Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound Of Luanda 1968-1976
, December 2nd, 2010 12:54
The irresistibly hypnotic pulse at the heart of this collection of recently unearthed Angolan dance nuggets is rooted in the hip shaking, pounding percussion. Semba, merengue, rebita, kazucuta are joined by loosely picked surf guitar styles pinched from across the Atlantic by a host of long forgotten guitar heroes. But this is no aloha, this is Angola, and Angola Soundtrack is one big party from start to finish, capturing the sound of Luanda in those eight years.
The music emerged during a period of political upheaval in Angola. An anti-colonial war had been fought by liberation groups against the Portuguese army after a revolt in 1961. By the time independence was finally declared in November 1975, the Angolan people had already begun the process of rebuilding their collective identity. This "golden era" of revolutionary music was a big part of that.
The cocksure strut of 'Ilha Virgem' by Jovens Do Prenda slips and slides along a slinky winding surf guitar riff, over an unusual but deadly rhythm. It could be south-central Africa's answer to instrumental classics 'Telstar' or 'Walk Don't Run', as with the clean walking guitar lines of 'Pica O Dedo' by Africa Ritmos, filtered with echo into real far out space sounds. Imagine 'Miserlou' recorded in Africa by Joe Meek at his most experimentally adventurous, and you are nearly there. It's something else. Originally called 'Olha A Rata' (Look At The Pussy), the band, perhaps wisely, relented to pressure from their producer to go with the less controversial, 'Poke The Finger'. Angolans in search of their own "new sound" in the early 1970s found it here.
The instrumentals are matched by the soulful and energetic delivery of the singers. From the carefree whoops and ululations throughout the upbeat 'Pachanga Maria' by Os Bongos and the call and response of Santos Júnior's 'N'Gui Banza Mama' to Jovens Do Prenda's 'Farra Na Madrugada' ('Party At Dawn'), a title you can take literally to picture the hazily lit vibes. The only time the tempo slows down is on 'Africa Show''s pleading organ driven closing lament 'Massanga Mama'.
The bass guitar was not a common feature in Angolan bands at the end of the 1960s, and that in part explains the prominence of those complex rhythms. Guitars and percussion are at the forefront of these songs, with additional farfisa organs and traditional Angolan instruments dikanza and kissanje. A DIY approach got many of these musicians started as they sought to find their own sounds. Some were making their own instruments, such as guitars with a fishing line for strings, and congas made from emptied wine barrels.
A vibrant scene created the "unique sound" of Luanda, and a competitive, but friendly, rivalry built up between groups as they played together at carnivals and clubs. The young musicians learned from their elders, but also took in imported sounds from the Congo along with Latin influence ('Ulungu Wami' by Zé Da Lua) and Caribbean merengue ('Tira Sapato' by Dimba Diangola), which were mixed with psychedelic American and European pop and rock. These styles were embraced as tightly as Portuguese folk ideas were discarded in order to further distance them from their former colonial rulers. As was the language, with groups favouring a mixture of native languages.
Opener 'Rei Do Palhetino' ('King of Palhetino') reinforces the nationalist spirit. Palhetino being the "no good" imported Portuguese wine, the song urges the drinker of the title to "become one of us" and sup the decent local brews. But the political climate had quickly changed, and civil war broke soon after independence as nationalist groups turned on each other. The subversive political message of David Zé's lyrics made the authorities worried. By 1977 his records had been banned, and he was mysteriously murdered. Unfortunately this led to many fearing that listening to the music could lead to a similar fate for them, and perhaps explains why so little of this has been heard, until now.
But these sounds have not been forgotten in Angola. Originally released on obscure Angolan labels, and almost certainly hard to come by until now, this is a fascinating document that we can only be glad has reached the light of day.