Rapping in ‘Father Banana’s Country’

The challenge of creating anti-commercial rap in Angola: a market with bling, swag and surly sisters.

The Angolan flag.

The Angolan rap artist MCK (MC Kappa) released his third CD, Proíbido ouvir isto (“Listening prohibited”) in December 2011. Musically and lyrically, it is his most complex and mature work yet and includes collaborations with well-known Angolan musicians of a variety of genres like Paulo Flores (semba), Beto Almeida (kizomba), Ikonoklasta/Luaty Beirão (rap) and Bruno M (kuduro).

Since his first album, Trincheira de ideias (Trench of ideas), MCK’s m.o. has been social and political critique. “A Técnica, as causas, e as consequências” (The technique, the causes, and the consequences) circulated on candongueiros (collective transport) and in the informal market. The song exhorted listeners to:

clean the dust out of your eyes
open your eyes brother
switch off TPA [official television]
tear up the newspaper and analyze daily realities.

And then lamented the fact that “we have more firearms than dolls/fewer universities than discos/and more bars than libraries.”

A young car washer, nicknamed “Cherokee,” singing the song as he idled between jobs, was beaten to death by the presidential guard who overheard him singing. They discarded his body in the ocean. Divers sent to recover the corpse turned up empty handed. The body washed ashore the next day bloated and with the hands and feet still bound by bootlaces: a ringing indictment of the presidential guards’ savagery. The guilty guards offered a coffin, transport and armed security for Cherokee’s funeral. MCK and other like-minded rappers raised $1000 for the family and he, a university student at the time, assumed the cost of educating Cherokee’s two children.

Though I don’t know for sure, I would guess that some of those like-minded musicians count count among a group generally referred to as Angola’s underground rappers – Ikonoklasta, Keita Mayanda, Carbono Casimiro. Along with MCK they have created a brand of consciousness raising, community minded, tech-savvy, anti-commercial rap in a market with lyrics and clips awash with bling, swag and surly sisters.

Despite reports of MCK’s music having been censored from play on radio stations, his first CD circulated widely via candongueiros, hand to hand and in cars. Perhaps in a nod to alleged state censorship, his second CD, Nutrição espiritual (Spiritual nutrition), pictured him in a baseball cap, with headphones on and tape over his mouth (that said, this CD was available for purchase in the gift shop at the airport). “Atrás do prejuizo,” from that album, recounts the daily struggles of a student in Luanda: lack of water, striking professors, children begging in the streets and making a living pounding the pavement.

Like the second CD, Proíbido ouvir isto takes taboo head on. Interviewed recently in the newsweekly Novo Jornal about the new album MCK commented:

I decided to make a thematic incursion regarding various untouchable subjects and aspects of our society in order to dismantle some myths and taboos by bringing such themes as politics, religion, and race to the discussion….I took advantage of the sweet and seductive power of those things that are ‘prohibited’ and I invited Angola to the debate.

This new CD even caught the attention of Angola’s anti-corruption campaigner Rafael Marque de Morais who wrote about it on his blog:

One of the most popular songs is “O país do Pai Banana” (The country of Father Banana – or Head of the Banana Republic) MCK describes it as tragicomedy and he and his collaborators use parody to great effect. A sampling of lyrics: “I was born here, no one fools me!” Later: “I confess, I’ve had it!/ I can’t take it any more. I’d rather die by the bullet than of hunger/brothers, the disparities are enormous/…everything is theirs….This is the country of Father Banana.” “They’ve made misery into a profitable business/such wealth in the hands of those who govern.” And here’s a state slogan followed by a popular saying which mocks disengagement: “They’ve transformed Angola into a ‘country of the future’/ ‘we’ll leave everything for tomorrow’ don’t you think?, hahahaha!”

In the interview MCK gave Novo Jornal, the journalist asked him what dreams he had. His response is worth quoting in full:

Our elders who dreamed of Angola’s independence are today living a huge nightmare. My generation doesn’t want to dream anymore because to dream you first need to sleep (laughter). My generation wants to demand, wide awake, the building of a country where all of us can be proud of being Angolans.

In fact, a number of Angola’s underground rappers were on the ground, mobilized and mobilizing the “32 is enough!” movement that took to the streets in March, May and September of 2011 to protest President José Eduardo dos Santos’ 32 years in power.

Further Reading

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Heeding the call

At the 31st New York African Film Festival, young filmmakers set the stage with adventurous and varied experiments in African cinema.