There’s more to Angolan music than Kuduro

it’s underwhelming that despite its rich musical tradition, Angolan music is mostly known for a genre that roughly translates to "hard ass."

Angolan musician Gari Sinedima (Photo: Generaton 80).

Angola has an under-appreciated independent music scene. It’s no worth denying that kuduro is our biggest export, and when you mention Angola to most savvy music fans they will instantly identify it with Cabo Snoop and perhaps Buraka Som Sistema, although the latter is more easily recognized as a Portuguese act. For all of kuduro’s perceived qualities, it’s a bit underwhelming to note that a country with such a rich musical tradition, a tradition that in the late 1960s and early 1970s gave birth to such acclaimed musicians as David Zé, Elias dia Kimuezo, Duo Ouro Negro, Artur Nunes, and several others, is now mostly known for a genre that roughly translates to “hard ass.”

This is not a knock on kuduro, by any means, but rather a tribute to our greatest generation of musicians. That these musicians were recently ‘rediscovered’ by such labels as Samy Ben Redjeb’s Analog Africa is a testament to their timelessness, as is the fact that they continue to serve as inspiration for Angola’s emerging generation of young talent. Two weekends ago, those lucky enough to have gotten a seat in front of Espaço Bahía’s intimate stage in downtown Luanda witnessed something special: four talented musicians of my generation, namely Aline Frazão, Toty Sa’med, Irina Vasconcelos, and Gari Sinedima, reinterpreting our parents’ classics. They called their concert Tributos às vozes de Angola, or a ‘Tribute to Angola’s Voices’.

Espaço Bahía has long been one of my favorite concert venues in Luanda. In a rapidly changing city, whose philistine administrators have demonstrated no regard for preserving its cultural and architectural heritage (see Elinga), it’s a miracle that Espaço Bahía has been able to thrive in its privileged location. Bahía, which houses a bar, a restaurant, and a lounge, is an intimate space, decorated in tasteful Angolan and other African motifs; it’s located right on Luanda’s iconic Marginal avenue, has a beautiful view of the bay and lets in the most welcome Atlantic breeze; best of all, it’s the main venue to catch live performances from Angola’s gifted independent, alternative musicians, the ones that are constantly breaking the mold and fusing rhythms from near and far.

Irina Vasconcelos, for example, is the front-woman of Angola’s most popular rock outfit, Café Negro; one of their standout songs, “Kilapanga do Orfão,” fuses the traditional kilapanga rhythm from Angola’s Northern provinces with rock. A few months ago Irina was rocking out with the Bahía faithful as she presented her band’s new album, A Safra; here you can see them playing Incerto, one of my favorite songs on that album. The Irina Vasconcelos we see in this video, filmed during the Tributo concert, features a much more subdued songstress beautifully singing “Monami” (which means “My Son’” in the native kimbundu language), a well-known traditional tune.

Toty Sa’medo and Gari Sinedima are two young and bright musicians who are also in the ascendancy in Luanda. Toty is usually on the guitar and accompanies his counterparts on the majority of their songs; in Luanda he frequently plays in Bahía and Miami Beach, another venue in the city popular with new artists. Gari Sinedima on the other hand might better known for his collaborations with DJ Djeff, a well-known and well-traveled Angolan Afro-house DJ who frequently nods to traditional Angolan music in his electronic compositions. “Vanda Kupala,” a traditional song from Angola’s south, is Gari’s music of choice for his solo act.

Lastly there is Aline Frazão, the current darling of Angola’s alternative music scene and a chanteuse who is at home singing bossa nova, fado, Galician music, or old-school Angolan ballads. It’s great to know that this singer who now makes her home in Portugal is going more frequently to Luanda. After the performance she gave in last year’s Luanda Jazz Festival, the city’s musical landscape could definitely use more of her. In this video, the group bids us farewell with “Palamé,” another Angolan traditional tune.

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