SE: And you’ve also started a program that researches the resistance processes Angolans developed to protect their culture amidst war and colonization?
VG: The writing of our language in our societies is at the core of our civilizations and culture. It’s one of the main central pillars. In Angola, there’s a writing system called Bodimbo that is constituted by pictograms containing a tremendous amount of cultural information. A little like Chinese characters, but in this case it’s more figurative and complex. They were encapsulated into religious practice, and the Europeans associated this with the devil. So when the Angolans were brought to the Caribbean islands as slaves, to Haiti, Brazil, and Cuba (where these writing systems are preserved most intact), they used the white man’s fear of the devil to keep them away from this graphic writing system and protect the culture that held them together. Bodimbo became a container that transmitted their culture to the next generations. My Odantalan project, in Luanda, was an exchange program that brought together musicians, anthropologists, religious leaders, art historians researching these kinds of resistance processes from all possible angles and coming out with some new music we recorded on a CD and thoughts and ideas we've published through a book both titled Odantalan 02.
It’s still important to look at those processes of resistance, because they generated cultural expressions like Capoeira, Berimbao and Afro-Brazilian music, and other manifestations you find today in South America and the Caribbean. These forms of music are incredibly marked by the actual life of survival that went on in the hostile environments they emerged from. For example, Capoeira is combat performance, which involves keeping the body close to the ground because it was a way of not being spotted when people left their barracks to practice it in the fields. The Afro-Americans were really coming from a dark place in terms of the hostility they were subjected to daily, yet their ability to redevelop their culture and come up with such fantastic music, really says a lot about these minds. That’s why the religious practice on the other side of the ocean became so, so important, because it was a capsule of all the cultural elements of their lives. And the only way they thought they could bring this back to Angola was through their spirits after they died, so that’s why I’ve made the program an exchange between Angola and these countries, like Brazil, Cuba, and Columbia.