but many of them didn’t do that — they moved into the city, into Luanda. They pushed a lot of educated, many of them self-educated, Angolans out of positions in the civil service. Which is what politicized many of them [Angolans] and got them into the nationalist movement. And so with this larger presence of the Portuguese in Luanda, the Portuguese formed various kinds of cultural associations, they formed sports clubs, athletic associations, soccer clubs. They formed cultural associations playing largely Portuguese styles of music, they opened music schools and places where people would play, they invited Portuguese performers to come to Angola to perform. So public performances of music were largely Portuguese-based. For the assimilados — and the people in Ngola Ritmos would all have been considered assimilados — these were the forms of music that they had been exposed to.
Now in their homes, they heard other kinds of music. They would have heard their grandmothers singing, they would have heard their mothers and aunts singing as they washed and cleaned. They would have gone to wakes, maybe in their own homes, but not necessarily, possibly in the homes of their extended family, in the musseques or maybe in villages outside the city. They would have heard other forms of music, they would have heard forms of music sung in that area in Kimbundu, which is the language spoken in that region.
MM: If they had traveled to Muxima, just a few kilometers outside Luanda, they might have heard other songs, even around the churches, sung in different languages. And Liceu Vieria Dias, the founder of the band, had in fact traveled throughout the country with his father, who was a civil servant. He began to collect music from many parts of the country, and he would bring those songs back and try to recreate them in Luanda. And so they began to try to transpose these local forms of music onto European instruments, or to integrate Angolan instruments like the dikanza or the hungu into more typically European forms of music.
NS: What is the dikanza?
MM: The dikanza is what the Brazilians call the reco-reco, a long piece of notched wood that’s played with a striker. It’s a percussive instrument.
NS: And the hungu?
MM: The hungu is what the Brazilians called the berimbau. It’s a stringed instrument with a hollowed-out gourd with a long wire on it and a hollowed-out stick, and it’s struck.
NS: Ngola Ritmos are the beginning of this narrative, is that right?
MM: Yes. There were other bands that were around and playing, but they begin to play this music. Liceu Vieira Dias is a key figure because he forms this band, he’s much more trained, and he listened to a lot of Brazilian music. He gets this idea that you can take local forms of music and instrumentalize them in different ways, that you can play local forms of music with guitars, with pianos, with European instruments. And so they become this foundational band, they become foundational to this narrative.
NS: Was the introduction of the guitar by Ngola Ritmos a real revelation?
MM: No. Other people had been playing it. There were Cape Verdeans in Angola for a long time, and a lot of people talk about listening to Cape Verdeans play. They had been brought in by the Portuguese to work in the civil service and to work in many capacities. There was a Cape Verdean guitar-playing tradition, and lots of Cape Verdeans brought their guitars with them, so lots of Angolans talk about having heard Cape Verdeans play, or learning to play guitar from Cape Verdeans, and obviously the Portuguese bring guitars as well. But Liceu begins to play the guitar differently.
NS: Tell me about their song “Muxima.”
MM: The unofficial Angolan anthem. I don’t think there is an Angolan who doesn’t recognize it or — certainly someone who lives in Luanda who doesn’t recognize it. I don’t want to generalize for the whole country, because I spent the bulk of my time in Angola in Luanda. But it’s got amazing song recognition. It’s about a town outside Luanda with a very famous church that’s existed for a least a couple of centuries, where people tend to go when they have problems. Many women go there when they can’t conceive, people go there when they have love problems, particularly women. And “muxima” in Kimbundu means heart.
It’s a song that Ngola Ritmos first played, and that has since been played by numerous other bands and numerous other singers, that tells this story of the pilgrimage to this place.
NS: You have lyrics in your book: “If you think I am a witch, take me to Santana, grab the crazy one and kill him.”
MM: Santana is another word for Muxima, Santana = Saint Ana. It’s one of these stories about people going to Muxima in order to resolve a dispute. In this case, it was an accusation of witchcraft. And so the idea was go to Muxima, go to the church, in order for this dispute to be resolved. It’s a Catholic church, but it’s so wrapped up in this kind of local folktales and local lore that it continues to be the place to go to. You can’t get near this place when there’s a pilgrimage. It’s just loaded with people, and actually in fact buses of people now go there in addition to people going on foot.
I think every artist has done some version of it. Including, when I was last in Angola, I saw this young Angolan, who has been studying opera in the United States, Nelson Ebo, who sang a version of it as well.
NS: As the band got going, and Liceu and Amorim, two members, were arrested and put away for a long time . . .
MM: Liceu and Amorim are arrested and put in jail. The band continues on but with great difficulties. Other members of the band- Zé Maria dos Santos and Fontinhas are both sent through their jobs — they were both civil service jobs — are both sent outside of Luanda. It’s not being put in jail, but it’s another way of making you unable to act or do things in Luanda.
NS: What were they arrested for?
MM: They were caught with evidence of their clandestine activity on them. Notes or messages. So they were accused, probably, of conspiracy against the state and thrown in jail under that guise.
After this Processo de Cinquenta, in 1959, there is a real crackdown on organizing. And then in 1961, there is this huge explosion of these three events that happen. One in January, one in February, and one in March, all of them unrelated to each other, but all of them huge — much more popularly based uprisings against the colonial state.
The colonial state responds with tremendous violence, napalming villages and beheading people in the case of northern Angola. And at that point, what had in the late 1950’s been an incipient national movement had turned into a much more organized movement of two different parties, or political movements. They decide that there is no way of negotiating with this colonial state, and that they have to take up arms and go into exile. And that changes the political scene entirely. They decide that they have to take up arms and go into exile, and begin an armed struggle against the Portuguese in order to win their independence.
So in 1961 they go to war. There are two different movements: one is the UPA, the Union of the People of Angola, which becomes the FLNA or the National Front for the Liberation of Angola, and other is the MPLA, the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola.
NS: What are the consequences of all of this for music?
MM: The whole country goes to war. Portugal is not willing to give up the colonial territory. They send in the colonial army, which includes recruits from Angola, so many young Angolan men are conscripted and go to war. Your average young Angolan man has to serve some time in the [Portuguese] army. Some young men decide that they need to flee and join the anti-colonial struggle, many people stay.
Another result of this war breaking out is that the Angolan government decides to change some of the laws. So they scrap the assimilado / indígena laws, and everyone is given Portuguese citizenship. They try to build more schools, they begin to invest in education, and they begin to invest in cultural events and cultural life. They begin to allow for some foreign investment in the country as well, so there can be some job creation, and so Angolans can begin to find different kinds of work than they did before. The idea being that they need to make Angolans believe that it’s okay to continue to live under Portuguese rule so they won’t join the anti-colonial struggle. Essentially they begin a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Angolan people. And part of that is this investing in infrastructure, and investing in cultural things. So they begin to promote different local practices — literature, music, etc. etc., more Angolans have access to education — for those who stay behind and don’t go off and join the struggle.
You know, it’s difficult to make the choice to go off and join the anti-colonial struggle. Many people do it, but it’s a difficult choice to make. If you have young children, it’s not the kind of risk you want to take. And so some people, if they had young children, no matter how much they support independence, opt to stay in Angola. What these people do is to begin to invest in their life locally.
A number of people begin to open up clubs in the musseques, and we begin to see local groups and local bands developing. There had always been a carnival tradition in Angola, and a part of that carnival scene had involved bands. And those bands began to move out of the carnival scene, what were called turmas, and they begin to move out of the backyard scene and become proper bands. And some small groups begin to open up these small clubs in the musseques, at first just one or two places, and these bands begin to get gigs and play at a club, and we begin to see the development of a real nightlife and music scene.
Now bands have places to play in public, and people go to see these bands, and this creates an environment in which they can thrive, gives them reason to practice, they can play, they can compete against each other. There’s a kind of camaraderie, but also a kind of competitive sense of like — oh, that band’s playing? Well, we have to play just as well as they do. We need to make people dance. They’re making people dance? We need to come up with something better. And that creates an environment,which fuels the development of music.
While many of them look to Ngola Ritmos as a kind of inspiration, they aren’t trying to play exactly the same forms of music, because they have access to other forms of music. They are listening to Congolese music, they are listening to “GV’s” of “rumba,” Cuban music. They’re listening to music on the radio, Portuguese popular music, Brazilian popular music. All these things on the radio, and all of them are forming their music sound worlds.
NS: Tell me about the GV’s . . .
MM: GV’s are these Latin American disks, vinyl LP’s that come to Angola first through the Congo. They are imported by Greek record store owners who live in the Congo, who kind of run much of the music scene in the Congo, from what I understand. And there are many truck drivers who pass over the border, and they are the ones who are importing these records. Many of these young Angolan guys who have to serve in the army and travel throughout Angola as they are doing that, are also going through all these cities, and everywhere they stop, they are often buying records or looking at records or listening to new music. So even as they are serving in the army for a power that they don’t believe in, they are actually buying new music, hearing new stuff, they’re often playing music, and they’re bringing that back to Luanda with them. People had been listening to Congolese music and listening to and buying GV’s for a long time, since at least the 50’s.
NS: Where did the name GV’s come from?
MM: It was on the label of the LP’s. It was the number, stamped on the label, like “GV 119.” And so they came to call these records GV’s. Disk jockeys who often played at parties in the 1950’s had big collections of these things.
NS: And these are Latin records?
MM: Yes. People didn’t have huge personal collections, but there were a couple of famous DJs. One guy — Manuel Faria, who would later come to own a couple of clubs, he had a huge collection of record albums. He had certain people who he would buy from, and he would talk to these truck drivers, and would get them to bring these records from the Congo. And that’s how he amassed this huge collection. At one point, he had three setups so he could work three parties at one time.
NS: Let’s talk about a few more of the musicians that we’re going to be listening to. Os Kiezos. Who are they?
MM: Os Kiezos are a band that emerges in the late 60’s and early 70’s — one of the most famous bands. They’re one of the classic club scene bands that emerges out of the musseques. And they play a number of songs that become huge hits. And they also play in these musseques, in these festivals that become extremely important — festivals that the Center for Information and Tourism, which is run by the city council essentially, begins to fund, and that goes from musseque to musseque on different weekends. They were called kutunocas, and they would play in Sambizanga on one Saturday, Rangel the next Saturday, Marçal the next Saturday and then in Prenda the following Saturday. And they would take the same lineup of these bands, so it would be Kiezos, Jovens do Prenda, and it might be Minguito, who was a single singer, it might be Antonio Paulinos, and take them to a different neighborhood each weekend. And it was like bread and circuses, keep the people happy. Which is why the government thought this was a good idea.
And for artists, it was great. Even if they thought the colonial government wasn’t so great and they were fully for independence, for them it was a great opportunity. They got to practice, they got more work. And to play in the clubs, they had to get a card from the Center for Information and Tourism. So in order to get that card, they had to play in these events. But essentially it was great promotion. It was a way for them to spread their name.
People loved that they were able to see these shows. They could see them outdoors, it was free, it was a great thing to do on Saturday. And of course, nobody ever just went to the one in their neighborhood. If you liked the bands, even if it was the exact same lineup, you would leave your neighborhood and go to the next neighborhood on the following weekend to see the same show. So it created this huge circulation of people between these various neighborhoods, which meant that people were moving around a whole lot, and getting to know other neighborhoods and other sets of people that they might not have known otherwise, which the government didn’t want and didn’t anticipate. And that was quite interesting. So the Kiezos were part of this generation of musicians and they grew out of this scene.
NS: What does the name mean?
MM: Os Kiezos? It’s a Kimbundu word that means “brooms.” They got the name because they made people dance so much that they raised the dust when they played these kinds of events or backyard parties. It meant they were so good at making people dance, they were like brooms that would raise the dust.
NS: What is “Millhoró?
MM: “Millhoró” is one of their most well-known and well-loved songs. It’s a play on a Portuguese word that means to improve, melhorar. It’s a very fast-paced song with a refrain that means “go, get out of here.” It was very often interpreted as a song that meant the Portuguese should get out of town.
One of the singers of the band, Vate Costa, was once arrested for singing this song, because the Portuguese thought it was being sung against them. But in their defense, the musicians said that it was about another band, because of course there was this competitive spirit, and bands often got into these kinds of friendly struggles. And they said no, no, this is really about this other band that was coming to town, and because they were not from Luanda, this band from Cabinda, they should get out of town. But other people say no, it was in fact a criticism of the Portuguese, of the fact that they hadn’t done enough, that enough improvements hadn’t been made, that they should just get out of town, — “and on top of all that, you know, they don’t know how to dance!”
NS: Tell us about the dust. [laughs]
MM: Well, these days, there is often a lot of dust in Luanda, particularly when it’s not raining. These days, there’s even more dust because there is a lot of new construction, so there are a lot of old buildings coming down, and lots of new buildings coming up, so there’s lots of stuff in the air.
NS: But in the musseques, which are cities of sand . . .
MM: They aren’t cities of sand, but they’re built on places where the roads are unpaved. So it’s pounded earth.
NS: And in the rainy season, this turns into mud? . . .
MM: The streets can get quite muddy, yes. They’re often flooded.
NS: Which turns us to the song “Chofer de Praça.”
MM: “Chofer de Praça” by Luiz Visconde. Another very famous song, in part because its one of the few songs that’s actually sung entirely in Portuguese. “Millhoró,” which is a kind of Kimbundu version of a Portuguese word, most of the lyrics are in Kimbundu. But in “Chofer de Praça,” Luiz Visconde sings almost entirely in Portuguese, which was very uncommon for the music of the period. Most of the singers knew only Portuguese, so they had to learn Kimbundu to compose in Kimbundu, which was itself an act of cultural nationalism in a period in which there was tremendous political repression. But Luiz Visconde actually sings in Portuguese, and “Chofer de Praça” is the story of a young man, the narrator of the song, who is trying to take a taxicab back to the musseque, but the taxi-driver won’t go there – “I won’t ruin my car just so that you can show off for your girlfriend.” He apparently wants to take his girlfriend back to the musseque in a taxi cab. He says, “I won’t, I’m a chauffeur for the plaza, a chauffeur for the downtown, but not a boat-captain. You cannot take this kind of car into the musseque during the rainy season.”
NS: What happened to Luiz Visconde?
MM: Luiz Visconde died very tragically, so the story goes, after he got into a fight with a taxi-driver.
NS: Tell me about Belita Palma.
MM: Belita Palma was one of the few female vocalists. I said a little bit about the clubs, and it’s worth saying a little more about women in the music scene and women in the clubs. It’s not necessarily just the content of the music: if you make an analysis of the lyrics, they’re a little dry, or they’re not very rich, necessarily, in content. You cannot just analyze the lyrics and find really rich political stuff going on in there. That’s not what’s interesting about this music, neither is it what’s political about this music. What’s rich and interesting about this music is the social context in which it was played and the things that happened around the music. That’s why the clubs were very important, why the musical festivals that went on every Saturday afternoon were really important.
Now there were not as many women involved in this musical scene. Bands were largely dominated by men. That’s not really suprising about that if we look at popular forms of music anywhere in the world. There’s nothing necessarily novel about that fact, nothing unusal about that fact in Angola.
Lots of band members – men — said to me, “my father didn’t want me to be a musician.” Women’s parents really didn’t want them to be a musician. If it was seen as a bohemian practice for men, women were looked at particularly askance for being out at night. They were seen as prostitutes for being out on the music scene. So it was even more difficult for women to be musicians. Women had to be really careful on the music scene, and they tended not to hang out as much off stage, whereas men in the bands would go and play and then hang out after they played — hang out around the bar, go hang out with their buddies. Women would go and perform and then leave and go home.
Belita Palma was one of the few female vocalists. She had a beautiful voice. She came from a family where her father was a musician. Her sister composed a lot of music. Palma began singing with Ngola Ritmos, although she was quite a bit younger, like Lourdes van Dunem, who also sang with Ngola Ritmos. After the band started to play less, Lourdes van Dunem, Belita Palma, and Conceição Legot formed a trio that was of very short duration, but then Belita Palma continued on as a soloist and had a pretty vibrant career. And she passed away very early, at a fairly young age in 1988. But this song, “Manazinha,” is a song that is really quite beautiful, and its been redone by a younger musician, Margareth do Rosário. “Manazinha,” means “little sister,” and it’s a song about giving advice to other women about needing to be savvy, needing to get educated, needing to pay attention to what’s going on around them.
NS: Let’s talk about the big change now. When did independence happen?
MM: The official date of independence is November 11, 1975. But what happens is that there is a coup by the military in Portugal on April 25, 1974. The transition towards independence begins then and continues until 1975, so there’s a full year and a half of transition between the coup in Portugal and independence in Angola.
NS: And after independence is achieved, what happens?
MM: It’s also important to point out that between 1961 and 1975, there is not just one political movement — there are two, and by 1966 a third has formed. There is the FNLA, the MPLA, and in 1966, UNITA, the National Union for the Total Indepence of Angola is formed by Jonas Savimbi. So by 1974, when this coup happens, there are three political movements, and they are recognized as the three official political parties that will then contest to share governmental responsibilities leading up to independence in Angola.
It becomes quite clear in this transition period, which is poorly managed by the military junta in Portugal, that they are not willing to share power, and that it’s not going to work, and this is probably going to turn into a civil war, and that whoever controls Luanda at independence is going to run the country. And so at independence, on November 11, 1975, the MPLA manages to control Luanda, and becomes the ruling power. Very soon after that, a civil war breaks out. UNITA takes control of Huambo, a city in the central southern part of Angola, and the FNLA is largely subdued militarily and does not become a contender. And we see a civil war break out between the MPLA, which controls Luanda and becomes the Angolan state power, and UNITA, which becomes the opposition.
NS: And in this process, what happens to music? Angola, which has been a colony since the late 15th century, is independent and a nation, finally. Does this occasion a great burst of creativity?
MM: Angola, which had been under various sorts of Portuguese colonial rule, becomes independent under very difficult circumstances. This is the height of the Cold War. Cuban troops have arrived in Angola to help the MPLA take control of Luanda; in the meantime, South African troops, with the acknowledgment of the United States government, have moved into southern Angola and are helping the UNITA troops.
So as Angola has become independent, it has also become embroiled in a larger Cold War struggle as well. There are complex things going on duiring that transition period between 1974 and 1975, when political movements that had spent 14 years outside the country begin to return to an Angola that looks radically different than the country that many of those soldiers had left as young men. The music looks different, the country looks really different.
Many of the musicians who had been playing, they were large supporters of independence. They were creating a kind of music that they understood to be an expression of angolanidade, something that was richly, uniquely Angolan. Before the political parties return to Angola, many of them began to organize in support of them, and particularly in support of the MPLA.
Some musicians, like Teta Lando, told me that they distributed pamphlets for a variety of political parties, he told me that he distributed pamphlets for the FNLA and the MPLA. People saw themselves as being supportive of Angolan independence, however it happened. And they say that politics arrived with independence — I heard that phrase many times — and that the divisions arrived with independence. But many musicians, who were from Luanda and who saw themselves as politically aligned with the MPLA in particular, began organizing and mobilizing in support of the MPLA, in a political sense. They began organizing and being involved in a political movement in the neighborhood, in the musseques, and in the city of Luanda in support of the MPLA –organizing political commissions and organizing musical and non-musical events supporting the MPLA. This was happening very early on, even before the MPLA arrives in 1974.
After 1975, the civil war breaks out. But even within the ruling party, the MPLA, there were divisions. There had always been many divisions within the MPLA, different ideas about what independence meant, different ideas about what the MPLA meant. And after independence, even as the civil war was going on between the MPLA and UNITA, those divisions continued to grow.
On May 27, 1977, there was an attempted coup by a group within the MPLA, led by a man named Nito Alves. That coup was violently suppressed, and that suppression went on for at least two years. Thousands of people were jailed and killed, and the numbers are not good, some of the numbers are wildly exaggerated. Numerous books have been written recently, but I don’t think there’s any kind of definitive work that’s come out just yet.
Among the people who were killed were three of the most famous and most popular musicians: Urbano de Castro, David Zé, and Artur Nunes. There’s no way of knowing that they were killed for their political ideas, necessarily. There was a lot of random and absurd killing that went on in 1977. They might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They might have been sympathizers of Nito Alves. I think Urbano de Castro was from Sambizanga [a major base of support for Alves]. They may have hung around with him.
NS: Were they associated with Nito Alves?
MM: Some people say that they were. Some people hypothesize that because they were such popular public figures, that they were better known than a lot of political figures, and that they were associated with Nito Alves, so that would have made them dangerous in the eyes of somebody. But we can’t say who would have put out the order or how they would have been killed, exactly. It’s not clear.
NS: Tell me about Urbano de Castro.
MM: Urbano de Castro was a very flashy dresser. He had his own tailor. He was very, very famous, known throughout the musseques and was seen as this classic urban figure. He had a distinct style of dressing, a distinct style of singing, and he was just known as – everyone described him as uma figura – a character.
NS: There’s a word that we haven’t used yet, I think it’s time to bring it in. Semba. What is semba?
MM: I would say it’s kind of this general umbrella term for all the music from this period that people describe as Angolan. Music that carries this kind of mark of “made in Angola,” and carrying this sense of angolanidade. Music produced in this period that’s got a certain beat and a certain rhythm that’s danced to in a particular way in these clubs. Classic sembas are the music that Ngola Ritmos played. Urbano de Castro is often described as associated with the wave of Latin sounds – rumbas and merengues – and sembas can be seen as being influenced by this.
NS: I associate semba with guitar . . .
MM: Yes, particularly with guitar, and that also then integrates these Angolan instruments, like the dikanza.
NS: So Urbano de Castro is killed, and so are Artur Nunes and David Zé. Now Yuri da Cunha’s recorded this marvelous album of songs by Artur Nunes. What does it mean that Yuri da Cunha can now record an entire album of Artur Nunes’s songs?
MM: It’s quite important, because for a long time their music wasn’t played at all, so when I went to go do research at the radio station in the late 1990s and in the early 2000s, in order to hear their music, their music was kept behind the counter with the woman that ran the music section in the radio station. And they were held only in CDs, which meant that they were newer editions, so the old issues, the old vinyl of Artur Nunes, David Zé, and Urbano de Castro no longer existed in the radio station. The original recordings had been taken out and disappeared. They’d been removed. Now, there was never any official censorship of their music. When I asked people about this, they said, no, we were never told, there was never any memo written. But it wasn’t uncommon, as I would look through old LPs, for me to find big old vinyl LPs with a big X or a real deliberate scratch through a song.
NS: Making sure a particular song on an otherwise admissible album can never be played.
MM: There was no official memo that was ever sent down, but if somebody didn’t want the ax to fall on their head, they would scratch the music — quite deliberately, so that things wouldn’t get played. So there were unofficial forms of censorship that existed, and for a long time nobody played their music at all.
And then, in the late 80s, I believe, there were a number of young radio DJs and radio journalists – João Chagas, Gilberto Junior — who started to kind of recuperate music from this older generation that hadn’t been played as much, and particularly the music of these three musicians. Since then, their music’s gotten a lot more play. Yuri da Cunha is a musician who’s appeared on the scene since 2000, so for him to remake this older music when he’s been a proponent of a much different style of music, is really exciting. And he’s known, also, for his own style of dancing. He’s quite a showman. He’s got a tremendous reputation for putting on amazing performances, big stage shows, so for him to reach back and to recover and remake this music is quite a significant move.
NS: When is it that these three musicians are killed?
NS: And what happens in Angolan music after that?
MM: There’s a shift also that has not just to do with what happens in 1977, but that there’s also a new nation-building agenda after 1975, and there’s the need to build a new idea of what Angola is.
Agostinho Neto, the first president, has this slogan: “This is Angola, from Cabinda to Cunene.” And this idea that it’s got to be an Angola that unites the whole country, and they want to produce music that comes from all different places in the country, and that’s representative of all those different places, so they have a lot of these music festivals.
They make this tremendous effort, and they have song competitions that start at the provincial level and at the town level and work upward, and they really try to promote this sense of nationalism that builds from a very local level up to the national level, and so they begin to promote different styles and genres of music – trova, different guitar styles, kilapanga.
And so the older forms of music become slightly eclipsed. They’re still played. The band Os Merengues still plays at the radio station, and a lot of recording is done there. Carlitos Vieira Dias is still playing, and he runs the Merengues band, they’re traveling abroad. But in terms of the music scene that’s going on locally, there’s a shift in emphasis in terms of what’s being promoted.
NS: We’re coming up on kizomba, aren’t we?
MM: That comes out of a very different place. The youth wing of the Angolan party is organizing these music festivals that are happening at the national level, and then at the radio station in Luanda, which does all the recording, there are big festivals, and big shows for the children’s radio program, Radio Pio.
The technicians who work in the recording booth there are doing all the recording that’s happening in the country, and they get together and start playing. We see Eduardo Paim, who’s a very young and talented musician who had grown up in exile, largely in Brazzaville, because his father was involved in the MPLA in the exile movement; Bruno Lara, who’s the son of one of the main political figures in the MPLA, Lucio Lara, who’s working at the radio station in a technical capacity, but also begins to play electric guitar; Nelson do Nascimiento, and some others, in this band that begins to form called SOS. They’re one of the first new bands to emerge in Luanda, and they emerge out of the radio station where they’re spending lots of time and where they happen to have some instruments. And there’s another band called Africa Tropical, from whom Eduardo and these guys are often borrowing instruments just so that they can play.
In the meantime, because of the economic crisis that’s affected Angola because of the civil war, a lot of the instruments that used to exist have disappeared, and no new instruments are being imported. There’s a real shift in terms of what’s available in terms of instruments, and also in terms of a cultural presence of music. And semba’s been a little bit eclipsed. Silvio Rodríguez has played in Angola, there are newer influences coming in. There are Angolan musicians that have gone to Cuba to study, there are Cuban musicians that have come to Angola, and then in the late 1980s or early 1990s, right around this period, the Guadeloupan band Kassav comes to play in Angola, and we begin to hear a lot more of these kinds of rhythms, and so SOS begins to produce this new kind of music that eventually is called kizomba, and that really takes off.
And then Eduardo Paim begins to hook up with Paulo Flores, who’s a young Angolan man who’s born in Luanda but grows up mostly in Lisbon, and they start playing. Eduardo starts producing Paulo’s music. Paulo then begins to play this style of music that’s known as kizomba as well, and “kizomba” means there’s a party in my house.
This is a period in Luanda when young men are – once again – subject to forced conscription, and so there are curfews, and people, when they go to parties, the parties last all night long, because there’s a curfew, and so if you’re out, you’ve gotta be out all night long. And they play this dance music, and people dance all night long until the next day. People will tell you crazy stories about being chased down alleyways and jumping over walls, and running away from the military to escape conscription.
NS: And then kizomba becomes huge . . .
MM: Kizomba becomes the dominant form of music for a long time. It’s similar to semba in the sense that it’s what’s played at parties, at backyard birthday parties, in discotheques, and it’s a social dance. Men and women dance it together, and it’s very popular. Cape Verdeans produce a kind of form of kizomba as well, and Angolans are consuming a lot of music that’s produced by Cape Verdeans, but Angolans have a very distinct style of dancing kizomba.
NS: I want to go back and ask when this got started. Can we pinpoint the date?
MM: I would say maybe the mid-80s.
NS: I was hearing kizomba in ’92 already, in Lisbon. It must have been going for some years before then. And Kassav is an ‘80s band.
MM: I would say the mid-80s.
NS: So what happens to Paulo Flores? Paulo Flores starts out as a kizombeiro, but he doesn’t stay there . . .
MM: Right, so he starts out playing kizomba. He’s sort of back and forth then between Lisbon and Luanda. He develops this reputation for writing amazing lyrics, so despite the fact that he lives a lot in Lisbon, he’s often in Luanda.
Paulo Flores has this amazing capacity for being able to poeticize what’s happening in Luanda, and writing about the experience of Angola in general, and about Luanda very specifically. He’s always had poetic lyrics, and a capacity to write with nuance and poignancy about life in Angola. He has a massive fan base. So he takes off in that sense, he becomes hugely popular. I think he’s 16 when he records for the first time.
He decides round about 2002, when he launches his CD Recompasso, to move back to Angola, and he still goes back between Lisbon and Luanda, but he moves back to Luanda in a much more permanent way. In 2008, he launches his three-CD collection, Ex-Combatentes, with Recompasso and Xé Povo, which comes out maybe in 2006, produced by Maianga Productions, which is a Brazilian outfit based in Angola. And then with Ex-Combatentes, he’s really done an amazing job of bringing semba back, and I think he’s the first young musician that begins to re-invigorate semba, and re-think semba.
So he plays not just in the way the old style is done, although he studies that, and he played a lot with Banda Maravilha, that had been playing for a long time, kind of old-style semba, but he also plays with a lot of newer musicians. He plays with different musicians from various other countries. He’s collaborated for a long time with Tito Paris, the Cape Verdean musician. On Ex-Combatentes, he collaborated with Jacques Morelenbaum, the Brazilian cellist. He sings with Mayra Andrade, he sings with Sara Tavares on Recompasso. He is, I think, seen as the Angolan musician who probably has the greatest musical reach and musical courage. He goes in a lot of different directions. And he always – each album, he works with a different set of musicians, and moves in different directions.
NS: Can you tell me about the tune, “Anos Depois”?
MM: “Anos Depois” is the first song on the disc Recompasso. It’s a poem written by the nationalist poet Antonio Jacinto, called “Monongambé,” that was musicalized by Rui Mingas in the 1960s. The poem is about contract workers forced to work by the Portuguese colonial government as what was called “contract labor.” They’d work for months and months, and be paid very little. They were poorly treated. It was essentially considered a kind of slave labor.
The poem was a critique of that, obviously. When Rui Mingas played this on acoustic guitar in the 1960s, when he was an athlete in Portugal, and hanging out with Zeca Alfonso, it was also seen as a critique of the colonial government. When Paulo Flores calls it “Anos Depois” – years later — on a disc produced in 2002 in Angola, it seems to me it reads as a critique of the ruling government in Angola, and the ways in which they have failed to make good on the claims of independence.
NS: And then, Angolan society transforms yet again in the 90s. I believe you used a phrase in the book, “feral capitalism.” Can you talk about what happens to life in Angola in the 90s, and how that turns into music?
MM: As early as the late 1980s, the Angolan government leaves behind the socialist project and begins to open up to forms of free-market capitalism. It’s clear that they’re going to move in this direction. Oil was discovered in Angola in the 1960s, and even when Angola was a socialist state, oil was obviously a huge priority, and was key to the Angolan economy. After a series of economic crises in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, it’s clear that forms of socialistic planning aren’t working, and by the late 1980s and by the early 1990s, they open up to certain forms of directed free-market capitalism. There’s obviously already lots of foreign investment in the oil sector in Angola, and it happens in a much wider way from the 1990s on.
And then we see the resolution of the civil war, a final peace signed in 2002, and that really begins to shift the change, to create a new change as well. Once the war’s over, new forms of investment are available and we begin to see an increase in Chinese investment and Brazilian investment.
NS: What does all this mean for the people in the musseques and the people in the street?
MM: It means lots of different things for lots of different people. There are many more things available than there used to be, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can afford them. So you hear lots of critiques from people on the street – people say, well, there’s much more here, but now, there are more things available but not everybody can afford them. It used to be that we all had to stand in line, but at least we got a little piece of meat. Now there’s more meat available, but we can’t afford it.
NS: What happens in music?
MM: We see the emergence of new forms. I think it’s important to remember as well that, as in any other place, there are numerous genres of music that co-exist at the same time. So there’s not just one form of music, there’s lots of music being played.
One of the things that I remember about music in Angola, when I first went there in 1997 – apart from the fact that it was very hard to find any live music – was that when I went out dancing, like to clubs, and discos, and things, there was an amazing variety of music being played at these discos. DJs played music from all over the world. Whereas if I went out in Chicago, you went to one club to hear salsa, one club to hear techno, and another club to hear 80s music. Angolan DJs played a huge variety of music in any single club. There was a tremendous diversity of music. And I think Angolan DJs since the 1950s have been mixing a huge variety of music, and there’s a great diversity of music on the Angolan sound scene, so I think that’s important to point out. So we see then, in the 1990s, other forms of music emerging. We see the emergence of a kind of Angolan hiphop, produced by a sort of young Angolan elite, and we see the emergence of a new form of music called kuduro, which means “hard-ass.”
NS: What is kuduro?
MM: Kuduro is the form of Angolan music that’s probably gotten more publicity or coverage or — visibility, maybe is the best word for it — than any other form of Angolan music. Which has something to do with the availability and new forms of technology. It’s not really been promoted commercially so much as it’s been picked up on things like YouTube and Soundcloud, and these other kinds of new forms of technologies that are available.
Part of its charm to some of the people who have picked it up – and one of the people that’s picked it up is MIA – is, it’s got this gritty, ghetto look and sound. And so it’s been largely associated with the musseques, and I would say today its creative soul is in the musseque, but it was a really a product of downtown discotheques.
At the height of the war, some young, cosmopolitan entrepreneurs were still traveling. They managed to get to Portugal and other places, bought music there, collected music there, owned discos downtown. These guys were struggling, but they were also hard-working and clever. They opened up discos, rented out spaces downtown, tried to figure out how to have a good time despite the fact that there wasn’t much available locally – not in terms of food, music, clothing, etc.,etc., many of the kinds of things that make young people tick, or that young people are hooked into.
So there’s this downtown scene. They start mixing these electronic forms of music that they hear with Latin beats, and there’s this music that they call batidas that people are dancing to it in this somewhat novel form of dance.
NS: How so?
MM: Most Angolan forms of dance like kizomba and earlier forms like semba are partner dances. Men and women dance these together. But this is people dancing alone, or in a group of people. It’s not uncommon to see a roda – a circle – with somebody dancing alone in the middle. That’s not unusual in Angola, but that’s not typically what you would see at these discotheques.
There are these particular dance moves that are being associated with these batidas. Açucar (sugar) is one of these dance moves. Gato preto, black cat, is another one.
And this guy, Tony Amado, shows up on this dance scene, with this dance that doesn’t have a name yet, and he’s throwing his hindquarters around in a kind of stiff movement, and somebody calls it kuduro – “hard ass,” or “stiff bottom.” And then this is the name that sticks, and the name sticks to the music as well as this particular dance. And it sticks more to the music, and in fact, various dances take on different names and the genre of music has come to be known as kuduro.
NS: Could you explain about puto and kota?
MM: Puto means kid, or young person. A number of these young musicians who play this form of music now called kuduro, which is now largely produced in the musseques, call themselves Puto this or Puto that. Kota comes from Kimbundu, and it means “elder.” But it doesn’t mean necessarily 65 or older, it means, “a person who is older than I am.” Somebody who’s five years older than you is your kota. The teenager who lives next door who’s a few years older than you are is your kota. Somebody who’s your mentor. So it’s a relationship of age, it marks an age grade.
So in that sense, they mark themselves as being part of Angolan society, but as being young within the society, kids within the society, as a kind of new generation.
NS: Okay, a young male may call himself puto, but what’s the equivalent term for a young female kudurista?
MM: There isn’t a female equivalent. They have other names, like Fofandó, (which means Cute Little Thing), Noite Dia (Night Day), Gata Aggressiva (Aggressive Cat – cat meaning, like, girl) . . .
NS: Or Tuga Aggressiva, my favorite name . . .
MM: “Aggressive Portuguese.”
NS: You’ve seen a lot of the development of kuduro, being in Luanda all this time. What are the big recordings and artists that stick out in your mind?
MM: In the early days, Tony Amado was quite important. Sebém is the other foundational figure, and his song “A Felicidade” – I remember when that song came out, and everybody was dancing. There was a particular dance that everybody would dance, like they were holding a cell phone up to their ears.
NS: Can you tell me a little more about Sebém? Did you ever interview him?
MM: I kept trying to interview him. He interviewed me before I ever got to interview him. He invited me on his TV show, called Sempre a Subir, which means always on the up-and-up. “Sempre a Subir” is the refrain from another very, very popular kuduro hit called “Kazakuta Dança,” sung by Virgilio Faia, but Sempre a Subir is a whole television show dedicated to kuduro, and Sebém has been the host of that show. He’s recently been in jail for ten months for a number of traffic infractions and mouthing off to the cops who stopped him, but Sebém is also quite important to kuduro because he dresses very flamboyantly. Often his car will match his outfit, he’s got a number of cars and motorcycles. If he’s wearing a yellow tie, he’ll drive his yellow car. He bleaches his hair, he has a very particular way of dressing, and many of the kuduristas – you know, there’s this kind of, they not only play a particular kind of music, but they dress in a particular kind of way. Grife, which is a way of dressing, or style, and swague, is also quite an important part of kuduro style and kuduro culture. And Sebém, I think, is almost single-handedly responsible in some ways for that.
NS: Who else comes to mind?
MM: Dog Murras is in there early on. He produces a kind of music that’s called kazakuta, more than kuduro, but it’s part of a similar movement. But I would say that he’s of the first generation, or kind of the end of the first generation. People typically talk about kuduro in terms of three generations or more, with those guys being of the first generation. In the next generation, there’s DJ Znobia, DJ Killamu, Puto Prata. I know that generation less well because a lot of that music was coming out when I wasn’t in Angola. That generation also included some of the first female artists, like Fofandó, Noite Dia . . . also in the second generation, I would include Os Lambas, an interesting and important band that comes out of the musseque Sambizanga, also quite associated with bands, with criminal behavior. It’s part of where the bad reputation, the kind of criminal reputation for kuduro comes from. Nagrelha, who’s the lead singer in the band, has done some jail time as well.
NS: Their video “Sobe” is pretty intense.
MM: Yeah, and their first video, “Comboio,” is quite fantastic as well.
NS: There’s one question I haven’t asked you about something that reaches from what we’re talking about up to the present generation of kuduristas, which is the porous border between Democratic Republic of Congo, as it’s now called, and Angola. One of the things I noticed about Angola is that it’s sandwiched between two commercial/industrial powers: South Africa on the one side, and Congo on the other. It seems like the Congo influence in Angolan music is very great; the Angolans also say that the Angolan influence on Congo music is great.
MM: Well, of course the Angolans listen to tons of Congolese music, and Angolans who were young in the 1950s all remember Franco, and OK Jazz, and Tabu Ley Rochereau, and these huge figures of Congolese music. They listened to a lot of Congo radio as well. Angolans who listened to radio in this period listened to a lot of music from the Congo, because they tuned into the radio stations from there. And not just from today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, but from Congo-Brazzaville as well, because of De Gaulle moving his government to Brazzaville during the Second World War. The strongest transmitter on the continent was placed in Brazzaville, so it was really easy to tune into the station. That was really important for the MPLA when they were in exile in Brazzaville, because they also transmitted a rebel radio station, the MPLA’s Angola Combatente, from Brazzaville, and that was a really important way for them to communicate with Angolans who quote-unquote “stayed behind,” with those Angolans who were still inside the Angolan territory. But Angolans listened to a lot of radio as well as a lot of music from all over the region, and particularly from the Congos. And when they listened, even if they didn’t understand the lyrics, because many of them didn’t speak Lingala, Angolans would tell me, “we understood that Congo was a place that was free and independent before we were, and we associated that music with the sound of freedom. So when we hear Franco, we heard Tabu Ley Rochereau, or we heard the later classic rumba tunes, we associated that with freedom.”
NS: There’s also a tremendous movement of people back and forth . . .
MM: . . . and after 1961, when the war breaks out, large numbers of Angolans flee across that border and go into exile in the Congo and grow up, and then there’s a huge return of that population after 1975.
NS: And still going on . . .
MM: Yes, and continuing to go back and forth.
NS: I want to get you to talk just a little bit about your work with the radio, and your project-in-progress: Tuning in to Nation: Radio, State Power, and the Cold War in Angola, 1933-2002.
MM: I got interested in radio because when I talked to people about music, radio was obviously key in the promotion of music.
This is something we haven’t talked about so far, but a lot of Angolan music was promoted on the radio, There was a small recording industry that grew up in the late 60s, in the very early 70s, in which a few companies in Angola begin to record Angolan music and they produced it in Angola, and they started selling it within Angola, and they started playing it on the radio in Angola. So whether you lived in Luanda was immaterial. You could hear Angolan music throughout the whole country if you tuned into the radio station. Both what was called the official broadcasting system of Angola that was run by the colonial state, as well as a number of small radio clubs that were run by independent radio associations throughout Angola. So I got very interested in the story of these radio stations, as well as the fact that almost everybody – every last person that I talked to about music and the music scene – also told me and remembered tuning into these clandestine radio stations, and particularly the MPLA’s Angola Combatente, at precisely 7 p.m. every night, and listening to that under the beds, in abandoned soccer fields, under desks and listening along, having the terror of God instilled in them of being caught listening to that radio station, but listening in and trying to understand what was happening with the political movement.
NS: And these clandestine stations disseminated political speech and music?
MM: What they broadcast was largely political information. Sometimes some music. Sometimes they would broadcast music that was recorded of soldiers singing around a fire. Sometimes they would get recordings of, like, Bonga 72, or sometimes maybe Rui Mingas, but largely it was stuff that they recorded in the maquis – in the camps – of soldiers. And it was largely the MPLA’s. The FNLA also had a radio station, called Angola Livre, but people were less able to tune into that. They also tuned into other stuff. They would tune into BBC, Voice of America, the German station, Radio France International, South African radio, they would tune into whatever stuff they could get. But Angola Combatente was largely political news and propaganda, and they would broadcast usually for ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes less.
NS: And then later on in the civil war? . . .
MM: Radio continued to be key. When the MPLA took over the state, they took over the radio station, and they tried to turn it into one entire national system, so they took over all these little radio clubs, and the national broadcasting system, and created one system. UNITA, which was the rebel station, set up their own radio station – they had funding and training from South Africa and the United States, and they set up Radio Vorgan, the Voice of the Black Cockerel, the black cockerel being the symbol of UNITA . . .
NS: We’re coming to the end of our time here. There’s so much more to talk about . . .
MM: We’re just scratching the surface! [laughs] . . .
NS: Dr. Moorman, thank you so much . . .
You can read more of Professor Moorman’s writing HERE.