The award-winning Angolan Kizomba musician Yola Moutofa Coimbra Semedo aka Yola Semedo, electrified the recently held Johnnie Walker Jazz and Soul Safari festival with her sensuous kizomba rhythms and dance.
Performing as the headline act at the Lugogo Cricket Oval in Kampala on September 2, Semedo who was accompanied by the Impactus 4 band is considered one of the finest exponents of the Angolan genres of kizomba, semba and zouk.
Kizomba, meaning “party” in the Kimbundu language of Angola, caught the imagination of music and dance lovers around the world recently, becoming the music and dance of choice for professional choreographers, dancers and fitness instructors.
The dance is performed by two people — a man and a woman — holding each other closely face to face but loosely enough to move fluidly against each other. Semedo describes it as: “A very sensuous dance, very private in a way but warm and highly danceable too.”
The Angolan star started her musical career in 1984 as the lead singer for the Impactus 4 band, composed of her siblings, founded in 1982 in Lobito, Angola, by their father Orlando Mendes Semedo, a music teacher. Their mother, Maria de Fátima Coimbra, was also a musician.
After her parent’s divorce, Semedo and her siblings followed their mother to Namibia, where they continued with their art.
“We were lucky to have been received by the Namibian people, whose culture allowed us to become better musicians, and gave us and our music a chance to prosper,” Semedo said in an interview with The EastAfrican.
She said the message in her music is influenced by everyday life experiences. “I base them on things that have to do with life. I inspire myself with everything that surrounds me, especially human nature and love, which is the most important thing.”
Semedo is outspoken on many issues affecting society and women in particular and she sees herself as a professional first, then a woman.
Music and society
She said the Angolan society is very accommodating and she has not faced animosity or resistance from men or people who think female musicians are “loose women.”
“Not in Angola, where I come from. I am very lucky to live in a society that accepts the power of women, and this is growing every day. Women are given a chance to give their best to make our society better and are playing very important roles in society,” she said.
She takes being a musician as a social responsibility.
“I think just like men, women too can take the role of musicians as teachers of society. We inform people. So, it is very important that we are careful as we try to inform people in what we put in our music and what we really want to sing about. And I hope our music has the quality necessary to pass the ‘good vibe’ test.”
Her advise to young female musicians is that they should resist the notion that music is a preserve of men and that it can replace formal education.
“It is very important to know this. I belong to a band of brothers and sisters and apart from music, our father, who was our teacher, always made sure that we understood that without good marks and schooling there is no good music.”
“You have to get a formal education because technology now determines the way the world runs. If you are not prepared to keep up with what is happening in the world, you will be left behind,” she added.
Life, family and politics
Semedo has been married to her manager Carlos Dias for 20 years and they have two children.
“We are professionals and at the end of the day, no matter how the day was, we have to go back home and be a mother and father to our children.”
Since he has been with me ever since I went solo, I am privileged to have someone who supports me one hundred per cent. He is my best friend and always there to give me the best advice possible.”
Semedo says that Carlos Dias, who is also her music manager supports her music career: “He is my manager and he has been with me ever since I went solo. So I am very privileged to have someone who supports me one hundred per cent. Someone who is my best friend and is always there to give me the best advice possible.”
Unlike other musicians, Semedo is not afraid to comment on Angolan politics.
On the recent retirement of Angola’s long-serving president Jose Edwardo dos Santos and transition to a new regime led by the former defence minister João Lourenço. Lourenço, she said: “I wish him all the best. I know it is not going to be an easy job because right now the country is in a mess. But we are united and support him one hundred per cent because that is the best we can do. There is no use to linger on the past, we must make things better at least for our children,” she said.
President-elect João Lourenço has promised to fight poverty and deep-seated corruption. Semedo thinks he has a tough job ahead of him.
Semedo is the Chevron Ambassador for the Prevention of Malaria and HIV in Angola, Unicef’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Protection of Underprivileged Children since 2009, and UNAids Goodwill Ambassador for Angola 2015-2017, supporting the organisation to achieve the target of ending the Aids epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Her other social work range from campaigns against drugs and violence, and vaccination against measles.
She has released several albums: Olha a Fruta Impactus 4 (1997), E Hora Impactus 4 (2000), Yola Semedo (2006), De Nos para Voces, Impactus 4 (2007), Minha Alma (2010), and Diario de Memorias (2011).
Her latest album is Filho Meu (2014). She has also released a DVD on her 25-year music career.
Semedo’s popular hits include Voce Me Abana, Volta Amor and Nao Entendo, which have been performed around the world by various musicians. She has shared the stage with Salif Keita, Manu Dibango, Ismael Lo, Steve Wonder, John Legend, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bayete, and Dr Victor.
She received the Golden Voice of Africa prize in 1995, at Unesco festival in Bulgaria.
“I am truly honoured to have had a chance to do all these things because at the end of the day you must go home and say ‘I have done something good for my fellow man,” she said in summing up her life.