A Producer’s Quest To Free 16 Detained Young Angolan Activists

Angolan-born, Lisboa-raised producer Batida is taking a stance for the immediate release of 16 detained young Angolan human rights activists

Photo © Ana Brigida/Rede Angola

On the sunny afternoon of June 20, a group of 13 young Angolan human rights activists gathered for a book club meeting at a house in Vila Alice, Luanda. The reunion, which featured books and essays converging on the subject of how to non-violently overthrow a dictatorial government, sparked a debate on the current social landscape of Angola, a country blessed with oil and diamonds yet cursed by an unbrotherly 36-year-ruling by José Eduardo dos Santos. The meeting was suddenly raided by Angola’s Criminal Investigation Services, and the activists were detained– without a warrant– on the basis of “plotting to disturb the order and safety of the country” (aka planning a coup). The activists were first led to their different homes, where their computers, cellphones and credit cards were confiscated, and soon incarcerated in different prisons. The number of detained activists, mainly artists and musicians, such as rapper Luaty Beirão aka Ikonoklasta, would soon rise to 16. As of today, they remain locked up.

That same evening, Pedro Coquenão, aka Batida, had a Skype meeting planned with one of the activists to talk about "family stuff." It obviously didn’t go through– his friend had been arrested. The 40 year-old Angolan-born, Lisboa-raised-and-based musician and creative is also an active voice and mind for an evolved and more equal Angolan society– a facet revealed by Coquenão throughout the years as a radio host in Portugal and a DIY documentary director and a musician, first as DJ Mpula and now as Batida.

Batida has been closely following the activists' situation and briskly taking a stance for their immediate release. He regularly posts updates on Facebook, co-organises demonstrations and even displays billboards with their faces onstage. His greatest weapon, though, is his music: a blend of traditional Angolan sounds with the urban electronic landscapes absorbed in Lisboa and Europe, emanating a vibrant and physically-appealing rhythmic kaleidoscope that summons the past and present of Angola’s rich culture.

In the conversation below, Batida speaks with us about Angola’s current social landscape and the transformative aspiration of his music productions.

Batida displays posters of the 16 detained Angolan activists (Photo Credit: Luís Macedo)

Ricardo Miguel Vieira for Okayafrica: What's the current situation regarding the activists detained in Angola?

Batida: It’s tense on their families and the Angolan society in general. You can’t be at ease when someone storms into your house and arrests your son or husband in an aggressive, violent manner without presenting legal arguments while you watch the whole thing unfolding. People become restless. So far the situation remains pretty much the same: a group of people is still in jail due to an alleged attempt to plot a coup-d’état during a book reading gathering. These are well-known, young, politically-independent Angolan activists and artists that have always acted publicly, never hiding their actions. They were debating “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation”, an awarded essay by Gene Sharp on non-violent meanings of overthrowing a dictatorial regime, which isn’t like a conspiracional or obscure manual. There were also a couple of other projects in discussion: creating an online television broadcast; and planning a demonstration where people would basically honk from their cars, displaying their discontentment with their onwards living standards. So the motivations for these arrests are pretty much clear for everyone except for the people that matter, which are those in charge of the country. So I don’t know when will this end, but social unrest is looming and everyone is worried about the activists’ current living conditions.

This social volatility has been very present in Angola since people took to the streets in 2011 following the Arab Spring's global sweeping wave. What are these young Angolans fighting for?

A fairer, more equal and cohesive society. They want more investment in people, better jobs, infrastructures and education. These are pretty basic things that you hear shouting in any demonstration in the world. People feel they are under the same living standards since the Colonial War. The system spreads the word that Angola is a democracy, an evolved country with a booming economy and bubbling wealthiness. But then beer is cheaper than bottled water, the country has the world’s highest infant-mortality rate due to malnutrition, and its capital, Luanda, is the world’s most expensive city. In Angola only those aligned with the system are bound to succeed in their expectations, otherwise they won’t make it. Hence, these young activists are basically voicing the feeling that they don’t stand a chance in achieving a fair and equal life in Angola. They wish to speak without fear, hydrate their voices with tap water, go to a hospital without getting sicker. It’s not a matter of political parties or ideologies– they would plainly accept any government coming forward with these objectives.

It must be challenging for the movement to attract new voices because people on the opposite side of the system may face daily troubles within their lives... 

If you do something unaligned with the collective discourse and the one staged by the regime, then you’ll only find hurdles on your way. The Angolan society has a deep fear of assuming a position or even liking or commenting things on Facebook. Only a few engage in conversation. For instance, my recent video of my show in Lisboa where I displayed posters of each of the detainees had 70,000 views on Facebook, but only a thousand likes. Many see, few comment and the majority is silent. Those assuming an independent position are often facing the court rooms or prison threats or can’t get a job. There’s a generalised fear in every sector of the Angolan society. There’s tension, uneasiness and unhappiness with many aspects of their current living.

Batida displays posters of each of the detainees at his show in Lisboa

Then how do these activists work to bring more people to the cause?

There isn’t a way of enticing people because there’s no money involved, no cute t-shirts nor free beer. What attracts is the overall sentiment, the message the group conveys and the chance to meet likeminded people in demonstrations. Basically, a feeling that you aren’t alone. There’s a very humane sense of belonging within these youngsters. That’s the bid. The group isn’t a solid organisation, people come and go, it’s open to multiple opinions and no one’s put aside.

You said you took posters of the activists' faces to your concerts to raise awareness. You've also co-organised demonstrations in Portugal in solidarity with the activists. What moves you and your art to this situation?

I’m deeply influenced by the 1960-70’s music generations from Angola and Portugal and I’m not just talking about the sounds or lyrics of that era, but the spirit of such music. Many were apolitical artists venting subversive and thought-provoking political messages. They didn’t have a political agenda; they’d just tell stories of what was happening around them. I’m drawn to that posture, to that inevitability of an artist reflecting about what surrounds him through his art. Music had a socially relevant role in the genesis of Angola’s identity and I like the artists that have the ability to transform the world around them just by being themselves. My music and my performances are a reflection of my personality and this situation is close to me, affects my friends, the country where I was born and I feel the urge of standing up and say something, do something about it. I involved myself in this fight because no one was doing it. Those taking the fight to the streets are imprisoned, so I just act to claim for attention towards them and to make a difference and for this not to be forgotten.

© Batida

Do you find your music interventive and revolutionary?

I like the art that isn’t necessarily interventional. That’s the art that transforms for being free, provocative and different. Telling about what you see is a basic exercise of freedom and it’s political as it is and I love that freedom and to be honest in what I do. I prefer movement, being less literary and more sensible. I believe in the power of dancing, in physical expressions, in the sound’s vibration and having people on the dance floor. I think that transforms better than long speeches, which follow rules in order to achieve their objectives. Although I have always worked with artists of the word such as MCK or Ikonoklasta [one of the activists currently in prison]. I collaborate with them because I find common ground in their lyrics. I like speaking through music, shows, images or films that I project in my concerts.

Which of your songs better reflect Angola's present social environment?

The best example is “Bazuka”. My first idea was to blend a percussive and rhythmic sound from the 1960-70’s with the ones I was listening back in 2007. I crossed the old and the new in a harmonious way because it made no sense to have this generational gap in the Angolan music spectrum. It was a festive sound to which I added voices from a documentary I produced with Ikonoklasta back in 2005 because I felt the need for it to have a context. It was a song that had a great impact on my fellow producers and musicians; that was itself the weapon – but it was  wasn’t in any way praising the gun. I mixed the old and new rhythms of the country with messages of Angola’s daily life so people could find a socially truthful story in it. Jumping from that track to “Alegria” and to “Pobre e Rico” clearly unveils what I try to do when producing music. Just as many elders forget the youngsters and don’t listen to them, there are also older happenings and people forgotten by both generations and there are many beautiful things made in the past that are still pretty much valid today. Thus I rescue the past through a mixture of music, dances and images and put it back into Angola’s present context and pay homage to the wholesome of the culture. Music isn’t just music; films aren’t just films; dancing isn’t just dancing. Everything’s a living experience and doesn’t have to be encapsulated in a set of rules.

What other courses of action do you have planned to expose the incarceration of the activists?

I’ll keep on doing what I’ve done since before the arrests: making music and shows and promoting Angolan artists in other countries as much as I can. I compromise myself as an artistic figure to speak about this in my shows, on social media and in interviews to the press. I’m here to come forward whenever it’s possible and to talk about this issue in front of 500 people or 20,000. It doesn’t matter: I have this compromise and I’ll stick to it.

And what can be done to help out in this situation?

First of all, sign Amnesty International’s petition for the immediate release of the activists. It’s simple and only takes 10 seconds. Then use social media to keep spreading the word and the news that you find credible, accurate and independent. From here onwards it’s in everyone’s hands to do something. I strongly believe that if a person is well-informed, then she’ll know what course of actions to take. Either personally or even artistically.

The 16 detained Angolan activists (Via Central Angola 7311)

If you could play one of your songs to José Eduardo dos Santos, which one would it be?

I would dedicate a beautiful song to him just as to anyone else. I never did a song thinking about him because I don’t hold any personal grudge against Angola’s president. I don’t have any interest in talking with him, I don’t even know him personally and he doesn’t slide his human side so I don’t know how he is. But maybe “Pobre e Rico”, because the lyrics are still up-to-date. This is not a matter of blacks and whites; it’s about rich people (‘rico’) and poor people (‘pobre’), that’s what people are talking about: there are many people with lots of money and many more with it at all. That’s the greatest wound in the Angolan society. The song also has an argument similar to the one his party stood for after the Colonial War, so it’s always good for someone to just go back in time and remember when they dreamed about projecting beautiful things for them and the others and to analyse if they did everything they could towards that dream. There are other songs that would also fit, but this one would be a good conversation starter. But I don’t feel like talking to someone who doesn’t want to talk with anybody either.

Follow Batida and Central Angola 7311 on Facebook for ongoing updates about the detained activists.

Ricardo Miguel Vieira is a freelance journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter (@ricardom_vieira).


This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

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CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!


Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

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