KILANDUKILU'S LIFE-AFFIRMING DANCE IN ANGOLA*
A smoky haze envelops the sprawling outskirts of the Angolan capital of Luanda as dusk turns to dark. Dust blows as piles of rubbish burn, sending plumes of thick black smoke into the air. In the distance, small children run in and out of the alleyways of this shanty-town, as others stroll the streets irreverently. Vendors sell trinkets, slippers and foodstuffs. Car horns echo as large trucks stir up the grimy streets.
In this unlikely setting, high above a rectangular concrete building overlooking the suburbs of Luanda, the crisp pulsating sounds of a single marimba, a precursor to the xylophone, are heard as two young musicians play the hypnotic rhythm. A marimba beats and pulsates quicker and quicker as almost thirty dancers suddenly appear on the concrete floor with delineated geometric movements, following slow and defined rhythmic steps. A small generator hums in the foreground, lighting the space as a fire burns in another corner of the dance floor.
The group suddenly and simultaneously breaks into sensuous gyrations of the behind as whistles and traditional drums - the tumba - begin to beat frantically. The dancers then develop into what seems like a trance-like state as they intermittently thrust their pelvis backward then forward in almost impossible, crisp, sensual motions. It is like being thrust into a poignant celebration of life so intense and immediate that it almost defies the senses.
This is the Kilandukilu Traditional Ballet troupe, practicing the Dance of the Wood Carriers, just days before the company set off to perform at an African festival in far-off Japan. Kilandukilu - which means 'enjoyment' in the indigenous Kimbundu language - is a life-affirming phenomenon in a space that is devoid of many of the basic amenities of modern life. The group's powerful chants could be heard throughout the hamlet.
The Dance of the Wood Carriers was choreographed by the company's group based in Uige, a northern province of Angola. The group suddenly breaks into a chant, sung in Kimbundu - a language little spoken today by Angolans - in a joyous celebration of the harvest of wood, which locals balance on their heads as they return daily to their clay, thatched roof houses.
Kilandukilu was founded by a group of friends in the Maculusso municipality of Luanda twenty-one years ago, bridging traditional Angolan beats with break-dance, pop and even funk. "These are works basically about our history, they are stories about daily life," says dancer Ton Da Costa Mangani or 'Ton' as he is known, who has been dancing and now choreographing with Kilandukilu for over nine years. "It could be life as a waiter, stories about the moment of creation, about prostitution, washing cars or selling trinkets in the streets."
Like many in Angola, Ton spent much of his life fleeing war and conflict. Originally born in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, he fled war only to find more of the same - and yet he was able to find refuge in dance. "I am a dancer, and I am not afraid of any kind of dance, no matter how complex," he says earnestly.
Dance and musical culture in Angola is ingrained in the country's history, and with slavery was exported to North and South America. The sensuous semba of Angola - where partners touch by thrusting their navels forward, became the samba of Brazil, as slaves of the seventeenth century transposed this part of their cultural heritage in the 'new world'. Another dance is the kizomba, which is a slow dance for partners, while kuduro is a fast beat which mixes the contemporary kizomba and techno.
Kilandukilu, closer to a traditional African aesthetic, is not restricted geographically either. The company consists of forty-five dancers in the Angolan capital of Luanda, twenty in the northern province of Uige, and a third group of twenty dancers who are based in Lisbon, Portugal. As a group, the company has performed far and wide, including in South Africa, India, Germany, Sweden, even in North Korea, and most recently at festivals in Morocco and Japan.
Here, Angola dances in a frenzy despite the country having very little to celebrate in the past few decades. Angola's independence was a hard-earned and bitter struggle. It began when the country freed itself from the colonial rule of the Portuguese in 1975 after a rebellion that lasted over a decade. The freedom gained was short-lived, however, as the country soon plunged into a bloody civil war that would last almost three decades. Following a fragile peace brokered in 2002, Angola is now re-awakening - developing cultural institutions, writing its history. And dancing.
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