By Louise Redvers
She is bold, she is bright, she is beautiful and she is taking Angola by storm. Not bad for a transsexual in a Catholic African country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by hard labour.
Born in Luanda as Teca Miguel Garcia, singer and dancer Titica adopted her female persona four years ago following a breast enhancement operation in Brazil.
Now, at 25, Titica is the new face of Angola’s unique urban rap-techno fusion music style known as “kuduro”.
By day her songs boom from minibus taxis, by night they fill Luanda’s dance floors and at the weekends she has become the essential soundtrack for children’s parties.
Named best kuduro artist of 2011, she is a regular on television and radio, and has even performed at the annual Divas concert, attended by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, where she herself was named a diva.
With a training in ballet, she first got involved in kuduro as a backing dancer, supporting popular acts such as Noite e Dia, Propria Lixa and Puto Portugues.
Last October she released her first song, Chao, which to date is one of the most-played kuduro tracks in Angola and its diaspora.
This month Titica will embark on her first international tour with dates so far fixed for Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.
‘A lot of sacrifice’
Speaking to the BBC during a make-up session before filming the video for her current hit Olha o Boneco, which features popular Angolan kizomba singer Ary, Titica said she was overcome with her success.
“Thanks to God, I am very happy, it has taken a while to get here and involved a lot of sacrifice but thanks to God, everything is going well for me,” she said.
Surprisingly shy for such a flamboyant and raunchy performer, Titica declined to comment on her sexuality when asked, but said her new-found stardom had not all been plain-sailing.
“I’ve been stoned, I’ve been beaten, and there is a lot of prejudice against me, a lot of people show that. There is a lot of taboo,” she said.
Despite that taboo, Titica appears to have no shortage of fans and most seem more interested in her music than in her sexuality.
“I like Titica, I really like her. Some say that she’s a girl, some say that she’s a boy, I don’t really know, we just like her music,” said one young boy who had come to watch her video shoot on Luanda’s strip of beach known as the Ilha.
His friend added: “Before she was a man, but now, according to the information, she’s a woman. Angolans can be quite discriminatory but no, we really support her and we like her a lot, and we really like the work that she is doing.”
Angolan creative Hugo Salvaterra, who has been involved in the filming of a documentary about kuduro for Swedish television, said Titica was a musician first and a transsexual second.
“Titica is talented, she is making good music and she has a fantastic live show, that is why people like her,” he said.
“Kuduro has definitely opened the door for Titica’s acceptance. Her music is good, she entertains us, and so we accept her.
“Throughout the whole history of music, that’s what art does, it transcends and it breaks taboos,” he added, comparing her to Chuck Berry who won over black and white audiences in segregated 1960s America.
As well as Titica’s full integration into the local music scene, which has seen her share the stage with internationally acclaimed Angolan artists such as Anselmo Ralph, she has been invited to perform for the Angolan consulate in Houston, Texas, as part of the celebrations of 10 years of peace.
Mr Salvaterra said that while Titica’s profile was growing, he knew there was still resistance among some sectors of society.
“I think we have to separate the state and the people,” he said, but explained that the country’s independence from Portugal in 1975 and then the 27-year civil war that followed until 2002 had made Angolans more open to embracing new ideas.
“In countries like Angola that had war for so long, people got used to a certain spontaneity; every day you had to improvise in a particular context so that spirit of improvisation is under the skin of the Angolans and that make us extremely creative people.”
The London-based documentary maker said that the same creativity that gave birth to the uniquely Angolan Kuduro had also welcomed its first transsexual star.
“Angola is a relatively new country. We have so many things that are going on right now in terms of development and so many changes,” Mr Salvaterra.
“Because everything is immediate and everybody is on this big learning curve, I think that opens space for some of these taboos to be broken.”
It is hard to imagine however that Titica would be so welcomed in other African countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya and Cameroon, where homosexuals are regularly victims of intolerance, violence and legal proceedings.
While homosexuality is illegal in Angola, there are no records of any convictions and a new penal code due to go before parliament in fact criminalises discrimination for reasons of “sexual orientation”.
This sets the country far apart from its continental neighbours, a number of whom have in the past months reiterated their opposition to gays and lesbians – a call even backed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
However, although Titica appears to have been warmly embraced and Angola’s capital Luanda does have a small and open gay social scene, there is still an unspoken resistance to homosexuality and the country is not quite the tropical gay-friendly paradise some people imagine.
A lesbian wedding which took place in December was openly reported but there was still plenty of behind-door sniggering and some private newspapers – that have also been less than pleasant to Titica – carried strongly homophobic editorials.
According to Nana Frimong, former Angola director of the health organisation Population Services International (PSI) which has been surveying Luanda’s gay community about HIV, there is still quite a strong disapproval of homosexuality.
“There aren’t incidences of homophobic violence but I wouldn’t say either that people here were totally OK with homosexuality,” he said.
“It’s something you see on television and in social spaces, and there are people who are comfortable enough to openly be themselves, but there are also a lot of people hiding their homosexuality.”
Mr Frimong said the government was largely muted on the subject.
Despite requesting an audit of homosexual numbers to help inform future HIV policy, the Health Ministry, he understood, had since decided not to publish the results and focus on other campaign areas instead.
Regardless of the politics, there is no doubt that Titica has won a place in the country’s heart and she is only likely to grow in popularity.
“This is a baby step but I believe that it will help immensely in breaking stereotypes. We are still a very conservative society, but I feel that the ice is breaking,” Mr Salvaterra said.