Daniel Metcalfe

WITH his thin-rimmed spectacles and philosophy degree, MCK belies the image of a streetwise rapper, but his latest album bears a message that is authentically tough. Released in January, “Proibido Ouvir Isto” (Forbidden to Hear This), assails a host of national ills, from the corruption of Angola’s elite to the squalor of its fetid musseques (slums).

Flush from oil exports that now generate more than $45 billion a year, the government is used to silencing critics with cash.“Four years ago they offered me $500,000 to stop rapping,” MCK confesses with a smile, sitting in a sports hall in Angola’s capital, Luanda. “Now they know it won’t work.”

MCK, who doesn’t disclose his real name, gained fame in 2003 after presidential guards in Luanda murdered a 27-year-old car-washer whom they caught singing his anti-government lyrics. His music has become a staple in the candongueiros (shared taxis) that criss-cross the vast country. MCK (pronounced MC Kappa) has himself faced death threats, and decides to leave the sports hall when a police informer sniffs around nearby. But like fellow Angolan rappers Ikonoklasta, Nástio Mosquito and Carbono Casimiro, he continues to speak his mind.

His most coruscating new track, “O País do Pai banana” (the Banana Republic’s Leader) accuses the patrão, or boss, President José Eduardo Dos Santos, of treating his country like a colonial fief. Another object of ire is Portugal, the former colonial master that has lately flooded Angola with some 130,000 workers. “They come here to make their fortunes,” complains MCK, who is himself from Catambor, one of Luanda’s most violent musseques, “but they never question the origin of the money.”

Political protest had been rare since Angola emerged in 2002 from three traumatic decades of civil war, and began slowly to rebuild itself. But MCK is pleased that fewer Angolans now accept the conflict as an excuse for the lack of jobs and services. He and fellow artists are central to a slender but persistent protest movement that is making the government tetchy in the run-up to parliamentary elections due later this year.

Mr Dos Santos’s regime does not like surprises. The constitution it enacted in 2010 means that Angola’s next president will be chosen not by popular vote, but by the ruling party, which since independence in 1975 has been the MPLA (or Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola). One of Angola’s last two independent newspapers, Folha 8, was recently raided for lampooning the president. Other media outlets have long since been bought off.

Nobody expects an effective challenge from the host of brave but impotent opposition parties. Yet despite being banned on government radio, the lyrics of MCK and other rappers sound a constant subversive drumbeat:

The boss is the coloniser

in the Banana Republic…

We either put an end to corruption

or corruption puts an end to us.

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