“Voices in the dark…”
I am still finding treasures from my past that remind me of you.
Today I was searching through my piles of cassette tapes—the technology that preceded the CD’s of today—and found a tape I had labeled “Angola Jovens.” Listening to the music, I immediately became lost in the memories of being welcomed to your land and of hearing live some of the same traditional songs that are in the recording.
And, miracle of miracles, I checked through my Angola files and found the document that introduced that musical production and transcribed the words on the tape written and narrated by Job de Carvalho. It is called “Voices in the Dark.”
As you know, Job was also a member of the youth group that welcomed us young missionaries so many years ago. He was very actively involved in all your projects, and often was very outspoken. Many times I found him a bit overbearing.
Reading the transcript with the hindsight of all these years, I understand why he came across that way to me. He was struggling (as were most of your generation) with what it meant for the White Man to come to Africa and spread what Job called “The Gospel of Colonization.” As a young white woman from the U.S., I innocently walked into that stigma of being identified with white privilege, in your world of European white domination.
Job writes brilliantly about the history of Portuguese sailors landing on the shores of the Kingdom of Ngola five hundred years before the moment when he and two other Angolan young men arrived by plane to the U.S., took a deep breath and experienced for the first time in three months what it meant to be free.
They had left Angola after witnessing their fathers shot down by Portuguese soldiers and their brothers tortured in jail. Upon their arrival in New York, they were still sore from walking hundreds of miles through deep jungle and swimming across crocodile-infested rivers to seek refuge.
Later they were joined by others arriving from Africa and Europe, where they had sought safety from the Portuguese as the war for independence was heating up.
Job explained that “Voices in the Dark” is the message of Angola. It is the message of tragedy that struck families and friends, a message of persecution and exploitation.
Nine Angolans participated in the recording project. They were all on the threshold of further education in the U.S. to prepare for service to their people. Job planned to study journalism. Mateus Ingles was a math major. Others were going for degrees in political science, education, social work or church ministry.
The instruments used were part of the indigenous music of Angola, including a drum that stood three feet high, rattles made from an African gourd and seeds, a piece of bamboo struck with a stick and a pop bottle tapped lightly with a stick.
I don’t know if your voice was among the singers, Deolinda. I did recognize your brother Roberto’s deep, deep bass. But there was no doubt about the passion with which the singers sang about their country.
“Angola Ixi Ietu” claims your country, with its wealth of minerals, vegetation and animal life, as your own. Named after one of its most powerful kings, Ngola’s subsoil was indestructible, mysterious and inviolable, “like the top of the mountains where the eagles laid their eggs.”
“Tekela” sang about a young man asking permission from the elders to take a wife.
“Po-Po-Po Mbolo-e” is a song about a simple game played with stones, passed around to the singers sitting in a circle, the sound carrying far into the African night.
Throughout, Job poetically explains the meaning of these songs, so sacred to your culture.
In a dramatic pause between songs, alternately sung with such fervor and tenderness, the musical settings telling the stories and traditions so familiar to you all, Job inserted a telling moment about your history: “Until the white man came….”
“Lelemu” describes a new god introduced by those who arrived on their shores that Job equates as the God that you and your people in Angola had always searched for through the elements of nature: fire, wind, water, sun, moon.
“Suku Hie Usovola” is followed by Job’s assertion that “the white man soon realized that Ngola was more than just people to whom the gospel of Christ had to be conveyed. He realized that Ngola, with all her natural resources, was also suitable for other purposes…he used the Bible as a weapon to tame their reactions.” He created another kind of gospel, the message of which was eloquently administered through the whip, the club and the “palmatoria.”
“Kinjila” is about a mother who loses her son, who is taken away to forced labor.
“Tala Ki Uabange” sets the scene for Job’s lament that “men were rounded up from their villages to the coffee plantations, boys were wrenched from their girls’ arms to the mines and children were snatched from their mothers’ breasts to the roads. Their toil was free; and on the little land they were left to sow food, they were forced to grow cotton!”
For Job, the doubts continued, as he, like you, lived into the realities of those oppressive times in Angola. He questioned the white man’s gospel, but acknowledged what one of their preachers said: “The word of God is like bread; you want it or you don’t want it, but don’t say it’s no good.”
He reflected that progress is an expensive good, and that God may have been working out a plan that would enable Angolans to appreciate and love their country all the more, in terms of a land fertilized with the sweat, tears, flesh and blood that have been poured onto her.
“What does it all matter now,” he asks. “what does it matter, a man without his hut, a woman without her man, a few villages bombed, a few men deported or jailed or put to death?”
“Now, what matters,” he says, is that “tomorrow all the shadows of this dark tormented night shall shrink, humiliated and surrendered to the brightness of the new day!”
And so again I listened, Deolinda, for the message you have left, and of Job’s longings, of his voice in the dark, speaking so eloquently and passionately, perhaps even more insistently because of his death as a very young man from alcoholism.