In Angola, a different take on European culture

12.02.2013 - Article

The cultural affairs officer at the German Embassy in Luanda reports on a highlight of her work: organizing a European-Angolan DJ festival

Lena Viebrock, the cultural affairs officer at the German Embassy in Luanda, Angola, reports on a highlight of her work: the European-Angolan DJ festival União Electrónica.

Tropical working hours and a broad array of tasks

Tropical working hours in Luanda
Tropical working hours in Luanda© Lena Viebrock

As a cultural affairs officer at the German Embassy in Luanda, I start my day at six in the morning, thanks to a work schedule tailored to the tropical climate. A colleague and I walk ten minutes downhill through the dust and dirt of Luanda on our way to work, a journey vastly preferable to the hour-long drive through the city’s afternoon gridlock on the way back. Turning on the office air conditioning first thing each morning is pretty much the only routine task of the day.

The Embassy in Luanda is a relatively small mission; a total of nine diplomats and ten local employees work here. What this means for me is that alongside my cultural affairs duties I’m also responsible for human rights, the press office, development cooperation and protocol.

Daily routine? Not likely

The Angolan capital, Luanda
The Angolan capital, Luanda© Lena Viebrock

Of course, there’s no shortage of regularly occurring duties; we are, after all, a public authority. At set dates we report to the Berlin headquarters on topics ranging from the human rights situation to local cultural affairs work. Our press office conducts a daily review of Angolan media and receives feedback on relevant reports. We also pay regular visits to the Angolan Foreign Ministry to talk about everything from concrete details of the newest cultural agreement to the future of development cooperation with Angola.

Almost every day I meet with students seeking advice about scholarships, receive funding applications for human rights projects and micro-projects, and field a broad array of questions from German and Angolan citizens and NGOs. My schedule also includes EU coordination meetings in every area, monthly meetings with representatives of other German institutions and of course the occasional reception. All in all, my daily schedule is anything but monotonous. Here’s a brief sketch of one of my projects:

The cultural event: União Electrónica

The festival poster
The festival poster© AA

In the weeks leading up to the end of November, my cultural affairs work focused on the União Electrónica festival. This event took place for the first time in 2010 and has since established itself as a fixture of the city’s vibrant music scene. Once a year the festival brings together European and Angolan DJs to learn from each other’s experience and play and produce music together.

A lesson in intercultural collaboration

The festival also involves considerable cultural exchange among EU countries: the German Embassy works together with our French, Dutch and Spanish counterparts, which is both fun and stressful. The fun part is close collaboration with colleagues at other embassies and participating Angolan organizations. At meetings which take place several times a week as the festival approaches, we plan the programme of events, choose venues, seek out sponsors and design flyers. These meetings are truly a lesson in intercultural collaboration.

Efforts pay off in the end

Festive atmosphere at the União Electrónica
Festive atmosphere at the União Electrónica

Especially nerve-wracking are the costs that remain unclear until the last minute: Luanda is an expensive city where every cultural event seems inevitably to entail a major investment. In the end, what feels like thousands of emails and phone calls later, the DJs finally take to the stage. And when Angolan kuduro beats mingle with electronic sounds before an enthusiastic audience, you know that all the work was worth it. That’s why organizing the União Electrónica embodies what’s great about this job: the chance to get something off the ground with a group of people from widely divergent backgrounds, and to learn a great deal each time you do so.

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