Why I sing in a language I barely speak
9 months ago, 18 Mar 18:00
Musician Toty Sa'Med can't say more than a few words in the Angolan language of Kimbundu but he insists on writing his songs in the language. He explains why. My great-grandmother was the last person I knew personally who spoke only Kimbundu. She died 15 years ago. It's a local language in Angola, spoken in the area surrounding the capital Luanda. That's where I was born and brought up but, even so, I can only speak a few words. I hear street hawkers in Luanda speaking Kimbundu among themselves. They come from the countryside and they are very connected to their culture. So when I buy something off a street hawker, sometimes I greet them in Kimbundu. Almost everyone can at least say hello. I even greet some of my friends in Kimbundu. But when I ask to buy something, I have to switch into Portuguese because I don't know how to say much more in Kimbundu. The seller responds in Portuguese because almost everyone who speaks Kimbundu knows how to speak Portuguese too. I don't know anyone who solely speaks Kimbundu. We still hear the language every day because we mix some of the words in with our Portuguese. Friend, for example is Kamba. But we don't know how to construct sentences because we haven't had the chance to learn it properly. When I was a teenager my headmaster decided to put Kimbundu in our timetable at school. This was unusual - it wasn't on the curriculum in Luanda but I went to a private school. As a 13-year-old I didn't realise that it was important - it was the lesson we used to chat through and disrupt. I had some prejudices about Kimbundu. We were taught by society that the language wasn't beautiful or civilised. We dismissed it because we thought it was a language for savages. When the Portuguese colonised Angola, they tried to diminish the value of Kimbundu and other local languages. Suppressing the culture made it easier to colonise us. They took away our local names and now almost everyone in Angola has Portuguese surnames. That caused us as teenagers, all those generations later, to despise the language and to find it embarrassing to speak in Kimbundu. Then things changed for me. I started travelling around the world to perform. When I saw other successful African artists, I started to value my culture more. Hear more from Toty Sa'Med and six other Angolan artists on Global Beats in Luanda. Broadcast times on the BBC World Service: Listen again on BBC iPlayer radio. I realised that I have all these foreign influences but I don't bring anything new to the scene. I played like other people and I sang like other people. I started to gain consciousness about my own culture and started to value it. I decided it was time to use my art to influence people of my generation and encourage them to learn our languages. I covered a song by a singer called ...
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