It’s 1943 and Benguela is thriving. As the famous railway heads inland, the town readies itself for a make-over: there is a modern development plan afoot. Progress is the watchword. In one of its streets, an important event is about to occur: Dona Ludovina (a singer of some style, they say), the wife of Sebastião José da Costa, an employee at the Post Office and a former journalist, is about to give birth to a child she will call Carlos Lamartine. Benguela waits, with open arms, to welcome a great son, one who will be a major figure in Angolan music and the author of timeless melodies.
Carlos Lamartine spends his first ten years between the casuarina trees of the beach, the banana trees in Cavaco and the purple acacias that adorn the town. The sounds he hears are those of a traditional Carnival, an important festival in Benguela, galvanized by two members of his family: his uncle José Silvério Ferreira (known as Velhinho), who was also the founder of the group “Doze Pares”, which livened up the Luanda carnival in the 20s, and his older brother, the well-known journalist and member of the Carnival group “Cidrália”. He was known as “Cu de Palha” or “Kuxoeta” (a nickname given during the Carnival revelries).
In 1953 he moves to Luanda with his family. They settle in the Bairro Indígena. There, he lives check by jowl with the group Morimba Show and with Quim Jorge (a musician later to become famous as a composer). In the year when he got to the capital of what was then an overseas province, he became a founder member of the band “Rapazes de Brazil” with his friend Quim and Victor da Popa Russa, “a very fine harmonica player.” Their basic instruments were the dikanza and the ngoma (types of drum), and rattles. There were nine of them, among them one who stands out, Sebastião José da Costa Neto, a son of Teófilo José da Costa, better known as “Mbabaxi” (according to Roldão Ferreira, he was the author of the well known piece “Milhorró”).
At the start, Brazilian samba music was the main rhythm, but the influence of Ngola Ritmos put the group firmly on the path of music with Angolan roots. This meant that they had to go to older people who explained both the meaning underlying the sounds and the lyrics themselves in local languages. Carlos Lamartine recalls: “At the time we read books by Oscar Ribas but in order to interpret the songs in local languages, we went to see the old folks. For example, when I sang “Kinjangu”, my mother corrected my pronunciation.”
Lamartine’s mother, in fact, was also a decisive influence on his music. He still recalls her voice singing the refrain “Mwadi nga Viti/ kwadilonga ku kavalu/ kutula ku makoko/ wolotekul’o jimosa (the great lord Vita/rode on his horse/he reached the cocoanut trees/and off he went to seduce the young girls).
Three years after the founding of “Rapazes do Brazil”, in 1956, while he was studying at the Liceu Salvador Correia, Lamartine became the drummer in Sousa Júnior’s band. At the same time he helped put together a band in his neighbourhood, focusing on traditional music. It was called “Kisweya”. Other “kids” of his age in the band were Barceló de Carvalho (Bonga), who played the ngayeta (harmonica), Carlos David André, Tizinho, João, Nando Kajibota and some girls who danced. They collected music composed by unknown local figures of the time, but they also started to create their own repertoire.
A year later, these same youngsters disbanded “Kisweya” and created “Mulogis do Ritmo” (Enchanters of Rhythm). In fact, the change was just a way to pull the wool over their parents’ eyes: “the old folks didn’t want us to do nothing but play music, so the bands we formed didn’t last long. But we formed another one as soon as we could – and it was exactly the same as the one before.” Lamartine stopped playing with “Mulogis do Ritmo” for some time but then he returned with musicians from Kwanza Sul, among them the guitarist Carlos Pimentel.
In the early 60s, the musician from Benguela formed “Makoko Ritmos” with Antas, a former Ferrovia player. Around that time, in 1964 “Luis Montes, who produced popular local shows every week, was going round the districts on a Saturday with his kutonoka (games), bringing in the crowds, “as Zeka Sairava, the late radiocaster recalls, “This programme,” as Dionísio Rocha goes on to say, “was a chance for Lamartine, Elias dya Kimwezu, Mulato, Tonito and others to make a name for themselves.
But even though his name spread, Carlos Lamartine was again out of the music scene from some time. He was to return some years later as part of the band “Águias Reais”. “In terms of artistic production,” he recalls, “I gave a qualitative jump in 1970, after doing military service with the colonial military, because I chose to play Angolan music which had African roots. I became a composer and performer and that’s when the fame started to come.”
The recording phase began at this time. Between 1970 and 1974 he cut a series of records in the renowned company CDA (Companhia de Discoa de Angola), using studios set up by Sebastião Coelho and João Canedo. Among these albums, the LP “Angola – Ano Zero” stands out. On this there are ten previously unpublished songs that marked a generation, among them the classic Pala Kunwaseba o muxima (To please you). The band called “Merengues” worked on this as well and a special touch was given by the solo guitar of Zé Kenu, the rhythm guitar of Zeka “Tirelene”, with Carlitos on bass, Joãozinho on drums and Nandu on trumpet. “For technical reasons only a few records were made and the first one hundred were numbered and identified with a special stamp.” This fact, as Sebastião Coelho notes in his book “Angola, História e Estórias da Informação” (Angola, A History and Stories from the World of Information), transformed this into a real relic among discs.
After this intense production period, Lamartine goes into silent mode. He comes back later, in 1997, with the splendid record “Memórias” recorded in Portugal and produced by RMS. On this record, he paid homage to all those who had played a part in his artistic development. And in the meantime he is studying, and does a course in History at the Instituto Superior de Ciências de Education (Higher Institute of Educational Science).
His voice was heard again some time later in the work “Histórias da Casa Velha” (Stories from the Old House), a collection of old works of his. In 2000 he was back in the studios recording “Cidrália”. This was released a year later and is remembered especially for the melody “Caravana para Delfina”.
In 2005 came his fourth record “Frutas do Chão são Coisas Nossas” (Fruit from the ground belongs to us) a “tribute to the life style of the Angolan people and a special focus on the country’s traditions and culture” as he expressed himself at the time. The music includes samba, rumba, lamento and cisose. Most recently, in 2007, he released “Caminhos Longos” (Long Paths), a 10-track album with guest appearances by Caló Pascoal, João Alexandre, Quintino, Habana Maior, Miqueias, Mias, Yéye, Neto and Estevão Bento.
Lamartine now lives in Brasilia, where he is cultural attaché in the Angolan Embassy, and he has promised that his 6th record is on the way.
photos by Carlos Lamartine archive
in AUSTRAL nº 68, article gently given by TAAG Magazine- Angola Airlines