!!! WORK WILL SET YOU APART !!!
Earlier this week, on May 1st, we celebrated International Workers’ Day. The genesis of this day has ties to socialism and communism, hence it has been a public holiday here since the Cold War era because Angola, then a single-party state, was ideologically aligned with the so-called Soviet Block straight after its independence in November 1975. Even when democracy and capitalism were adopted in the early 1990s, the 1st of May remained in the calendar of nationwide public holidays.
In Portuguese, it is called “Dia do Trabalhador”. In Luanda, within the circle of the younger generation of kizomba and semba aficionados, the term “trabalhador” (masc.) or “trabalhadora” (fem.) is also a flattering label for someone who’s working tirelessly to master his/her craft as an elite kizomba/semba dancer. It has become a synonym of one’s strive for excellence, perseverance, patience and, ultimately, gratification when the rewards are reaped.
That’s exactly what the National Kizomba/Semba Competition represents in Angola to a lot of hopeful kids, many of them from impoverished areas where tap water, electricity and basic sanitation are non-existent “luxuries”. Winning such contest is also viewed as an attainable escape route from the hardship of life in the musseques. Why not dream to be the next Bonifacio Aurio who emigrated to Lisbon and made a name for himself all over the globe after winning the same competition just a few years ago?
Portuguese colonization – which lasted almost five centuries – was so brutal in terms of stripping Angolans of their cultural identity that the adverse effects have continued to be felt several decades after independence. There are circles within Angolan society where dancing “too much” kizomba, semba, and kuduro is still perceived as habits of the people from the musseques hence “not posh enough”. Many nightlife venues in Luanda still prefer to play Western music (e.g. pop, techno, rock, etc) the whole night than to play Angolan music.
However, these kids are somehow helping to counteract that trend. They’re putting Angola in the spotlight on an international level for good reasons. For many years, Angola was only in the BBC’s, the CNN’s, and the Reuters of the world for all the wrong reasons: war, destruction, famine, diseases, and endemic corruption. Now, people want to come here to make documentaries and do in-depth academic research on what remains the country’s most underrated asset: its culture. These kids are even helping the country’s moribund tourism industry as many foreigners are starting to travel to Angola purposely to dance with them and/or to learn from them. In the process, they spend their euros and dollars in our hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, flea markets, etc.
So, perhaps, for the first time since independence, forms of cultural expression that were – and still are at times – seen as “bairristas” (a local derogatory expression to describe something that is perceived to be “too ghetto”) are finally getting the respect and attention they deserve. “Western validation” has always been and efficient enabler in Angola.
As we were leaving Cinema Atlântico (the venue where the competition is held every year) to head towards Chá de Caxinde (the restaurant where the after-party took place), two of our staff members offered a ride to some of the contestants, including runner-up Paulo Selele and his partner Eliane Monteiro in one of the SUVs. During the short trip, it was noticeable that most of them were still riding high on the adrenaline rush resulting from being on stage in front of local and international audiences (thanks to Facebook live video feature). So, we used the opportunity to talk to them about the two most important life lessons that they should learn from that night (i.e. based on how the eventual champions became…champions):
1. Just like in competitive sports, it is not how you start a game that matters. It is how you strong you finish it.
2. Sometimes, adversity can be turned into our advantage. See how Aristóteles Tukina Ary used Maura’s shoe malfunction so creatively to gain the hearts of everyone in that hall. Instead of feeling sorry for their apparent “bad luck”, he turned it into an unforgettable moment that will surely become legendary in Angolan folklore.
When we got to the after-party, Maura was already dancing with literally everyone, never saying “no” to anyone, and always with that beaming smile that makes her dancing even more captivating and magnetic. Ary was still outside the venue with his Tukina family and other folks so we caught up with him for a short interview. It became clear that he’s very humble and he emphasized his work ethic – again, this ubiquitous and powerful word…”trabalhador” – as the key to his success.
Despite being only 21 years old (Maura is 20), Ary is already full of self-confidence. An online poll made by the Kizomba Na Rua Angola Facebook page just 2 weeks before the competition finals put them in 7th place (out of 10 couples)! So, at the end of the interview, he was not shy to throw some shade to those who didn’t believe in his chances. Well, that’s the 3rd lesson we forgot to mention in the car: believe in yourself even if everybody else doubts your talent and/or your abilities.
We sincerely wish them all the best. Like one of Ary’s friend wrote on Facebook to congratulate him: “you’re not gonna walk by foot anymore, bro; now you’re famous; you’re gonna travel [overseas] – enjoy it to the max.”
Rui Djassi Moracén is the founder of the “University of Kizomba “, a non-profit educational initiative that aims mainly at promoting and preserving Angolan culture as well as the essence of its dances.