EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Colores Del Amor - Las Hijas Del Sol
Keeping it in the family, this aunt and niece duo remind us of the culture of the persecuted Bubi people, whilst honouring their obvious Hispanic influences
You may not know much about the small African nation of Equatorial Guinea, but you may think you know that it lies on the equator, the geographical line that makes up half of its name, but even there you would be wrong – the vast majority of the country lies just north of the equator, with one island lying just south of it, with no part of its territory actually lying on the equator. With even this innocent deduction being proven incorrect, as such, Equatorial Guinea remains a mystery to most people. That said, some of you may remember one incident that splashed Equatorial Guinea all over the world’s headlines. In 2004, there was an attempted coup on the Equatoguinean dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, currently the world’s second longest-serving non-royal head of state, led by British mercenaries and financed by businessman and one of Britain’s leading arguments for abolishing the honours system, Sir Mark Thatcher, son of Maggie. The coup failed, and Obiang’s iron-fisted rule continues, with the country once again barely entering in the global consciousness.
Obiang himself is part of the reason why the former Spanish colony is so unknown. He came to power in a bloody coup d’état in 1979, deposing his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, himself a bloodthirsty tyrant whose brutal regime was marked by catastrophic economic mismanagement as well as persecution of ethnic minorities and intellectuals, which led to a brain drain from which the country has struggled to recover. Obiang’s rule has proved little better, with Equatoguineans still subjected to a similarly authoritarian rule where human rights, freedom of the press, and political autonomy are non-existent, and poverty is widespread, slavery is common, and infant death is high. However, it cannot be said that God does not have a sense of humour; the country has the highest GDP per capita of any African nation due to the discovery of oil in 1995. It is into this context that we find Hijas del Sol, an Equatoguinean musical duo comprised of an aunt and niece, who managed to find their feet in the music industry upon emigration to Spain.
“Their music is a way of fighting back, and reclaiming what was once considered close to being lost.”
Both of them were born on the Equatoguinean island of Bioko, and though not much is known about their early lives, both of them, separately, decided to leave Equatorial Guinea in search of a career abroad in Spain, where they both reunited and formed a band. However, it is, I feel, important to mention that they are both members of the persecuted Bubi people, who, though they held almost no political power, were seen as enemies of the Equatoguinean state by the authorities under Nguema due to their perceived status as well-educated, and he ordered the executions of 80,000 of their 300,000 population. Thus, while their exact reasons for leaving are unknown, one can certainly assume that persecution, along with a desire for artistic freedom in a functioning music industry, definitely played a part. Piruchi Apo Botupá and her niece Paloma Loribo Apo sing in their native tongue as well as in Spanish, symbolising their dual identities, as well as the history of Spanish occupation and colonisation of their homeland.
Colores Del Amor is the duo’s fifth album, and their penultimate album before they ended up going their separate ways, and it’s a very accomplished effort, mixing in Afrobeats-style rhythms and backing tracks with a Latin feel for the first half of the album, while the second half takes on a far more traditionally African feel as it is a cappella Bubi music from Bioko. In this regard it is also rather unusual. Most albums we listen to are either in a particular genre, whether it be something as popular as rock, reggae or rumba, or something as particular as marrabenta, mambo, or morna, or they are fusion works that mix the traditional with the modern. Here, Hijas del Sol have elected to do both, and though it does mean that the album is very much a game of two halves, they are both good halves. Furthermore, their desire to showcase the unique musical styles of the Bubi people has a deeper resonance; due to Spanish being forced upon them as a national language, the aunt and niece duo noticed a loss of language, culture, and heritage among their people. Their music is a way of fighting back, and reclaiming what was once considered close to being lost.
However, the first half of the album is also full of interesting musical twists. Refugio de Amor is a good example, as it uses a guitar that is reminiscent of soukous music, horns that are more redolent of Cuban son, as well as a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a Fania Records hit. These combinations should not be surprising considering the huge amount of cultural interplay between Cuba and West Africa and how that has fed back into Spanish music. Mirando a La Luna is another great song, as this time it takes a guitar track in a flamenco style and this time it is the vocals that are more in an African style. It is this interplay between the two countries’ musical styles that dominates this part of the album and it’s a very unique sound, as it is both immediately noticeable as Hispanic and as African, and as such it is very Equatoguinean. The only real exception is the wonderful song Buenos Días, Africa, which, despite the Spanish lyrics, is very clearly more in the Afrobeats genre than anything else on the album.
The album is very consistent despite its duality, and I enjoy both halves, and even if the first half is more upbeat and immediately accessible, I can appreciate the beauty of the latter half, especially as the vocal harmonies are especially sweet and melodious. The two of them have great singing voices, and they know how to use their voices to fit the song. Whether the songs require rousing sentiment or gentle tones, these mellifluous Equatoguineans have crafted a very fun album that also serves a higher purpose to preserve the culture and identity that has been eroded due to colonisation, as well as to also fuse together their Equatoguinean and Spanish identities. However, aside from that, it is also just lovely music to listen to, with a unique flavour and identity that you may not have come across before. And just for that, it would have been enough.