Titica, Angola’s Glamazon
In a widely viewed online video, Titica, the transgender Angolan pop singer, speaks. “Singers have a lot of followers, and we have to set an example in our country and in our art.” Exuding a mixture of confidence and modesty, she graciously responds to questions and recalls milestones on the path that brought her from the musseques, or ghettoes, of Luanda, the capital of Angola and once the center of the Portuguese slave trade, to the bright spotlight of international fame as the “Queen of Kuduro,” the wildly popular dance music that swept over Angola, Portugal, and Brasil in the past several decades.
Years of struggle, then a sensation
Born in 1987, Titica grew up transgender in Angola, a Catholic country where homosexuality was a criminal offense under its infamous “vices against nature” law, Teca Miguel Garcia knew firsthand the meaning of discrimination. She was beaten, pelted with stones, and humiliated. Nevertheless, she persevered, driven by a fierce desire to have a career and express herself as an artist. Turning to dance, she soon was working as a backup performer for other acts. Then, in 2011, her breakthrough came when a recording she had made a year before, “Chão,” suddenly took off and became a huge hit across Angola, then Portugal and Brasil. Taking the name Titica, which is Portuguese for “useless” or “worthless,” she defiantly reclaimed the word that had so often been used against her as a trans woman.
The official “Chão” video, which has nearly two million views on YouTube, has Titica in several guises energetically rapping and dancing frenetically along with several other women whose undulating torsos, shaking breasts, and rubbery leg movements are characteristic of the Kuduro style. “Kuduro is dance. Kuduro is joy!” Titica says, smiling broadly, and the interviewer smiles back. The audience hangs on her every word. Titica is an icon. Titica is a star.
A positive response to political violence
Kuduro originated in the late 1980s amidst the chaos of the Angolan civil unrest. Essentially an electronic dance music, it mixes traditional Brazilian carnival music, heavy African percussion, and European techno. For Titica and other Angolans of her generation, the music brought a measure of positivity during a time of great political tension and violence surrounding the struggle for independence from Portuguese colonialism. This conflict can be heard in the music’s hard energy and in the lyrics’ references to life in the marginalized musseques. Given this context, it is easy to see how Titica’s bold identity as an open transgender woman fits in to this tradition of political expression and cry for social change.
In 2013, she was named as a goodwill ambassador for UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, the chief organization coordinating a global response to AIDS. In this role she has worked tirelessly as an activist and has helped educate the world about preventing HIV transmission and other sexual health and LGBTQ and transgender issues. “Being different is not a sin, it’s just being different,” she says.
A pioneer and activist
Angola decriminalized homosexuality in 2018, in part because of Titica’s courage and willingness to be a positive role model. A trendsetter whose changes in hair style or clothing impact what Angolan and other young people will wear or buy, Titica realizes that she has a platform from which she can influence attitudes toward those who don’t fit in to the traditional heterosexual paradigm. Her message is simple: “What matters is the love, and not what you look like.”
Titica has managed to remain in the spotlight over the years, as her fame has slowly grown across the world as a pioneering trans woman. She continues to perform and record with others, and her personal journey has led her to return to school to improve her voice and grow as an artist. “I want to make a career, and not fame,” she says. “I take music very seriously.”
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