Mid-week Music Moment: Angola/Africa-Cuba links

Tomorrow marks Angola’s 35th anniversary of independence – gained from Portugal on 11th November 1975. It is well known that during the Angolan independence war, and during the civil war that followed, the armies of the MPLA counted with the support of large numbers of Cuban troops in their fight first against the Portuguese, and then against the US/South Africa – backed FNLA and UNITA. This support was often crucial for the MPLA during mucho of the civil war – for example at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale (October 1987 – June 1988) in which South African forces were held by the smaller and much worse equipped Angolan/Cuban batallions.
Cuban support for independence movements in Africa was not limited to Angola – Che Guevara was in Congo in the mid-1960s, where he failed to spear-head a Marxist revolution amid the chaos that reigned in the country at the time. And Cuban soldiers and experts were deployed in numerous parts of the continent. The reasons for this were partly ideological (an attempt to support Marxist, or at least non-capitalist, regimes in the new African countries), but responded also to deeper connections linking Africa – especially West and West-Central Africa – and the Caribbean. Among these, the great number of people shipped across the Atlantic Ocean during the slave trade stands as possibly one of the most important factors. These links have continued in politics (as we have just noted), but also in cultural forms, perhaps most notable, music. An example of this is the recent Afrocubism initiative (the original idea which led to Buena Vista Social Club). This ensemble of Cuban and West African music is led by music giants Eliades Ochoa, Toumani Diabaté and Bassekou Kouyaté among others is now touring Europe, and tonight are playing in Madrid.
The influence of Cuban music on West African bands (and vice versa) goes however, back in time. Another example is the Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab, whose repertoire include Cuban styles such as Son and Pachanga. One of their songs, titled Cabral, is a homage to Amílcar Cabral the nationalist leader killed by the Portuguese the Guinea-Bissau independence war, and whose writtings remain one of the most insightful examples of post-colonial African political analysis. A beautiful song to celebrate, using the Angolan independence as an excuse, the numerous links that exist between Africa and the Caribbean, which often came from the horror of the slave trade, but have created also beautiful cultural products.

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