Culture & Arts
In Angola, music and dancing is very important in daily life. Angolan music was created as far back as the 1940s when the group Ngola Ritmos introduced hard-hitting urban music to the country while it was still under Portuguese rule. At that time they sang in native languages, used national rhythms and produced music with messages calling for Angolan nationalism. Music pre-independence is now seen to have played a central role in the fight for freedom.
Immediately post-independence music lyrics became very political, mirroring the situation in the country. As a result the quality of music suffered and after a flying start from the forties to the mid-seventies its evolution stagnated.
But in the late eighties, Angolan music started to re-emerge thanks to new talent that was creating infectious rhythms. Still using day-to-day living as inspiration, new groups and singers revitalised the music scene and lifted spirits during the ongoing civil war.
In the early 1990s a new type of music became the hit in Angola, the Kuduru – Angolan hip-hop with its own local rhythms and themes. This type of music is as loud as heavy-metal and its message is always very strong, whether the lyrics speak of love, war, sex, peace or social degradation.
Be it slow and seductive or hard-hitting and controversial, Angolan music has moved and grown with the times. The contemporary music scene now bursts with exciting tunes and beats that leaves no one standing still. Semba; Kizomba; Capoeira; Kabetula; etc. represents most popular rhythms in Angola.
Angolan semba is an ancient rhythm, traditionally accompanied by smooth undulations of the hips and belly. Semba was originally danced to celebrate good harvests, marriages, births and other occasions. It developed in Angola’s coastal centers, especially Luanda and Benguela during the 17th century. To this day, semba is regarded as the music of the sea.
Before Portuguese missionaries spread Christianity throughout the country, Angolans used to dance semba as a way of worshipping their gods, especially the mermaid Kianda, goddess of the sea. Every year, Angolans would hold celebrations near the sea, throwing food, clothes and other gifts into the water as offerings to Kianda.
Such practices came to an almost complete stop after independence, although animism is still practiced in some parts of Angola. The gods of the forest, known as maiombolas, are held in high regard, especially in heavily forested areas such as Cabinda.
It is impossible to talk about Angolan music without mentioning the nation’s passion and talent for dancing. Typical Angolan dance-à-deux styles are the Semba and the Kizomba. In the late 90’s the Tarrachinha style of dancing became the favorite among the youth.
- Semba is a more formal ballroom dance. It’s usually a dance-à-deux but it can also be a chance for soloists to take to the floor.
- Kizomba is a mix of intricate ‘passadas’ moves danced to the rhythm of lively zouk and semba tunes.
- Tarrachinha is danced very slowly with the pair almost stopped in one spot for the whole music duration. It’s undeniably seductive.
To embrace the various dance styles, at parties and nightclubs Angolan DJs play all types of music – from kizomba to rock; from funk to pop to the latest music charts hits.
Carnival is very important culture activities in Angola. Once a year everybody in Angola observe this carnival manifestation.
Once synonymous to slavery, outlaws and violence, Capoeira is now well known all over the world as an art form, and has fascinated thousands. Capoeira is divided in two parts: Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola. Capoeira Regional is a modern and popular form of capoeira. Capoeira Angola is the original form, created in Brazil by African slaves. Capoeira Angola has roots in the wedding rituals of the Bantu tribe, where the Dance of the Zebra, the N´golo, was a sparring between young warriors. That is why the Zebra ispart of the Capoeira Angola logo. Capoeira Angola is a sparring between friends, an exciting game in the middle of the “roda”, a ring formed by musicians and singers. It is fight, dance, play, music and philosophy, all in one. For years Capoeira was practiced in secrecy and it was not lawful to practice and teach until after the 1930s; forty years after the abolition of slavery. Berimbau is an instrument related with capoeira, it commands the roda, and determines the kind of fight (Ango a or Regional)
Thinker Sculpture, Symbolizing Angola National Culture
The sculpture known as Thinker is one of the most beautiful pieces of the Chokwe origin and represents all Angolans by symbolizing its national culture. The statue is seen bending down with both legs crossed and its hands placed on its head, which symbolizes the human thought. The Thinker is a charming piece that really leaves the audience thinking. The piece is also represented as the protector of the village of Chokwe and puts everybody in good-spirit. The statue can be seen as a man or a woman but however seen, it represent a strong sense of wisdom and knowledge and is seen with great respect. The Thinker is one of the oldest and well-known artifacts in Angola.
The cultural origins of Angola are tied to the traditions of the central Bantu peoples and the ancient kingdom of Kongo. Located on the southwestern coast of Africa, Angola became a key colony in the growing Portuguese empire after 1500, but for most of the years of its domination Portugal exerted little cultural influence, content to control the slave trade from forts along the coast. Only after the mid-19th century did Portugal seek control of the entire territory, thus spawning a resistance that inspired much art and literature. Angola’s struggle for independence was long and violent, and life in the independent nation has also been marred by intense civil war. Such disorder has obstructed the development of Bantu customs and also destroyed the more Portuguese traditions of the coastal cities.
The largest ethnolinguistic groups in Angola have distinct cultural profiles as well as different political loyalties. Most numerous are the Ovimbundu, who are located in the central and southern areas and speak Umbundu. The Mbundu are concentrated in the capital, Luanda, and in the central and northern areas and speak Kimbundu.
The Bakongo speak variants of the Kikongo language and also live in the north, spanning the borders with Congo and the Congo Republic. Other important groups include the Lunda, Chokwe, and Nganguela peoples, whose settlements are in the east. A small but important minority of mesticos (Portuguese-Africans) live in larger cities, especially Luanda. Before 1975, Angola had one of the largest white minorities in Africa, many of whom had never seen Portugal, but most left at the threat of independence. Portuguese is the country’s official language, and the majority of Angolans are Roman Catholics. There are also smaller numbers of Protestants and people who practice traditional religions exclusively, though many Angolans combine some traditional beliefs with their Christianity.
The traditional arts of Angola have played an important part in cultural rituals marking such passages as birth or death, childhood to adulthood, and the harvest and hunting seasons. In producing masks and other items from bronze, ivory, wood, malachite, or ceramics, each ethnolinguistic group has distinct styles. For example, the ritual masks created by the Lunda-Chokwe represent such figures from their mythology as Princess Lweji and Prince Tschibinda-Ilunga.
The use of these ceremonial masks is always accompanied with music and storytelling, both of which have developed in important ways. Angolans’ literary roots in the oral tradition were overlaid during the 19th century with the writings of Portuguese-educated Portuguese-Africans in the cities.
Literature helped to focus anticolonial resistance and played an important role in the independence struggle. Angola’s most famous poet, Antonio Agostinho Neto, was the leader of an important political movement. His works centered around themes of freedom and have been translated into many languages. Post-independence literature, however, has been limited by censorship and ongoing political strife.
Many buildings in Angola record the cultural contributions of the Portuguese. Some of the earliest landmarks are churches in the far north that served as bases for missionaries to the Kongo kingdom. One fine example of many is the Church of Se in the city of Mbanza Kongo.
The later construction of many coastal forts corresponds to the area’s growing slave trade. Fort Sao Miguel in Luanda, built at the turn of the 17th century, is the most famous of these. This massive fort was for many years a self-contained town protected by thick walls encrusted with cannons. The fort served as slave depot, administrative center, and residence for the Portuguese community. The Cathedral of Luanda, completed in 1628, is another impressive monument in the capital. Virtually every coastal city has a set of historic buildings that are broadly similar. The Church of Sao Tiago in the town of Namibe, for example, was built during the 19th century in a style very reminiscent of the 16th-century churches in more northern towns.