The musician and author Kalaf Epalanga is the curator of the African Book Festival 2021 in Berlin. He is a writer and musician born in Benguela, Angola and based in Berlin. As a musician, he co-founded the record label Enchufada, a creative and dynamic platform that promotes new music styles from Lisbon around the world, and went on to form the MTV Europe Music Award-winning band, Buraka Som Sistema (on hiatus since 2016).

He wrote a regular column of short literary chronicles for the prestigious Portuguese newspaper O Público, GQ Magazine (Portugal), the independent Angolan online magazine REDE Angola and collaborates regularly with the Brazilian literary Magazine Quatro Cinco Um.

Kalaf Epalanga has published in Angola and Portugal two collections of literary chronicles ‘Estórias de Amor para Meninos de Cor’ (engl.: Lovestories for kids of color, 2011) and ‘O Angolano que Comprou Lisboa (Por Metade do Preço)’ (engl.: The Angolan who Bought Lisbon (at Half the Price), 2014).

‘Também os Brancos Sabem (engl.: The Whites Also Can Dance, Editorial Caminho, 2017)  published in Angola, Portugal and Brasil, is his first novel and was critically acclaimed in the Portuguese-speaking world.

With this years African Book Festival, Kalaf Epalanga takes the centre stage with Angola under the capture “Telling the Origin Stories”, presenting literature, poetry and music from Portuguese-speaking parts of the world.


You have attended both, the first African Book Festival in 2018, curated by Olumide Popoola, and the second edition in 2019, where Tsitsi Dangarembga (now shortlisted for the Booker Prize with her novel This Mournable Body) was the curator. We feel very honoured having you and thus once again an outstanding author as curator for the Festival. After visiting the first two African Book Festivals in Berlin, which inspiration is guiding you as the next curator, and which approaches and visions do you have in mind?

I’m honored to be following the steps of Olumide Popoola and Tsitsi Dangarembga, two incredible and accomplished authors and literary personalities. Attending the previous two editions of the festival and witnessing the great panels they put together gives me a strong sense of responsibility. I will try to not mess it up, so the next curator adds more to the foundation already here and has everything to flourish. My goal is to bring the festival closer to the African community in Berlin and invite readers from all the different diasporas living here to be part of this vibrant movement of literature growing in the continent and across the globe and anywhere where the children of Africa call home.

The theme of the next African Book Festival is „Telling the origin stories.“ What is your understanding and interpretation of it?

Each one of us has a story to reveal, a story that can only be told by the ones involved in it. Origin is a fluid and organic concept. To me, it is what we carry and are intrinsic ours. We could extend the theme to the idea of claiming and telling our own stories because no one can do it better than ourselves.

You are not only known as an author, but also for your music and as the former owner of the Lisbon-based music label Enchufada. How will you integrate your experiences and perspectives in music and literature into the Festival?

For many, music is the entry point to African culture produced in the continent or its vast diaspora. I witnessed people getting familiar with African politics by listening to Miriam Makeba or Fela Kuti. Before social media start democratizing the access to news and stories about remote places or revolutions such as the Arab spring, music was the vehicle. Chuck D, the founder of the historical group Public Enemy, famously said that “rap is black America’s CNN,” meaning that the music provides a window into the troubles and trepidations that the children of Africa suffer around the world. For me, there’s no separation between the two art forms because one complements the other. It’s part of our healing process; it’s the road maps to decode poetry, language, and stories that were had been forgotten lost in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, but once we hear the drum beating, suddenly, it all makes sense. It doesn’t matter the geographical location of our bodies. Once we hear that beating drum, we immediately feel at home.

Since the focus of the African Book Festival 2021 is Lusophone African literature and you are writing in Portuguese as well, to what extent will the theme of the colonial erasure of native African languages and the adaptation of Portuguese as an African language be addressed at the Festival?

We could say those colonial languages are a badge of shame—a reminder of the atrocities that a group of people experienced in other to change their entire identity. But the consequences of that ugly process generated something interesting. Portuguese became an African language, it belongs to the ones who speak it, and they are challenging its limits every day. I won’t be surprised if this colonial language’s transformation evolves into something close to what happened in Brazil, where the language morphed into what we now know as Brasileiro. The Portuguese-speaking Africas gained their independence only in the ’70s of the last century. We still have a long way to go, but having ownership of our identity, pain, and sorrows is inevitable.

Your debut novel „Também os Brancos Sabem Dançar“ White People Can Dance Too) addresses among others the topic of unequal access to mobility and difficulties with visas for Africans living in Europe. To what extent can literature and the African Book Festival contribute to overcoming (imaginary) borders and opening new perspectives?

I don’t know a better way to learn about the other than reading or hearing their stories. That’s the role of the literature written by the invisible and undesirable ones. Book Festivals are here to spark conversations. It’s important to talk about issues of mobility and ownership. Africans are often denied access to the discussion table because, time and time again, their value has been diminished, and the sense of reciprocity is no longer viable. When one literary classics’ rights are in the West, when one’s art pieces are resting in the museums in the West, one can deny that culture’s producers to be part of the conversion because that desirable and profitable culture no longer belongs to them.

In terms of post-colonial identity, what are your wishes for a German-Angolan relationship, both within and beyond the African Book Festival?

There’s so much to say about this but in simple terms. It’s essential to understand the role of the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885. What was decided at that table still affecting Africa and its children to this day.