(Un)official Language

Théâtre 140
  • 15/05 | 20:30
  • 16/05 | 15:00
  • 17/05 | 20:30
  • 18/05 | 20:30

€ 16 / € 13
1h 15min
PT > NL / FR

Meet the artists after the performance on 16/05

In 2012, Panaibra Gabriel Canda conquered the hearts of the audience with The Marrabenta Solos, a bold dance creation about the identity crisis in his homeland of Mozambique. With his choreographies, Canda places the cultural representations of the African continent in jeopardy and examines how the postcolonial body bears the scars of its complex past. With (Un)official Language, he focuses on the importing of a foreign language, in this case Portuguese in the former colony of Mozambique.The conflict between the official language and the language spoken at home is a legacy that shapes the way one feels and thinks. On stage, two dancers – a singer and a musician – reflect upon the pendulum effect of the standardisation and creolisation of the language, and what remains of it after the rulers have gone. (Un)official Language explores the language of dance and music and tries to evoke with the body what the mind has long forgotten.

Artistic direction & choreography
Panaibra Gabriel Canda

Music direction
Maria João

Performers
Panaibra Gabriel Canda (dancer), Leia Mabasso (dancer), Maria João (singer) & João Farinha (musician)

Lighting
Jan Yoshi Goettgens

Scenography & props
Jan Yoshi Goettgens in collaboration with Panaibra Gabriel Canda

Costumes
Andrea Ramirez in collaboration with Jan Yoshi Goettgens & Panaibra Gabriel Canda

Executive Producer & diffusion
Florence Francisco (Les Productions de la Seine)

Presentation
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre 140

Production
CulturArte (Maputo)

Co-production
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, La Villette (Paris), Zürcher Theater Spektakel (Zurich)

Supported by
Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Institut français (Paris), Centre Culturel Franco-Mozambicain, PAMOJA / ACP Cultures +

Back to top

(Un)official Language

Portuguese singer Maria João can already boast an impressive career. She has performed on stages all across the world and is a big star in what is commonly called Lusophonia, the countries that together constitute the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Countries), the African portion of which is known as PALOPS – in other words, structures strongly anchored in Portugal’s colonial past. She has worked together with famous performers and is able to fill the grandest auditoriums.

However, each time Maria João performs in Mozambique, something affects her innermost being, a desire to be there, to belong. Her roots are there: she’s the daughter of a Mozambican mother and a Portuguese father. But she has never actually lived in the country; she has very little contact with her distant relatives. Rather, her ties are in her blood, not in a lived history, a concrete experience, images, smells, and sounds. The bond exists within Maria João.

And when she sings, she uses language. When she scats, that language sometimes consists of incoherent syllables. She often sings in a language that conveys her experience of love and life. But in that language, there’s also always a connection with the part within her that links her with Mozambique… Thus, each time she went to Mozambique she wanted to delve further into this connection, and has sought ways to bring about this deepening. In the practice of a performing artist such as Maria João, this deepening would coexist very well on stage with that of a Mozambican artist, a Mozambican performer, with whom she could ‘namorar’ (a word that describes being together with someone you love).

She found Panaibra Canda and asked him whether he wanted to ‘namorar’ with her on stage, and he said yes. Maria João’s story fits Panaibra’s project like a piece in a jigsaw. Panaibra has been a performing artist for over 15 years. He too has performed all over the world. Earlier works such as Dentro de mim outra ilha (There is another island inside of me) or Mafalala 2, named after a popular neighbourhood in Maputo, attempted to reveal the daily life of people in Maputo, to discover a poetry in it, to emphasise the strength of the ‘ordinary man and woman’ in Maputo. These pieces required working with a lot of water, buckets, sand, and all kinds of objects that had to do with daily survival.

Since Time and Spaces: The Marrabenta Solos, Panaibra veered radically for the first time, from a commentary on the conditions of the Mozambican to a deeper questioning the origins of these conditions. His collaboration with Boyzie Cekwana in Inkomati Discord, a much more explicitly political piece than its predecessors, was perhaps a step in that direction. Panaibra considers (Un)official Language to be a very direct successor to The Marrabenta Solos, a kind of sequel. In it, he goes further in quest of his composite identity and how he must deal with this as a Mozambican who is aware that his country suffered under colonialism but who nevertheless uses Portuguese every day to express himself. It is also his language now, and you cannot help but love it a little. At the same time, it conveys an entire history that is anything but happy.

Panaibra loves diversity, real diversity. Mozambique had 48 languages, but the only ‘non-Mozambican’ language is now the official one. And when he travels, he sees how everything has been further reduced into one unit… Plus, Portuguese is very often pushed aside by the power of English. All over the world you see the same products, eat the same burgers, drink the same drinks, listen to the same R&B, strum on the same contraptions. What effect does the IT revolution have on this richness of diversity; to what extent is it a step beyond colonialism? Again and again he loses a little more of his origins, again and again he comes closer to a situation in which a connection with the country has become meaningless; something deep within him is all that remains.

In this sense, Panaibra takes a leap to the global level in (Un)official Language. He can of course talk about Mozambique, but he realisesmore and more that what’s happening there is linked to an evolutionthat is global. Which takes this performance another step towards aninternational vision, after the powerful reflection on his identity in The Marrabenta Solos. With the new piece, he is in search of another aesthetic,an aesthetic that’s not imposed by Western influences, whichmight well be influenced by them but possesses a unique character. ToWestern eyes and ears this may seem a little naive, but that’s not necessarilythe case. It’s the character of a young country with an ancient historyin the veins of its inhabitants, even in the veins of those who haven’tbeen there for a long time, like Maria João. This history is steeped in spirituality;it is the representation of a world through the eyes of thosewho lived there previously. By putting on this identity, by putting on amask, he is able to occupy a place from which to observe and commentupon the present situation, and to create an encounter between a man who has to live his daily life and a spiritual being that can reference thediverse origins and the history that is hidden in the veins of the ordinaryman and woman…

As in previous performances where he collaborated with seasoned artists and musicians such as Orlando de Conceição, Chico António, Jorge Domingos, and Walter Verdin, Panaibra is looking for something to create from the tension between himself and the musician/other artist on stage. Each time it’s about people with a whole history and a whole journey, which instils a rich layering in the story we get to see. Before he deals with props, music, or lyrics, he thinks about the field of tension between him and the people with whom he is sharing the stage in a very conscious choice. It makes of his work a rich and full repertoire, that itself can also call upon the many personal histories of his fellow performers…

In (Un)official Language we see loads of boxes on stage. And iron skirts. These are symbols of a loss of freedom. Everything we perceive we want to understand, in this internationalised, uniformed, digital world. Everything must have its box. And by wishing to create a uniform codification of everything around us, we understand each other rather less … with this, Panaibra alludes to our building a kind of Tower of Babel, of unity not of diversity, and he yearns for a world of curiousness about the unknown. Preserve the diversity, as an anti-colonial principle.

“Will we not meet the wrath of God by invading his space with a host of communications satellites up there, high above our heads?” He asks himself the question…

Jasper Walgrave
May 2016

Back to top

Panaibra Gabriel Canda (b. 1975) hails from Maputo, where he received artistic training in theatre, music, and dance before studying contemporary dance in Lisbon. He founded CulturArte in 1998, and has since created many artistic projects, including those encouraging the development of a local contemporary dance scene. He also collaborates with artists in Africa and Europe, as well with artists from other disciplines. His work has been presented in Africa, Europe, US, and Latin America, and has received awards such as the ZKB Patronage Prize and the Sylt Quelle Cultural Award for Southern Africa. He presented Time and Spaces: The Marrabenta Solos at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in 2012.

Panaibra Gabriel Canda at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts
2012: Time and Spaces: The Marrabenta Solos

Back to top