World in Stereo: Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda, 1965-1976

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda, 1965-1976Various artists: Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda, 1965-1976 (Analog Africa, 11/22/2010)

Ngoma Jazz: “Mi Cantando Para Ti”

[audio:|titles=Ngoma Jazz: “Mi Cantando Para Ti”]

For its ninth catalog release, Frankfurt-based record label Analog Africa digs deep into the soul of Angola, the former Portuguese colony in south central Africa.  The compilation gives yet another exciting perspective into the remarkable number of African music styles that have bore into the global sound stage.  Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda, 1965-1976, with its 44-page accompanying booklet, is one of the most complete Angolan music exhibitions released to date, bringing to light one of Africa’s most underestimated music scenes.

Unlike the West African-coined Afrobeat style, home to juggernauts such as Fela Kuti, the Angola sound takes origin and influence from Latin grooves and old-school Caribbean merengue.  Angola’s rhythmic quality is more hypnotic than commanding with vocal performances that follow the same philosophy.  The soundtrack challenges listeners to reexamine the African music scene, transcending the music epicenters that have become a permanent mainstay in the world’s musical lexis.

But this is more than a story about contrasting music styles; it’s also about a country that didn’t gain independence until 1975 and the political instability and widespread violence that accompanied it.  The standard narrative of Angolan nationalism begins in the 1950s, but it can be dated all the way back to the 15th Century.

Under Portugal’s political tyranny, over 4 million people were shipped as slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean before Portugal outlawed slavery in 1836.  But unrest came to a head in 1932 with the rise of António Salazar’s fascist regime, the Estado Novo (New State) in Lisbon.  Unlike other European leaders, Salazar refused to leave Portugal’s centuries-old African colonies.  The anti-liberal and authoritarian regime sought to continue Portugal’s colonial empire, promoting a new wave of Portuguese immigration to Luanda in the 1940s.  Colonial society became more culturally segregated and racist, fueled by government-forced African labor and failure to modernize and reform the country.

By this time, proto-nationalist sentiments began sweeping Angola, particularly in the capitol of  Luanda, where organized demands for civil and human rights became louder.  As expected, the Portuguese regime squelched any talks of independence, exiling and jailing anyone who showed even remote interest in cultural sovereignty.  Armed struggle broke out in 1961, when the colonial state responded violently to three unrelated guerrilla rebellions in Northeast Angola.

From 1965 to 1976, the years that Angola Soundtrack covers, racial tensions were extremely high.  In a national “discovering our identity” moment, three different liberation movements arose: the Movimento Popular de Liberação de Angola (MPLA), the Frente Nacional de Libertção de Angola (FNLA), and the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA).  These three groups would receive tense international attention after the onset of Angola’s liberation in 1975, fighting over different political agendas and dooming the country into another violent time period, the Angolan Civil war.

But in the years leading up to Angola’s liberation, Angolans were in desperate search for a culture that they could call their own.  Beginning in the late 1960s, the spread of radio technology and the institution of a recording industry may have played a huge part in creating a brand of independence.  In music, Africans found dominion and empowerment.  Two record labels, Fábrica de Discos Angolano and Valentim de Carvalho, set up pressing plants in Luanda, turning out singles that spoke directly to the revolting population.

Angola Soundtrack is heavy with swinging tracks that are indebted to the emerging rumba scene in neighboring Congo at the time.  But the country’s indigenous rhythms shine through.  Styles such as the semba (predecessor to the Brazilian samba) and the rebita (successor of Caribbean rhythms such as merengue) give the album its distinct groove.

The compilation covers a gambit of musicians, including renowned band Jovens Do Prenda, whose legendary guitarist Zé Keno graces the album’s cover.  “Ilha Virgem” is one of the comp’s instrumental tracks, showing how the electric guitar fit into the diverse array of percussion sounds from Angola.  The electric guitar also took a prominent role in bands such as Os Kiezos, Ze Da Lua, and Os Karimbos, all featured here and all using guitars passed through distorted and wah-wah effects.

At one point or another, the musicians on the compilation were held as symbols as national patriotism, instilling a voice and a character into a tumultuous political climate.  But in cases such as David Zé, national popularity proved to be a dangerous undertaking.  Aligning with the leftist MPLA group during independence years, Zé used his songs as gestures for strength and optimism for Angola’s future.  Zé’s “Uma Amiga” is an upbeat offering, his voice boasting hope for a homeland with new possibilities.  Sadly, he never saw an outcome; he was murdered in a shroud of political mystery on May 27, 1977.

Angola Soundtrack is a testament to those courageous singers and musicians, like David Zé, who revolutionized Angola’s musical and political landscape in the 1960s and ’70s.  Beyond it being a soundtrack for a 400-year liberation in the making, the music from Luanda, Angola still remains as one of the most under-represented music scenes in Africa.  Tremendously melodic, highly danceable, and always electrifying, Analog Africa’s ninth offering accomplishes something special.

Leave a Comment