Tapping into musical heritage to create a livelihood for rural Angola

February 2004 -

The function of music as a message vehicle is ancient in Africa. Tsikaya, a cultural project taking place in Angola, draws on this notion by recording the musical works of composers living in rural areas. It aims to preserve and strengthen traditional music by creating a digital archive with music, images and data about the composers, and to stimulate local music production as a sustainable livelihood.


Women percussionists at Hanha do Norte in the province of Benguela, Angola

Angolan composer Victor Gama initiated the Tsikaya project in 1997 while on a field trip to the southeastern province of Cuando-Cubango in Angola. 'I wanted to have an idea of what was being produced musically in that remote part of the country under the armed conflict', he explains. 'The musicians who participated then, took the opportunity of an open microphone and a tape recorder to send out messages to other parts of Angola, as this was the only means at that moment to do so.' One of the songs recorded, for instance, is called Mensagem a Luanda, (Message to Luanda). The singer expresses his worries about the situation and problems afflicting his village, and asks for assistance from the capital.

In the following year, Victor Gama criss-crossed northern Namibia, from Rundu to Rwakana, and recorded many Angolan refugee artists, choir groups, children songs and the sound of open air markets. In 2003, Tsikaya, which is named after a traditional instrument from Cuando-Cubango, gained a more structured base with financial support from the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NiZA) and a partnership between Gama's own cultural association PangeiArt and the Angolan NGO's Bismas and ADRA.

A production team was set up, and working groups in four remote villages in the coastal province of Benguela were created, consisting of local community co-ordinators, musicians, and traditional authorities. 'We worked for one month with the working groups in the communities of Luongo, Hanha do Norte, Cubal and Dombe Grande', says Victor Gama. 'We recorded, interviewed and photographed the composers with a laptop running ProTools, a music production software that allowed us to master the music on the spot.'

The production team created a digital archive that has its home at Bismas' office in Benguela. A first sample CD with a compilation of songs was edited and the team plans to produce a new edition that can be sold and generate an income for the composers. 'The cultural heritage of communities and their creative potential are the immediate capital that can be converted into assets to improve living standards and cultural enrichment', Victor Gama says. Other intended sources of income for the communities are instruments and handcrafts building and sales, workshops, exchanges and performances by master musicians.