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Written in fRoots issue 321, 2010

Tsikaya – Músicos Do Interior

PangeiArt PAN 105 CD (2009)

I’ll get to the CD in a bit, but first I really recommend having a look at the website www.tsikaya.org.
     It’s a shining beacon in the use of the net to get ethnomusicological material out there and making a difference, rather than being the little-read and unheard stuff of wordy theses, seminars and library shelves. On a Google Earth view of Angola markers are scattered across the back-country; a click on any of them brings up audio, still photos and usually also short video clips of musicians found by the Tsikaya project.
     Named after Angola’s shuffling, raft-like flat rattle, the project is a quest begun in 1997 by teams of researchers, directed by Victor Gama (the Angolan-Portuguese designer and player of sculptural instruments featured in fR 249), to find, record and bring to contact with the outside world musics and musicians scattered across this country that, following armed conflict with Portugal from 1961 until its independence in 1975, was devastated by nearly three decades of appalling civil war that lasted until 2002.
     Described as “a compilation of some of the most representative artists and groups working today in the provinces of Benguela, Huíla, Cunene and Cuando-Cubango”, the CD is intended as the first in a series. It opens with David Ndumbo, whose photo is on the pack front, singing self-accompanied on tsikaya what sounds like a hymn, and probably is; the website’s performer write-ups tell that Davide has been a member of an evangelical church group.
     The CD booklet itself has, surprisingly and frustratingly, no notes, and the track titles are just the name of the performers; one has to go to the website for more information, and it doesn’t give details of the album tracks per se either. By checking each performer back with the musician list on website, it is possible to figure out who’s doing what and where they’re from, but it’s laborious and only possible if a computer is to hand while listening.
     The young duo Ovana (as the website spells it; the CD has it as Ovaina) accompany their singing, in the Kwanhama language, on guitar and home-made instruments including a guitar made partly from metal from a military tank; the result is strikingly reminiscent of Malagasy kabosy music. Avelino Chico accompanies himself on grunting puíta (friction drum) on his CD track. On the website’s audio files he also plays coroa (mouth-bow), as does Beio Primeiro, who might or might not be the same person named as Beio Mukuanda on the CD.
     Rodrigo Sekulo sings of the hardships of the conflict, accompanying himself on an unusual instrument used by several musicians here, the bow-harp tchisumba, which consists of five strings each stretched by its own bow, the five bows protruding from a single soundbox. There’s female singing and clapping from a village group from Serra das Neves not listed on the website, and singing, clapping and drumming from another group from a village in the Humpata region that sounded to an ethnomusicologist friend of mine very similar to the music he’s working with in Angola’s southern neighbour Namibia.
     The lack of information on the CD and the absence of proper links to the CD tracks on the website are notable omissions, but the latter at least can be easily rectified at a site update and one hopes the former will be on subsequent releases. Finding and recording this varied and interesting music is a great work, and the use of the web to connect its scattered makers with the world is trail-blazing.

© 2009 Andrew Cronshaw

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