Xido spent the next year trying to raise money for his train film. There was interest, but it eventually became clear that to get enough money he would have to go back to Angola with better equipment and get better material. But he needed a way to fund the return trip. In late 2010, he messaged Wilker on Facebook, “just to make sure he was still there,” and Wilker told him that he and Sonia were organizing Angola’s first-ever national rock concert for the following summer, at the orphanage, and that Xido must come film it. Xido decided that he could sell a short film on the concert as a way to fund his return trip to Angola. Soon, though, a much richer story began to emerge.
JX: Wilker became my social-media fixer, connecting me with different bands and their blogs and Facebook pages, pointing me to their performances on YouTube. I totally researched this story through social media. I would be walking down the street in New York, arranging interviews in Huambo through Facebook. Slowly, I started to understand who the characters were, but also that there was something much larger, and more significant, than a rock concert going on here. It became clear that I needed to produce a full film on this concert.
This is the music of the generation of people growing up with the failed promises of the post-war world in Angola. During the war, people talked about how, when the war is over, we will do this, we will fix that. But so much of that promise hasn’t been realized. They see themselves as being at the beginning of a new history. Through the music and the truth it expresses, they are picking up the fragments and starting to tell a compelling new story. In this way, the music is about creating a vibrant and viable and joyful future.
There are lots of different types of music in Angola, but only a couple that engage contemporary political issues. There is a hard hip-hop-flavored house music called kuduro, which translates as “hardass.” It has a punk energy and a hard, staccato rhythm, and is very popular. There is a version that’s all bling, and another that’s political. Other than that, only the rock guys deal with what’s going on in the country. The tradition of rock in the country has been mostly classic rock. What is new, with this younger generation, is the phenomenon of hardcore metal, black metal, death metal. And its appeal is spreading. The guys who are into it have realized, through the advent of Facebook and other social media, that there are a lot of other people who are into it, too, around the country, and they have been connecting.
Many of the songs are about poverty, hunger, the endless effort to remove the landmines that menace the countryside. One band calls itself Dor Fantasma—literally “phantom pain”—in honor of the thousands of people in Huambo who have lost limbs to land mines. Huambo was one of the hardest-hit cities in the war, and so there is great symbolic importance in having this concert here. They brought people from all over the country to the heart of the war, to have this first-ever national rock concert. Wilker and Sonia wanted to give this music to the people of Huambo.
Death metal is not just at the fringe of Angolan society, the people who are into it are at a very confrontational edge within themselves. For them to walk around in their chains and their studs, in a society that is very conformist and still very much afraid, is a bold statement. This music is a way for them to deal with the trauma of the war, and also express their anger at what’s happened since. But it’s the opposite of the nihilism we associate with death metal. The concerts themselves are very life-affirming events. There is a joy they feel when they play, this tremendous release—they almost go into a trance state. All the stuff that they’ve never been able to talk about, all the residue of the war, comes pouring out.