Time and Spaces: The Marrabenta Solos

11, 12, 15/05 – 20:30

The founder of Mozambique’s first contemporary dance company, Panaibra Gabriel Canda is one of the artists working towards developing autonomous choreographic creation in Africa. With his very beautiful Time and Spaces: The Marrabenta Solos, he presents a show that deconstructs cultural representations of a “pure” African body. Since snatching independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique has been a land of social and political rifts which have seen an inflexible communist model gradually make way for a fragile democracy. This complex history is carried in the marrabenta, a musical form born in the 1950s from a mix of local and European influences. Accompanied by a guitarist, Panaibra Gabriel Canda dances and speaks about today’s African body: a post-colonial, plural body that has absorbed the ideals of nationalism, modernity, socialism and freedom of expression. His own body…

Choreographer, performer, director
Panaibra Gabriel Canda

Musician, performer, composer
Jorge Domingos

Dramaturgy assistant
Rita Natalio

Light design
Myers Godwin

Mama Africa and Lucia Pinto

Arthur Fink

Administrative support
Jeremias Canda

Music structured and inspired by
Marrabenta (music from Mozambique-composers) & Povo que lavas no rio by Amalia Rodrigues (composer J. Campus)

Some important marrabenta composers analyzed
Fany Trio, Fany fumo, Gatika, Albino Mandlaze, Xidiminguana, Feliciano “Pachu” Gomes


Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Charleroi/Danses – La Raffinerie


CulturArte (Maputo)

Sylt Quelle Cultural Award for Southern Africa 2009 – Goethe Institut Johannesburg, VSArts NM

Supported by
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Bates Festival, Panorama Festival

Special thanks to
Jesse Manno, Dan Minzer, Leah Wilks, Cynthia Oliver, Elsa Mulungo, Gabriel Canda, Jorge Canda and Timoteo Canda

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Walking through downtown Maputo today, it is hard to imagine what it was like 40 years ago. All those beautiful modernist buildings, often in a state of decay but more and more of which are being renovated, and all those wide avenues in a city where life is good were once built by, and exclusively for, the Portuguese coloniser. Footage on YouTube of life in Maputo in the years before 1974 shows us esplanades, beaches, swimming pools, sports clubs, broad avenues and attractive shop windows, but very few black faces.

Pre-1974 Mozambique may have been less perverse and pernicious for the population than the extremes of apartheid, but it ultimately came down to the same. Panaibra Gabriel Canda’s recollections of conversations with or between his parents about ‘the Portuguese’ may be somewhat hazy, but he does remember that for them the colonial era was defined by what he calls a ‘lack of access’. Many places in the city were de facto inaccessible to black Mozambicans; many services and products, and of course many job opportunities, were equally inaccessible.

Even after independence, during the 16-year civil war, things were no easier for them. In the mid-1980s, the father of the then 12-year-old Panaibra Gabriel Canda decided to emigrate to South Africa since, despite apartheid, it offered the opportunity to work in a South African mine (even today, more than a million Mozambicans still work there). This is also the time when Panaibra Gabriel Canda’s father disappeared from his life, leaving him to be raised by his mother.

Sounds and noises are what he remembers in particular from his childhood years: his father constantly singing and playing the guitar, with or without visiting musician friends, while his mother was always seated at her sewing machine. The result, therefore, is a very specific mix of musical sounds and the monotony of the machine. His father often performed solo, but also in bands. Marrabenta was a musical form that grew in popularity in the decades preceding the war of independence. For Panaibra Gabriel Canda, this is due to the fact that it combined an accessible and festive style with the opportunity to express social criticism through lyrics in local languages, and not Portuguese. Earlier, very traditional forms were viewed with suspicion by the Portuguese coloniser and often forbidden. Marrabenta retained African rhythms but was played on Western instruments and was also enjoyed by whites in clubs and at concerts. This kept it alive and made it an important means to voice social criticism. It became an art form, offering artists an outlet in a context of oppression.

Panaibra Gabriel Canda sees a strong parallel between his own work and marrabenta’s social function. But the target is now another form of oppression, the injustice and abuse of power exerted by a corrupt elite. This is a reality which Panaibra Gabriel Canda as a contemporary Mozambican has to deal with.

What really preoccupies him, however, is the political inertia and thus short-sightedness present in Mozambican society. Innovation is essential to him. When presenting a show like The Marrabenta Solos, he knows that 95% of the audience is neither Mozambican nor even African. Dance is not widely accepted as a form of expression in Mozambique, outside the straitjacket of tradition. Yet Panaibra Gabriel Canda has been working with young dancers for more than 15 years, and he has always emphasised innovation, showing them how one can do things outside the constraints of traditional dance. The young Mozambicans of today can identify more strongly with this approach. The same holds true for all art forms, including music, he says.

Jorge Domingos, the guitarist accompanying Panaibra Gabriel Canda on stage, is the son of a famous marrabenta musician, and he shares the same desire. He also wants to develop an art form that responds to the complex reality of Mozambicans in the 21st century. Is this, then, a show about an identity crisis? Or is it the work of someone who is well aware of his plural identity? Panaibra Gabriel Canda says it is rather a protest against the discrepancy between the ruling classes and individuals, and against the fact that people in society are neither understood nor accepted in their complexity and nuances.

Amália Rodrigues is a good example. As the embodiment of the Portuguese psyche, she is thus, as regards both content and form, ‘anti-Mozambican’, to the extent that Portuguese can be seen as anti-Mozambican. At the same time, says Panaibra Gabriel Canda, as a postcolonial child, he is Mozambican but with many Portuguese influences, notably language and culture. There is no denying that reality. It is a part of him. And although he dances against Amália, he cannot rid himself of the beauty of her music, and is keen to appropriate it.


Although his audience consists mainly of Westerners, Panaibra Gabriel Canda knows that he would not create a different show for a chiefly Mozambican audience. There is a universality to his project that is recognised by audiences from both the North and South. Everyone will see, he says, that when I use traditional dance material, I don’t do that so much to celebrate my Mozambican roots. He deliberately conjures a sort of tension, an existential malaise, whereby his own story, himself, is much more important than the story of the dance material. This fascination with, and respect for, the person behind the artist also transpires in Panaibra Gabriel Canda’s relationship with the musician. He holds – and his relationship, or rather lack of relationship with his father here plays an important role – a very special place in his heart for those musicians whose performances reveal their vulnerability and nonconformity. He has worked with the saxophonist Orlando da Conceição in one of his earlier shows, and he is close to Chico António, an iconoclastic guitarist and singer.

In March the newspaper The Guardian published an article on the important changes that have taken place in Mozambique in recent years. Vast offshore gas fields were recently discovered, for instance, and Brazilian investors are busy developing the transport infrastructure in the coal-rich province of Tete, whereby Mozambique could soon become the world’s leading coal exporter.

How does the future of Mozambique look like in the wake of colonialism, communism and alleged democracy? In Panaibra Gabriel Canda’s opinion, the freedom of the press has improved, especially since the murder of the investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso in 2000. But much of the press is in private hands, and the press is often very close to the authorities. The interests of these elites generally trump those of ordinary Mozambicans. Mozambique is still one of the poorest countries in the world, and things are increasingly difficult for the middle class in Panaibra Gabriel Canda’s view. Prices are skyrocketing, whereby even people with full-time work can no longer afford accommodation in the city. The price of food has also risen sharply over the past ten years. And it goes without saying that, if the middle class is struggling, things are a lot worse for the majority of people, who live below the poverty line. This means a strong ‘elitisation’ of society, as in Angola, where an extremely wealthy mini elite has a monopoly of access to services and products, as in the years before 1974.

In these circumstances, Panaibra Gabriel Canda sees a very specific role for artists: they must embody an alternative voice, like that of marrabenta a half-century ago.

Jasper Walgrave, Johannesburg, 2 April 2012
Translated by Patrick Lennon & David Camacho

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Panaibra Gabriel Canda was born in Maputo and studied theatre, music and dance. He received additional training in contemporary dance in Lisbon and Lewiston in Maine. He embarked on his own artistic projects in 1993, setting up CulturArte in 1998, and working on projects that include creations, showcases and training to encourage the development of local dance. He also works with artists in southern Africa and Europe as well as collaborating with artists from other disciplines. His work has been performed in Africa, Europe, USA and Latin America. Some of his work won awards in Paris at the African choreographic meeting in Paris in 2006, a ZKB Patronage Prize in Zurich in 2008 and the German Sylt Quelle Cultural Award for Southern Africa in 2009.

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