Kalaf Epalanga wrapped up day seven of the Afrolit Sans Frontieres Virtual Literary Festival on Instagram on Sunday, March 29, 2020.
The Afrolit Sans Frontiers Virtual Literary Festival is an initiative from writers of African origin curated by Zukiswa Wanner. Sixteen writers from 10 African countries are sharing their work from 15 different cities in English, French, Lingala, and Portuguese to a global virtual audience online over eight days. Since the festival started on Monday, audiences have interacted with Richard Ali Mutu in Kinshasa, DR Congo, Leye Adenle in London, UK, Rémy Ngamije in Windhoek, Namibia, Hawa Jande Golakai in Monrovia, Liberia, Maaza Mengiste in Zurich, Switzerland, Mukoma Wa Ngugi in Ithaca, New York, USA, Nozizwe Cynthia Jele in Johannesburg, South Africa, Yara Monteiro in Alentejo, Portugal, Bisi Adjapon in Accra, Ghana, Mohale Mashigo in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Shadreck Chikoti in Lilongwe, Malawi.
The penultimate day of the festival started with Chiké Frankie Edozien in Accra, Ghana before Kalaf Epalanga closed out proceedings in Berlin, Germany. Epalanga, a writer and musician born in Benguela, Angola has published two collections of literary chronicles Estórias de Amor para Meninos de Cor (engl.: Lovestories for Kids of Colour, 2011) and ‘O Angolano que Comprou Lisboa (Por Metade do Preço) (engl.: The Angolan who Bought Lisbon (at Half the Price), 2014). His debut novel Também os Brancos Sabem (engl.: The Whites Also Can Dance, Editorial Caminho, 2017) was critically acclaimed in the Portuguese-speaking world. He was also the curator for the African Book Festival 2020 in Berlin that had to be postponed indefinitely because of Coronvirus concerns.
On March 29, 2020, the clocks in Europe moved forward one hour for Daylight Savings Time leading to confusion from those based on the African continent and those in Europe as to when the session would begin. Daylight Savings was not anticipated by the African-based curators and should be considered for any possible future editions of the festival. On his part, Kalaf started the stream from his base in Berlin, Germany at the same time as previous days which was one hour earlier for his Africa-based colleagues. Eventually more started checking in an hour later, missing a significant part of the session. Our Angolan host graciously spent more time than anticipated dealing with the staggered audiences. His event had a lot of kuduro music from Angola which entertained the audience who were there. After the music, he read from his debut novel Também os Brancos Sabem (engl.: The Whites Also Can Dance, 2017).
Kalaf Epalanga grew up listening to Bossa nova music and other writers who had musicality in their writing like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin that all influenced him. He first tried writing in his twenties and discovered that it was very difficult to make a living from it so he went into music. In music, his talent was writing poetry that could be used in songs and he eventually moved to producing and organising bands. He went back to writing later in his career as a columnist for a newspaper in Portugal. After it ran for a year, he was approached by a publisher who published a compilation of his columns. Once he held the book, Estórias de Amor para Meninos de Cor (engl.: Lovestories for Kids of Colour, 2011), in his hands he was hooked.
A few years later, he was at a music and literary festival in Rio de Janeiro doing a panel with (Angolan author Jose Eduardo) Agualusa. While on the panel, he found out that while he knew all about Samba and other Brazilian music genres, Rio residents knew nothing about Angolan music. Agualusa found that his explanation of the Kuduro genre to them was outstanding and asked him to write a biography of it. While doing research, which was a nightmare as so little has been written about it, he decided to go the fiction route instead and wrote it as a novel.
The novel he wrote is based on three characters, the narrator who is travelling across Europe without the right documentation roughly based on the writer and his experiences as a musician, a white woman and a policeman who arrests the narrator. It took him two years to write his novel; the first part took him a long time because he was wary of musicians who can be very finicky about how they are portrayed in public. The title was a gift from Agualusa who has used the proverb “white people also know good songs” in one of his previous titles. He flipped it to The Whites Also Can Dance meaning that you don’t need to judge a book by its cover.
The Brazilian edition of the novel came about when he asked his agent to set up meetings with publishers at a major literary festival in Brazil. The first meeting was with a new publisher working with a designer that he knew and loved which convinced him to work with them. Apart from the Brazilian edition, the novel is also available in Spanish; there is no word on an English (or French) translation yet sadly.
He is currently working on a short story collection and a script for a TV series. He also shared some African writers to check out in the Portuguese writing world whose work seemed to fit in the same universe which he found fascinating. His recommendations included Ondjaki, Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida, and Pepetela; some of them are already available in translation in English.
On the issue of there being less interaction between writers from Angola and the Lusophone world in general and the rest of the continent, he stated that we needed to change that. We needed to move beyond the gatekeepers and go digital which will be cost-effective as opposed to the books and mortar stores. He revealed that Angolan author Ondjaki was working on a project that will hopefully bring the different regions of the continent together.
You can watch the stream in full in two parts below.