As a result of Angolan’s wide cultural diversity, literature and the arts have shown themselves to be particularly creative.
Angolan literature, whose origins go back to the mid-19th century, has been marked by a native press traditionally combative and satirical. It has rapidly separated itself from other similar literature in the Portuguese language and reached other countries high lightened by the publishing of the first novel by an Angolan writer, Antonio Assis Junior: 0 segredo da morta in 1935.
A little later, Castro Soromenho – although a native of Mozambique -with Terra morta and Viragem was to produce remarkable analyses of the relationship between the diverse Angolan ethnic groups and the Europeans.
The “generation of 1950” with the magazine Mensagem, brought such people as Agostinho Neto, Viriato da Cruz and Antonio Jacinto. They have continued that tradition of combat and the impact of their work has been decisive in shaping the entire generations’ consciousness of necessary resistance to colonial domination and national self-assertion.
In the following years, authors like Oscar Ribas, Luandino Vieira (Vidas Novas, Luuanda), Arnaldo Santos, Uanhenga Xitu, LaraFilho and Mario Antonio, among others, have started to re-create a language that helps express styles of living, of thought and of action that were more specifically connected to the Angolans, to encourage the diffusion and strengthening of their own identity.
After the independence of the country, the creation of the Writers’ Union of Angola boosted the publishing industry, revealing the works of the poets Arlindo Barbeitos, David Mestre and Ruy Duarte de Carvalho and the prose and fiction of writers Henrique Abranches, Manuel Rui Monteiro and Pepetela – the author (/Mayombe, who received the Camoens Prize.
These men, of great aesthetic and literary level, started to question the courses followed by the country and helped the poets build a new sensitivity. The prose writers raised a conscienceness of the nation as a whole.
The following generation, after the 80’s, appears to have nothing more to demonstrate on historical and political grounds and thus leans towards a greater freedom of creation, with themes predominantly of an intimate and love bound nature. Standing out for the richness of their images are poets Jose Luis Mendonca, Joao Maimona, Joao Melo, Paula Tavares, Lopito Feijoo, Botelho de Vasconcelos, and a few more.
The 90’s have seen the predominant comeback of the prose writers, characterising the principle present literary production in Angola. On an equal footing with Pepetela, Manuel Rui, Henrique Abranches and Arnaldo Santos, who have never ceased to publish new work, new names have been making their appearance or confirming their position, like Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Jose Sousa Jamba, Boaventura Cardoso, Fernando Fonseca Santos, Cikakata Mbalundo, Fragata deMorais, Jacinto de Lemos, Roderick Nehone, Alberto Oliveira Pinto, Jacques Arlindo dos Santos. They keep alive the tradition of Angolan literature, at the same time enriching it with the diversity of their themes and the growing quality of their writing.
Drama continues practically unexpressed as, since independence, only 23 plays by 9 authors have been published: Jose Mena Abrantes (12 titles), Pepetela, Domingos Van-Dunem and Trajano Nankhova (2 plays each), and with a single play, Henrique Guerra, Manuel dos Santos Lima, Costa Andrade, Joao Maimona and Casimiro Alfredo.
However, it is in the fields of music and plastic arts that the contrasting extremes of Angolan culture are revealed with the greatest intensity. Almost all the people and ethnic groups of Angola enjoy a very rich stock of music and dance, naturally integrated in their everyday life, an almost anonymous continuation and re-creation of ancient tradition.
The same can be said of wall painting and of popular carving and sculpture.
At the same time, particularly in the urban zones, many musicians and plasticians use their media of expression as a basis to inspire the creation of music and individualized works of art.
Their influence both at home and abroad is constantly growing. In the field of music, the pioneer work (in the50’s) of the Ngola Ritmos group of Liceu Vieira Dias and, in the plastic arts, starting in the 60’s, the production of Viteix et Antonio Ole are recalled.
More recently, worthy of registering in the musical field are the constantly creative Lourdes Van-Dunem and Elias dia Kimuezo, the consecrated “king of angolan music “,and their attachment to their roots. The memory of the suburban and provocative Luanda with Barcelo de Carvalho Bonga, the gripping voice-power and vision of solidarity of Rui Mingas, the strict rendering of ancient tones by Mario Rui Silva are ever present.
The longing and tender look Teta Lando casts back on the simpler things of life, the sense of disappointment in the new generations of Paulo Flares, and the co-existence of tradition and modernity in the music of Filipe Mukenga and Mito Gaspar are notable.
Plastic arts do not run quite so wide a gamut.
Apart from Viteix and Ok, major symbols of a modern painting rooted in tradition, only a few names have begun to set an original course, like for instance Jorge Gumbe, Francisco Van-Dunem Van, and Fernando Alvim.
In the chapter on ballet, only Ana Clara Guerra Marques with her Contemporary Dance Company has done research in a creative way for a possible coexistence of traditional and contemporary dancing. Most of the other groups limit themselves to a reproduction – to the point of exhaustion – of rhythms and choreographic movements that become monotonous and lose their meaning outside the original spaces.
The same discrepancy could be felt for many years in the performing arts, which were limited to transposing on the stage rituals and ceremonies which lost their character in the process, or reproducing the same situations with the same characters, almost always in narrow scenes from rural zones and unconnected to the lifestyle of the audiences of these shows.
Things have been gradually changing in recent times, with several groups appearing or making themselves more visible, particularly in Luanda. However, there is still no professional theatre in Angola, nor are there the conditions for it to materialize.
The only groups, all amateur which succeeded in keeping up a minimal activity and survived a span of ten years, have been the Experimental Theatre Group of the Ministry of Culture, Oasis, the Horizonte Njinga Mbande, the Makotes and Elinga-Teatro, all of them with occasional presence in festivals outside Angola.
Let us conclude with a reference to the film industry, whose production was practically non existant in the middle of the 80’s, after a relatively promising start, during which a few obstinate movie-makers recorded with enthusiasm the difficult birth of the new country.
Its greatest craftsmen have been Ruy Duarte de Carvalho and Antonio Ole, already mentioned in connection with, respectively, literature and the plastic arts.
In 2000, the government created the national award for Arts and Culture which rewards the best creators of the country. The winners of the First edition were:
Oscar Ribas (literature and social science)
Ze Keno (spectacle arts)
Viteix (fine arts)
Ruy Duarte de Carvalho (cinema and audiovisuals)
We must not forget that the carnival is, of course, considered to be one of the greatest cultural events in Angola.