Celebrating the making of Maputo at the Mafalala Festival

What Sophiatown was to Mzansi or Harlem to New York, in Maputo the neighbourhood of Mafalala has over the course of decades given rise to some of Mozambique’s leading figures, from the musicians who forged the country’s signature marrabenta sound and poets who led the fight against Portuguese colonialism, to its sports icons and post-independence leaders.

The fifth edition of the Mafalala Festival has been taking place recently during the month of November 2012. Still small, it saw a wide variety of activities that all address the multiple contributions the people and culture of this neighbourhood have made – from a local soccer tournament, food, jam sessions and dance to film and photography exhibitions and public forums.

When the country’s capital moved to Maputo in 1898, the area saw an influx of people from all over the country as well as further afield from areas such as the Comoros and Zanzibar. A vibrant and diverse community emerged, one that represented all of Mozambique’s many ethnic groups. Many were Muslim and today Mafalala still boasts several mosques. To maintain colonial power relations and provide for future expansion, brick houses were not allowed in Mafalala, only reed and tin structures, many of which remain today giving the area its distinctive look and character

Of the peoples who came to the district, the Macua group from Nampula brought with them their unique dances, including nifalala, from which the area took its name. Today dances such as tufomatsepo and ndzope remain a central part of cultural celebrations in Mafalala.

In the 1940s, the tin houses of Rua da Guine provided residents with entertainment of all kinds – food, music and women. At Gato Preto (‘black cat’), musicians worked fun-lovers into a frenzy, calling for them to ‘Rebenta!’ (‘dance til you burst’). The music that emerged, marrabenta, remains cental to Mozambican culture.

In the 1950s, Mafalala residents Noemia de Sousa and José Craveirinha emerged as key figures in Mozambique’s cultural and intellectual struggle for freedom. Later, political leaders including Samora Machel and Joaquim Chissano worked and lived in Mafalala. Soccer legend Eusebio cut his teeth on the dusty field on Rua de Goa in the centre of the bairro, the same place where Olympic champion Maria Mutola (from nearby Chamanculo) was first spotted playing soccer by Craveirinha.

Organised by local NGO Iverca, the Mafalala Festival aims to celebrate their legacy and bring attention to this still vibrant district in the heart of Maputo. Says organiser Ivan Laranjeira: “We started the Mafalala Festival because we wanted to promote the good side and the talents of Mafalala and to democratise culture, which in Maputo is for a certain elite and located in town. We wanted to to revive the vibrant cultural past of this zone and merge it with the present activities.”

While debate grows over plans to develop the area as Maputo enjoys a wave of investment and development, inititatives such as the festival help to remind people of the importance of the past.

By Dave Durbach.

05.12.2012 | par martalanca | Mafalala Festival