November 11th, 2012 was the 37th anniversary of Angola gaining independence from Portugal. But independence sparked off a long and bloody civil war between the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) against the the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by long-exiled doctor António Agostinho Neto. Much in the way that V.I.I. Lenin wanted to create a new society for socialist rule to flourish, so too did Neto, who petitioned the Kennedy administration for aid in throwing off the yoke of Portuguese imperialism, but was denied for having communist ties. Practically delivered into the hands of the Soviets, Neto thus made forays into Cuba with Che Guevara and the ideological world of Fidel Castro, who intervened militarily. Neto’s death in 1979 ushered in the reign of José Eduardo dos Santos, the Angolan Josef Stalin, sitting president for 33 years and running. Dos Santos has been accused of war crimes, vote rigging and crimes against humanity. With a poverty rate of 40% and unemployment sitting at near 50%, the richest oil-producing country in Africa distributes its wealth to the elite few who rule. Since 2011 open protests of his presidency have been taking place. One activist, the rapper known as Ikonoklasta, has been particularly vocal in his dissent, leading a musical revolution in Angola, and he and his family have been visibly persecuted, beaten and framed and arrested for “crimes” in an attempt to cow his popular voice. HESO managed to get in contact with the man behind Ikonoklasta, Luaty Beirão.
HESO: How did you come to be in Angola?
Luaty: I was born and raised.
HESO: You are a musician, what is your modus operandi? What is your music about?
Luaty: Well bro, it’s complicated. For starters I don’t live from my art so my approach to it is rather casual but always passionate, for I only write and rap when I feel the urge to communicate, when I feel I’ve got something to say. I’ve been doing this rap shit since I was 13, 14 years old. I’m 31 now and not a single solo album out. A career was never in my scope, I knew that I would have to compromise a huge portion of my soul in order to make the odd buck off it, so I just take it easy. My music is a reflection of who I am as a human being. I try to portray all my moods, passions, dreams, my aspirations, concerns. The common denominator is honesty and social commentary.
HESO: Can you give us some background on the current social and political situation in Angola?
Luaty: Angola is a country ravaged by the evils that men do: over 400 years of colonial rule, followed by the 14 year-long armed struggle for independence, 27 years of civil war and now, over 10 years of corruption and kleptocracy by a regime that poses as the angel that brought about peace and stability to the country. Honestly, this is no exaggeration: our 33-year long president (who just got re-elected) is officially nicknamed “the peace architect”. So you have a country held hostage by a single man who controls the “intellectual” elite by luring them into the dark side, making them beneficiary of the country’s economic unbalance, hence compromising their very livelihoods by making them dependent on an unfair distribution of wealth, where the few are loaded and the many have to struggle for the daily meal. This is what made Luanda the most expensive city in the world for two years in a row, finally losing its place to Tokyo this year. And boy let me tell you, this shit sucks because this is the only way the word Luanda can be pronounced in the same breath as Tokyo!
HESO: You are said to be a political activist in Angola, actively involved in the student protest movement. What are their goals? How did you get involved in this?
Luaty: Bro, let’s say I’m politically active. You know, there’s only so much anyone can put up with and I feel that finally the time has come for us, Angolan youth, to let loose of that cape of fear and realize that no bloodsucking politician will ever happily relinquish power without a fight. In the name of our future children we need to get on with the struggle now! That’s our goal: wake up, get rid of pussy politicians that steal from us, starting off with that crook José Eduardo dos Santos.
I think me getting involved was just a natural consequence of the way I’ve always positioned myself throughout my adult life and my music reflects just that. No one in their right minds can ever caution the deep inequalities reigning in this country and dismiss the need for action with a mere: “We are coming from a very long lasting war, it’ll take time for things to get back on track. Let’s be patient”. Yet, there are loads of people using that very speech to further postpone our future. I refuse to be one of them.
HESO: There are reports saying you spoke out against the government during one of your live performances, urging the crowd to attend an anti-government rally. Is this true? What, if anything has happened since then?
Luaty: It is true. In a normal country that would NEVER, EVER, even make it to the news. Here, it was a nationwide scandal. Why is that so? Simple answer: dictatorships don’t usually tolerate freedom of speech when this freedom is used to exalt the masses to revolt against it and especially when two other dictators had capitulated to public protests only days before. So definitely it brought about consequences. They’ve tested me by inducing my friends to fear for my life, they’ve sent my mother death threats, they’ve sent thugs to beat me out in the streets in broad daylight, they’ve cracked open my skull with a wooden bat in a demonstration earlier this year and finally they’ve clumsily tried to frame me with a 1.7kg excess load of cocaine inserted in my luggage, in June this year. That’s how much my life has changed over the last year and a half.
HESO: Is that why you were arrested at Lisbon International Airport on June 11?
Luaty: Yes, for the aforementioned cocaine “issue”. I was framed by my own government in such a pitiful way, that the Portuguese judge set me free in an unprecedented decision. It was such a disgrace for my country, showing that much hatred towards a citizen who just happens to think differently and dares to speak his mind.
HESO: What happens next?
Luaty: The cocaine case will probably be closed for lack of evidence. With me? Really, it’s their call. They have the power to dispose of me physically whenever they please and they’re welcome to try, but I won’t stop. The more pain they try to inflict me, the stronger they make me. Bring it on motherfuckers!
HESO: Does this repressive and violent reaction by the government to people speaking out drive you to create music? Is your music political or will it become so from now on?
Luaty: Not really. I haven’t been exactly on an artistically creative spree for a long time now, probably because this activism thing is very time consuming, there’s always a lot of shit to do like answering interviews (he he he). No, really, I haven’t been putting out a lot of music as of lately, also because I feel my creative span is reduced and very affected by my trials and tribulations and I fear that that would make me somewhat monotonous if you see what I mean. “I got shot 9 times…9 shots didn’t drop me, I took them and smiled” kinda shit. (I’m quoting wack ass 50 cent and 2pac in case you didn’t notice).
We’ve got a blog, a twitter account and additionally we’ve set up a website to monitor the elections and decry all irregularities witnessed by voters at their polling stations and the results, albeit the lack of preparation and amateurism from its protagonists, were absolutely staggering.
HESO: Thanks and good luck.
For anyone interested in hip-hop inspired by and for a true grassroots political movement attempting to alter the often overwhelming flow of history, the Individual against the State, the David versus Goliath story played out in high-definition surround sound, Ikonoklasta is where to begin.