Experimentalism and the Elevation of Creative Power: A Dialogue with António Paciência
As for me, on top of everything I had, I also had everything to never go further. A blessed curse. I laid down with anything that was emotion, I got hooked on small doses of joy. I touched love, I hugged the wind, I caught clouds that took me to the moon. I changed my embraces, I made myself high-fives, I made myself fist bumps, I made myself freedom. I gave everything I received to explore the wells of happiness of the chosen ones (mines) for free. Even truths in forms of anger I gave. I entered the school of life, I did many “please” “thank you very much” “sorry” “excuse me” tests, anything to drink a glass of fresh spiritual peace juice.
BY JALIYA THE BIRD
This conversation took place in Luanda via WhatsApp and Facebook.
Jaliya: Hi, António Paciência, thank you very much for taking the time to have this conversation with me. It is a pleasure.
In preparing this interview, I asked you for a biography in order to find out more about your path and the approach you take in describing your journey. You had some difficulty in providing me with something that defines your career so far because you’re not a fan of biographies. I think you do not even like to describe yourself. Where does this come from?
António Paciência: Thank you very much for your interest in finding something in me that is worth sharing.
As for the stance… it is a simple thing, it bothers me a lot that as a human being, I´m given attention based on “who I am” and “who I was”… I think the fact that I exist should be enough… a biography is yet another prop, just like my clothes… look at me.
Jaliya: I understand what you are saying.
I like that you said “look at me,” it makes me think of the many things I see when I look at you. One of the biggest things I appreciate in you, something I’ve fallen in love with since the first time I saw you perform live is the way you carry Angola in your voice. I grew up abroad and being abroad made me explore the concepts of culture, nationality, belonging, etc. very early on. Once, in 2014, amidst nostalgia and a longing for Angola, I wrote a poem. And the first time I heard you, I thought you were that poem, I will never forget that magic! You have angolanidade… your language, the accent, the subject matter…
António Paciência: There are some things in me, that I happen to make a point of keeping as they are, or maybe I could have tried harder to better them, but I feel like I’d be erasing a part of who I am and where I come from. I am talking precisely about my way of speaking. I was born and raised in the suburb, people there effortlessly use slang. We are constantly creating and adapting words within the Portuguese language. This matter of identity somehow easily connects me to the mangop Angolan and especially to the mbiri Angolan… and I end up using my way of speaking as an introduction to “who I am”.
As for the subject matter, I feel, and it is something that I have fought to discipline myself on, generally it is not me who chooses the topics that I address in my pieces. This work of selection belongs to my soul and to the very will of poetry. Almost every time I purpose to write about a subject, they take me to other ports. I always like the result, it always talks about us, it is very instinctive.
Jaliya: Who is the mangop Angolan and who is the mbiri Angolan?
António Paciência: The mbiri Angolan is the Angolan from Luanda. The mangop Angolan is the Angolan who has developed a new way of being and living in Angola due to the process of assimilation and globalization.
Jaliya: Still on subject matter, the fact that you start off talking about one thing and end up talking about another, I think most of your pieces have this touch, is this the reason you put together the show called “O Zungueiro Muzumbeiro” (The Big-lipped Hawker)? Is it somehow a concept that mirrors your creative process, the buzzing of ideas in your head? Is it something that speaks to the structure of your pieces, that sense of the reader being on a journey, hawking? Or is it hawking in the sense of selling poetry? After all, you’ve challenged yourself to do over 50 shows, haven’t you?! How does the name “O Zungueiro Muzumbeiro” come about, what is the essence of this thought and how many shows have you done?
António Paciência: As for the structure of my pieces, today I know them better. Usually there are several issues that lead me to a single topic, rarely, but very rarely, do I explore a single issue in a piece.
The “O Zungueiro Muzumbeiro” show arises from the need to close a cycle of my life as a poet where the focus was the farewell to some old new poems, poems that introduced me to several places and several people. The recital was designed to say goodbye to the end of that cycle and to start a new cycle. Muzumbo is a word from the Kimbundu language, translated to Portuguese, it means lips, and it is the last medium in the process that creates speech, the spoken word. Zunga (hawking) is the act of wandering through the arteries of the city or musseques, advertising a marketable product. Whoever hawks announces their product in such a way as to arouse the attention of the customer base. Thus, the name for the recital came about, as a poet, I broadcast or recite my pieces through my lips and hawk them everywhere.
Today, the show has grown and has taken on other forms. One of the greatest gains has been to draw near, in the quest for an understanding of my oral identity as an African, to the material and spiritual dimension of our orality and its role. Because of this, I stopped being the centre of the recital and have involved many more elements, broadening my field of research, today it consists of three elements: audio-visuals (samples of videos recorded in markets which capture the modus operandi of the sellers), audios (samples of conversations collected in taxis, stops, in the family environment…) visuals (a mixture of collage clippings and the written word). All this is joined with the word that manifests itself in my lips in the form of stories or poems.
So far, I’ve done 14 shows.
“During the conception of the show, experimentalism is and always will be an element to take into account, because it elevates my creative power to the unknown.”
Jaliya: According to the poster, the first edition of “O Zungueiro Muzumbeiro” was a “matchmaking between narration, spoken word, blues, Kuduro and experimentalism”. Experimentalism… I love this. It’s a feature that defined not only the first edition, but also the subsequent ones. What have you discovered about yourself in this process of expanding your creativity and your work and what challenges have you faced? Furthermore, what is your take on the public’s reaction to these experiments? An audience that is accustomed to Paciência who does spoken word within a certain format, and is then faced with a different framing. What feedback have you received from your audience?
António Paciência: On experimentalism, I end up opening a window every time I go on stage, which allows me to absorb all the new elements that take form during my performance. During the conception of the show, experimentalism is and always will be an element to take into account, because it elevates my creative power to the unknown, I like this.
It’s a very artisanal process, in which I’m usually 100% involved. I use the observation approach a lot, I usually neutralize myself a lot when I’m on the ground collecting audios or videos so I end up being invisible. For the visual part of the show, I use a lot of recycled material, clippings of used magazines and newspapers. For the oral presentations, I also go through a process of searching, of collecting histories and stories.
Another detail about the show, to bring to life the idea of hawking, I usually sell a book during the event.
I have not had much difficulty in accessing material because my lab is my environment, the people around me.
The audience has reacted positively, no show is the same, there are always new connections and new elements. One of my concerns when preparing the show is turning it into a good sensorial experience. I’ve seen people cry during the shows. I have received quite positive reports about the educational side of it, and all this mixed with the fact that it is quite engaging. There is a lot of interaction between the artist and the audience. This was a characteristic that I really wanted to recover from our oral tradition, the fact that we get together to have conversations in a relaxed way while sharing knowledge. I am never the same after a show, in fact, nobody is ever the same.
Jaliya: Congratulations for being able to provide such enjoyable experiences, this interaction and connection with the audience you mentioned is present in your sets and takes us on a journey from which we don’t return the same.
Oral tradition… this leads me to what you said about understanding your oral identity as an African and the “material and spiritual dimension of our orality and its role”. Can you expound on this? What is the role of our orality? And, in particular, what is your role in all this, what is the purpose of your art?
António Paciência: One of our greatest archives for the conservation of our collective memory is our orality, there we still find very strong traces of our identity (about who we are and our philosophies). We went through a process of slavery and colonization. In Angola, colonization strongly fought our orality, as to erase our identity and turn us into assimilados, in speaking the language of the colonisers we moved further and further away from the codes stored in the DNA of our orality, among them, our spirituality. For us, words had and have a very strong weight beyond the material dimension (agreements for commercial contracts, nuptial agreements).
In the spiritual dimension, our orality is the key to connect us to the four elements (earth, wind, water and fire), especially the earth. It is also the starting point for the development of our culture (our habits and customs, from our rituals, dogmas, to philosophies and prophecies inscribed in tales, proverbs, riddles).
In the quest for the understanding of my identity through orality, I realized and learned that the gift of words is attributed in a process of natural selection to the chosen ones, not all of us have the gift of words. This power comes with some responsibilities, which I have mentioned before. The tool can be used for both good and evil, I remember that in my adolescence I lied very naturally and was quite convincing. Today I understand myself better as a tool used to share words, so I try to be as responsible as possible with the things I say when I am on stage and beyond.
In the process of accepting my “artistic self”, the most important elements were my voice and the environment where I was born, grew up and lived in (the suburb). My voice has taught me to explore various ways of baring myself, so I am always open to experimentation. My environment leads me to never forget my essence.
I almost always discover myself anew and reinvent myself.
Jaliya: I am constantly reflecting on the gift of words, the power and responsibility of the wordsmith: it is a blessing. The process of writing has taught me a lot about discovering, reinventing myself. It is so evident that you explore yourself, I say this because you are multifaceted.
Another thing I see when I look at you is your many talents, you are a multidisciplinary artist. Besides being a poet, you are also an actor, a theatre practitioner, an events manager (these elements drink from each other and are evident in one another in the way you present what you do). When you’re not on stage to star in the event, you’re on it to adjust someone’s microphone.
António Paciência: I come from a school called theatre, there I learned a lot of things related to my little artistic discipline (I still think I´m very undisciplined and the worst thing is that I like it, it reminds me of a wild and carefree feeling). Due to the hardships of doing theatre in Angola, in theatre groups we are trained to be multifaceted (we are actors, lighting technicians, sound engineers, scenographers, masters of ceremonies, the guy collecting the tickets and sometimes even the audience of our own show). This encounter with the production world fascinated me to such an extent, that I can no longer watch a show without noticing the details of the production. It seems to be a gesture that is already almost instinctive. Because of this, a group of friends and I created our production and events management company, “Kwatas e Koolies.” As Kwatas e Koolies, and even as a spoken word artist, our activities were very much focused on the urban area of Luanda, highly due to the few spaces offered by the city of Luanda. As it has minimum technical conditions to host “art”.
In 2016 I won a spoken word championship, “Luanda Slam,” the prize gave me access to participate in an international spoken word competition in Brazil, FLUP. Participating in FLUP was an experience that had a very strong impact on me, first as an artist (for one week I lived with crazy people of my kind), second as an events manager (it was a super production), and finally, and most importantly, as an individual who was born and lives in the suburbs (the festival took place in the Cidade de Deus favela). Seeing what was happening there gave me an epiphanic orgasm. It was a matter of identity, the work towards the development of the empowerment and collective emancipation of the suburban consciousness. I returned to Angola with an agenda, suburban REPRESENTATION within the concept “we can do more.” From there, the project “Meu Gueto, Minha Bandula” was born. I remember the first activities where we donated basic goods to needy families.The ecological Christmas with the Folha Verde Movement, later Victor Barros, Harvey Madiba and Clarimundo joined the project… today the project is composed only by residents of my neighborhood. We have several partners, but our main tool for our activism is art. We bring free art to people in my community (music concerts, recitals, plays). My words have always been connected to protest, even when I am enjoying something beautiful, I am also contesting it.
As I said above, my performances were very much in the urban area of Luanda, I felt the need to create a space that could give and bring the voices of artists like me and others to my community, thus, the “Kassemba Terra Preta Project” was born. The project is yet another one of several investments that I have already made towards my community. Here I use the word “investment” because I believe in the idea that our empowerment, besides being intellectual and spiritual, also needs to be economic, and although not apparent, the suburbs generate a lot of income because we represent the majority from a consumption standpoint.
Jaliya: Congratulations on all your work with Kwatas e Koolies, Meu Gueto Minha Bandula, Kassemba Terra Preta and others. I’ve had the pleasure of attending events created through these projects and I have deep respect for the concepts. It was at Kassemba Terra Preta where I premiered my spoken word video Idle Worship…
Unfortunately, we are coming towards the end of our conversation but before we wind-up this interaction I want to touch on one last aspect, one more thing I see when I look at you: the sense of community. You’re always at the events, you promote other people’s work, you critique, socialize with people, support and encourage, you’re accessible and open, all are brothers and sisters to you, you’re present, engaged, watchful. You frequently use the phrase “everything belongs to us.” This reminds me of the concept of ubuntu, I am because we are. I think of myself as a product of those who came before me and the result of the collective force present today. I believe that we find our own way within a path many have walked. You also use the phrases “check out my generation coming through” and “my generation” to celebrate the achievements of your peers. What is your generation? What makes you so proud of your generation?
António Paciência: When I speak of my generation it’s not exactly from a perspective of pride, this is another phase. We are still at the stage of our affirmation, one day our country was for the youth and that’s how we got our independence. Then we moved to a country for old men only, and then for elders, elderly-old men and elderly-young people. In a not so distant past is where we began asserting ourselves again. I celebrate this whenever I can.
There is much to be gained from the idea of transforming our art into a means of subsistence and a lifebelt, first in the quest for who we are, and because we are Africans, survival is and always will be collective, so the idea is to materialize this spirit, and in the end we all win. When I go forward, many advance with me, when I am tired, others will go on, this is the mission. I, alone cannot for example, take poetry every day to all Angolans and to the world, we must ensure that when I am resting, the magic does not stop, hence I say “EVERYTHING BELONGS TO US”.
Congratulations on your video and the strength of your words.
Jaliya: Thank you for appreciating my work.
What you just said reminds me of a phrase from Maya Angelou “I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand.” It’s a pleasure to be part of this generation of young people who assert themselves and conquer their place in life, in this country, not only in the arts, but everywhere.
Thank you once again for making time for this conversation. I wish you success, that you may continue your journey of growth, discoveries and innovations while blessing audiences with the sweetness of your craft.
António Paciência: Thank you very much, I enjoyed being interviewed, it was fun and it was also very good to engage in this introspection.
Jaliya The Bird is a writer, poet, performer from Angola. Her work explores Womanhood, Blackness, Pan-Africanism within the concept of [Inter]Sessions: UnSpoken Words. [Inter]Sessions is provoking, celebrating, releasing emotion and thought through storytelling, writing, poetry, and performance art. The artist is passionate about freedom and authenticity, living life from the core of who we are as we respond to the causes that move us. Her spoken word film Idle Worship directed by Ariel Casimiro via Usovoli Cinema won best spoken word film at the Realtime International Film Festival 2020 Edition. @Jaliyathebird on social media.