After a few years when pop was all about emotional bloodletting, now stars are refusing to be defined by trauma – see recent records by Kesha and Selena Gomez, which celebrated survival over suffering, and Frank Ocean’s promise that he’s trading vulnerability for fantasy.
Pongo, 27, mainlines a similar philosophy. As a child, she and her family fled Luanda for Lisbon to escape the Angolan civil war. In Portugal she experienced intense racism, and claimed that the police abused her when she made a domestic violence complaint. Despite these hardships, her music is defiantly joyful: “a place to be happy with my memories of Angola”, she has said.
In a happier accident, a teenage Pongo got her start in music after a broken ankle led her to physiotherapy sessions in a different part of Lisbon, where she met and joined the Denon Squad crew. She later worked with Buraka Som Sistema and went solo in 2018.
On her new Uwa EP, Pongo pushes the Angolan sound of kuduro – a vibrant chatter of soca, samba, hip-hop and techno – into wistful shoreline reveries (Wafu), and euphoric call-and-response numbers that showcase her dexterous flow (Quem Manda No Mic). She’s earned her stage name – an affirmation of female strength inspired by the late, trailblazing feminist Congolese singer M’Pongo Love. “I believe in being positive,” Pongo has said. In a pretty hopeless era, her imminent breakout looks perfectly timed.
Uwa is out now on Caroline International