78 year old Carlos Lamartine holds a degree in pedagogy with a specialisation in history. He is a great expert of the origins of Música Popular Angolana as well as of one its most important representatives. He talked to us about the most influential families of this musical movement in the province of Luanda.
By Raimundo Salvador and Arno Holl
Musician José Carlos Lamartine Salvador dos Santos Costa was born in 1943 in a musseque (slum) in the city of Benguela, in a clay house under a big tree. Together with relatives from his own and subsequent generations he shaped the history of Angolan music in a far-reaching way.
He describes his mother as an extremely kind, yet unruly woman: "She was quarrelsome when she thought she was right, and always disagreed. She used to like her beer, which made her really rebellious."
Carlos's father was a postal clerk and, therefore, got around a lot. He had given up the seminary to embark on a much more secular path: wherever his work took him, he sought company and fathered children who then moved in with his official wife in Luanda. He had five children with Carlos's mother.
In 1953, his father was transferred to Luanda. When he moved, he took Carlos and his two sisters with him. They travelled the distance by a boat named “Colonial” that later on would be immortalised in a song by the group N’gola Ritmos. In Luanda, they moved to the so-called Bairro Indígena, a new neighbourhood for poor black workers and civil servants who had been driven out of the city centre. The living conditions were simple and little Carlos from friendly small-town Benguela was struck by the dimension of the big capital. The neighbourhood was very lively and full of interesting people: "At that time I would run into famous people in the Bairro Indígena, like Lopo do Nascimento, Aristides Van-Dúnem, Professor Mangueira, Gabriel Leitão, D. Madalena, among other influential personalities of the time. Those people bestowed morals, ethics and defense spirit on the neighbourhood."
There, he also met many very creative young people. Some of them would later become influential figures, like Tizinho Miranda, Círios Cordeio da Matta, Fernando da Piedade, or Tonito, brother of the current Angolan minister of culture Jomo Fortunato. Their favourite pastime was playing soccer and traditional music. Some emulated new role models, like Mozambican soccer star Matateu.
Carlos had some difficulties at school. After experiencing violence in a Catholic school, he attended the Liga Africana, and then the Liceu Salvador Correia, where the future presidents of Angola, Agostinho Neto and José Eduardo dos Santos, as well as the future hero of the liberation war, José Mendes de Carvalho “Hoji Ya Henda”, also went to school. But there were also students in Carlos's year who were to go down in the country's history.
The young people lived more for soccer than for studying. When the black students returned with dirty shoes from the soccer field, they were not allowed to enter the classroom. Another problem was the rampant racism: the group around Carlos was among the few black pupils at the predominantly white school. Almost all of them had to repeat second grade. In the end, Carlos was expelled from school for blasphemy: he simply could not understand how a virgin could give birth to an infant.
At this time, he had already been exposed to anti-colonial ideas, although otherwise he was more the jester of his group. He now studied at the Colégio das Beiras, where he took the teachings more seriously. He became friends with the future leaders of the independence movement, like Nito Alves who would be Angola's first Minister of Administration of the Interior after independence.
At the same time he developed his passion for music. His nephew Babaxi (Sebastião José da Costa Neto) - thirty years his senior - was an avid drummer and involved in carnival associations. This nephew became a great role model for his young uncle: "I am very fond of my nephew, simply because he was such a social person, a born singer and player, and an amazing composer. He steered me in this direction without any force, just by playing soccer himself and drumming and dancing."
After moving to the neighbourhood of Marçal, popular Carlos founded his own troupe, “Os Kissweyas”. They kicked, danced and played their favourite songs mimicking characters from Luanda Carnival as well as Brazilian stars. Their stage was the wide, barely frequented streets of the neighbourhood. They also imitated different sports they saw in the fancy neighbourhoods of the city centre and then introduced them in the outskirts. And they were not stopped either by the fact that Carlos's father, who regarded them as thugs, dragged them to the dreaded police station for a good hiding.
The troupe - which also included future star musician Bonga - quickly gained fame. At a festival for African music in Luanda’s downtown, the troupe including Carlos Lamartine, Bonga, Amaral Morgado, Tizinho David André and others, won third prize in a competition with other up-coming bands. "The youth gangs were, in some way, the embryo of the so-called modern Angolan music, especially here in Luanda. From them emerged the different bands and artists."
With fame also the tensions within the group increased. Bonga and Zé Moranha leaving the troupe meant the end and Carlos started a career as a solo singer. His repertoire comprised all the Brazilian songs he loved so much and adapted to the Angolan style. It was difficult times as "back then there was a lot of pressure from the police and musicians were considered thugs. Oppression was great."
He stresses that music - especially that of the band N'Gola Ritmos - played a role in mobilising the Angolan population for the struggle against the Portuguese colonial regime. This further intensified the persecution of the musicians: "Imprisonment and transfer to other regions were the usual practice of the Portuguese. At one stage, N'Gola Ritmos ceased to exist as too many of its members were imprisoned by the Portuguese special police force, PIDE-DGS. Ngongo, Kimbandas do Ritmo and my own band (Makoko Ritmo) experienced the same."
The War of Independence led many musicians to join the military, but not Carlos. Until 1967, he had succeeded in avoiding the Portuguese military service. Right after the Carnation Revolution on 25th of April in 1974, Carlos Lamartine, now within the lines of the liberation movement MPLA, established himself as the valued artist in his corps. He also co-wrote the Angolan National Anthem “Angola Avante” and conducted the anthem during the declaration of independence, on 11th of November in 1975. In 1987, Carlos left the party’s responsibilities behind and entered the State Secretary of Culture. In 1995, he was appointed National Director of Cultural Action, and in 2007 he was named cultural attaché at the Angolan embassy in Brazil, where he stayed for eight years. He stayed in Portugal, though, in 1996, for the release of his first CD.
Carlos emphasises that in Angola, and especially in Luanda, all important musicians originate from the same family and are either related or have been friends since their youth. Families like the Van-Dúnem, Vieira Dias, Fançony, Mingas, the Fontes de Pereira, Costa, Cordeiro da Matta, Assis, among others, were and still are big names in the music scene and many members of these families are married to each other.
"I come from the family Cordeiro da Matta, Soares da Silva, Vaz Contreiras, Santo Costa, Piedade, they’re my father's relatives. The Cordeio de Mata are related to the Dias dos Santos, and the Dias dos Santos to the Soares da Silva, who in turn are related to the Carvalhos, the Piedades, the Freitas and the Amaral Gourgels. This tight-knit community emerged from those family connections between the neighbourhoods of Marçal, Rangel, Bairro Indígena, Bairro Operário and Sambizanga. Later on they got dispersed over the newer parts of Luanda."
Several of Carlos's brothers became musicians too, like Teófilo José da Costa, Vate Costa and Gregório Mulato. "My father's constant procreation produced many artists. Almost all of my sisters and all of my brothers used to dance in the carnival troupes." And music lives on in his family. One of Carlos's sons lives as a rapper in South Africa and almost all of his children are dancers. However, Carlos no longer observes the same passion in his children's generation as he did in his time, "because nowadays education opens up completely different opportunities for them, so they do not pursue music with the same passion.”