Titica is one of Angola’s most popular Kuduro singers and received a 2012 Kora nomination for best female artist in Southern Africa. She is also a regular guest on state television, has performed for President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, and her catchy music pumps from speakers in taxis and nightclubs around the capital Luanda, and beyond.
Some achievement for any musician, but especially so for a transsexual in a predominantly Catholic country, where sexual minorities are discriminated against, same-sex relationships are not recognised by the constitution and homosexual intercourse is punishable by hard labour.
It is hard to imagine a transsexual achieving such success elsewhere on the continent, in say Uganda or Cameroon, where sexual minorities face extreme social stigma and where being gay is strictly taboo and can lead to a prison term or worse still a death sentence. But Portuguese-speaking Angola somehow bucks this continental trend, displaying a rare African tolerance for homosexuality, allowing space for provocative performers like Titica and her fellow Kudurista, the openly-gay Edy Sex.
A new soap opera called Windeck – produced by a son of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, musician Coreon Du, and broadcast at prime time on state television – has a gay storyline; local media have carried reports of same-sex couples holding wedding parties (although the ceremonies were not officialised); and the colonial-era laws that outlaw ‘unnatural acts’ have never been applied to anyone’s knowledge. Some refer to Angola as being blessed with ‘Luso-Tropicalism’, an easy-going accept-all attitude engendered by the country’s deep cultural links with more liberal Portugal and Brazil, as well as decades of conflict that have taken away people’s abilities to be shocked.
But these rainbow-tinted glasses don’t tell the whole story.
Newspaper editorials in popular private publications have lambasted homosexuality as a ‘plague on civilization’, describing it as the ‘most worrying phenomena of modern times’ and something that is ‘abominable’ and ‘shameful’. And there is plenty of chat and sniggering on social networking sites too – even from people who are ‘politically liberal’ – and churches make no secret about offering healing for homosexuals to help ‘cure them of their condition’.
The Catholic Church’s Bishop’s Conference (CEAST) used a recent pastoral letter to call for respect for the traditional institution of marriage between man and woman. “Homosexuality is condemned by God because it kills the family,” the Bishops said, referring directly to Windeck as “imported cultural garbage”. Meanwhile, many parents have questioned the programme’s content and the decision to show it so early when young children are watching.
So while Titica – born Teca Miguel Garcia – and Edy Sex may have many fans, they also have many enemies, and they have both given interviews describing the verbal abuse and discrimination they have experienced since childhood. And there are no formal LGBT organisations in Angola to take on this homophobia – or confront the Church’s views – and no police records readily available to assess the extent of physical or verbal hate crimes towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual individuals.
In the past few years, some activism has emerged via civil society groups, which want more to be done to raise awareness about men who have sex with men (MSM) in relation to HIV transmission. Health workers say that many gay men in Angola take wives to keep up appearances but continue to have intercourse with other men, often unprotected. But because of the official blind-eye attitude towards homosexuality, the LGBT community is not specifically targeted by HIV prevention campaigns – despite the fact that MSM are believed to account for nearly 5 percent of Angolan infections.
In 2010, the global health charity, PSI, launched an HIV awareness campaign targeting high risks groups, including prostitutes and lorry drivers, but it was asked by the Angolan Ministry of Health to ‘hold back’ on the component aimed at the homosexual community.
However, in an interesting development, Titica and her management are currently in talks with the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) for the singer to become a goodwill ambassador for the agency. Should the Angolan government agree to Titica’s appointment, it would certainly help to propel the issue of sexual minorities and the discrimination they face – as well as the impact this has on HIV transmission – out of Angola’s ‘accepted’ shadows and, literally, onto centre stage.