Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Angola Fresh.

Whenever I listen to one of Analog Africa’s astonishing compilations I am reminded of the scene in the Third Man where Harry Lime draws a historical (though inaccurate) comparison between the creativity engendered by upheaval and conflict to that of a peaceful environment:

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This springs to mind far more with their most recent release Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda 1968-1976.

The people of Angola have lived with conflict, from their war of independence through the years of a brutal civil war, for the last fifty years. Their country, potentially one of the richest in Africa, has been a pawn in the Cold War and a victim of political violence that claimed the lives of millions including one of the artists that appears on this compilation, David Zé.

Though these particular recordings were made in an eight year period, the last seven years of colonial rule and the first year of civil war, they show the artistic fertility that lay there in a society struggling to claim its right to self-government. The performers, like their Czech brethren during the last days of Communism, became vehicles for spreading the word and being a touchstone for defining the essence of being Angolan. As you listen to this album you marvel at the dexterity, imagination and beauty contained within it.

From Mamukueno’s opening, Rei do Palhetinho, that lilts and swoops in its story of wine drinking and the shimmering glory of Os Kiezos’ Congolese influenced Comboio you feast upon a music that lived in a world of influence, influences that came not only from the Blues but from the rhumbas of Havana and Kinshasa, from the psychedelic guitar playing that was making inroads in the West and from the meringue rhythms and Latin percussion; it was a mix that makes the sound of the Sixties pop bands seem pale and insipid, in fact most of the current acts peddling their retread R&B or indielandfillrocknroll fall by the wayside.

Like their modern day equivalents, Buraka Son Sistema, the music is sucked in, absorbed and made better.

This album, which you should buy by the way, continues Analog Africa’s run of home runs. Each one smacks the competition out of the park. That they mostly sprung from societies that were in a state of flux, or upheaval, says much for the resilience of Africans and their strength of spirit. This album came out in November but like a classic novel or a beautiful painting it will never age; it doesn’t have to be bought at the moment of release, it wears no meat dress.

I haven’t gone through each act on this compilation because it just sounds like a train spotter reporting on their day at the station, but I will leave you with something about David Zé.

In May 1977, while London was in the grip of punk, factions within the MPLA mounted a coup against the leader Aghostino Neto. The MPLA was at the time a Marxist-Leninist party and, as tends to be the case, was subject to all the factionalism and conspiracies that come with that territory (see anything about the Spanish Civil War). The attempt was led by the 8th Brigade of FAPLA (Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola); it failed, thanks to the intervention of Cuban troops, and the aftermath was bloody. Neto used the coup as an excuse to do some house clearing. In fact tens of thousands of Angolans were rounded up, summarily tried, executed and buried in mass graves. David Zé, at the time a serving soldier in FAPLA was one of them. Like Stalin and so many other shitty tyrants the world over Neto had no regard for the damage he did and the swathe he cut through Angola’s future.

This song by Zé isn’t on this compilation but in it he sings “on the day I die, do not cry for me, do not think of me”. Now maybe people can.