Rapper MCK in the Banana Republic

Eight years ago, a brutal murder committed by members of President José Eduardo dos Santos’ praetorian guard served to bring an Angolan rapper known as MCK into the political limelight at the young age of 22.

On November 26, 2003, soldiers from the Presidential Guard Unit (UGP) tied up and dragged a man called Arsénio Sebastião “Cherokee”, into the sea at Mussulo quay in Luanda. They drowned him, ignoring the pleas for mercy from the crowd gathered at the scene.

What crime could Cherokee possibly have committed to deserve such a public, summary execution?

The soldiers heard Cherokee humming “A Téknika, as Kausas e as Konsequências” (Techniques, Causes and Consequences), by MCK, which was a scathing criticism of the Dos Santos government. The guards killed Cherokee on the spot as a lesson to everyone.

MCK’s album was an improvised, underground production, distributed by street vendors. Minivan drivers, who transport the public around this city of endless traffic jams, increased people’s curiosity about the album by playing it regularly, as a means of developing passengers’ social conscience through the rapper’s music. It was also in Luanda, where most people have no formal employment and devote a lot of time to complaining about the misery of their lives, that MCK took the lead in criticizing the outrageous abuse of power as the root cause of ill-feeling in society.  The rapper also rhymed about the corrupt attitude of the people themselves, in that they chose to fawn over the same political leaders who subjected them to oppression, poverty and lack of education, in exchange for the dream of an easy life. This is still the nightmare of Angolan society.

Eight years later, “Proibido Ouvir Isto” (Listening prohibited), is MCK’s latest album, with 15 tracks. It is a more stylised, mature work, with finer polished lyrics, but with the same spirit of social revolt. Well qualified in the struggle for social survival, MCK discusses, through the raps, three basic elements of actual reality: the corrosion of moral values in the obsessive quest for money; the abuse of power and trust, and the lack of a common vision for the future of the country.

In a duet with Paulo Flores, MCK puts his own spin on a new version of Nzala (Hunger) by Elias dya Kimuezo, combining acoustics, violin and rap, in an ode to the hungry child. It is a message of love, an appeal for solidarity with the children of this vast land of Angola, children who need food just as they need love and affection.

With Bruno M, MCK revisits the drama of the youth in the slums, for whom crime appears to be one of the few options for getting on in life. It is a journey through transformations in ideology and the Angolan political economy, the justice and prison systems, which discriminate against and dehumanise those excluded from society. It is also a condemnation of the manipulation of reality in “Deleted biographies/ bribed journalists/ and beware those who dare to confront the political mercenaries/ but woe betide me if I don’t make it my mission to criticize this political mess/ (…) the majority is sacrificed at the whim of the minority (…).

On the track “O País do Pai Banana” (The Banana Republic’s Leader), MCK attacks those who have an “eternal” hold on power, but who have lost the touch with reality: “I also want peace on my plate, dignity and peace on my plate./ They rather shoot me than starve me, brothers./ The disparity is enormous, we are caught in this trap condemned to be slaves of three families./ Everything is theirs, from Talatona to the Ilha, the diamonds are theirs, the oil is theirs, the property is theirs/ (…) we only have Zango and Panguila./ The boss is the coloniser, in the Banana Republic”.

In this way, MCK directs his rhymes against the predation and pillage of the country’s resources, which define the methods of government by the ruling families and their nouveau riche lifestyles.

He rebels against the rulers’ expressions of a neo-colonial mentality and their disdain for the suffering of the people. Such attitudes, in the end, will be the tragic legacy of three decades under the rule of our “Big Banana Ruler”. The singer delivers his verdict: “We only have one option/ We either put an end to corruption/ Or corruption puts an end to us/ In the Banana Republic.”

In reggae style, “A Bala Dói”, “Bullets Hurt”, Ikonoklasta (also known as Brigadeiro Mata Frakus, or simply Luaty Beirão) and MCK produce the best track on the album, in the author’s opinion, featuring the most corrosive lyrics. Luaty Beirão has been at the forefront of recent street protests against the José Eduardo dos Santos regime, and has also been one of the principal victims of its brutality. He is a prime example of the conscience of an upper class youth who is prepared to abandon his comfort zone and join his less favoured companions. He is part of the brotherhood that share a common ideology for a better and fairer Angola. Luaty’s father, João Beirão, was one of the president’s closest collaborators in the 1990s and beyond, when he served as director-general of the then powerful Fundação Eduardo dos Santos (FESA).

“They always promise to feed us/ But they only beat us/ Our stomachs are screaming/ But they slobber and spit bullets and bullets hurt/ bullets hurt, bullets hurt [refrain] (…) Words are a minefield/ Hope has been mutilated (…). Young people with a good sense of humour quote from and dismantle the famous presidential speech where he takes absolutely no responsibility for the growing poverty in Angola because, according to José Eduardo dos Santos [ a-la-Bart Simpson] “It was like that when I got here”.  MCK says “What goes around, comes around”. They are afraid of Luaty.
In “Life in Reverse”, MCK talks about the paradoxes of Angolan politics and the despair of many who believe that only divine intervention can “excommunicate” the false saint and his coterie of wrong-doers from the national psyche and give back freedom to the people. “Rain has more substance and grip than the opposition/ It exposes the fraud in millionaire projects (…)/ Jesus Christ, please, come back/ Your people are crying (…)/

With this recording, MCK regains prime position as one of the artists spearheading the youth movement to change mentalities and to craft a new social conscience in Angola.