Kizomba, rap, rhythm and blues... Angolan singer and songwriter, Big Nelo, or Nelo to his friends, has become a legend in Angola. Born in Namibe, one year on he left for Lubango and later to Luanda, where he grew up. But it was in Germany that he started his career, jumping on the rap bandwagon. He was one of the founders of the group SSP. In 2005 he launched his solo career and, today, he remains one of the promising faces of the Angolan music scene. He is an icon. So they say! He can look back over 25 years of music and many concerts. The album Karga was the turning point in his story, after SSP. From him childhood spent with his grandfather Mendes de Carvalho he has fond memories and some life lessons, in addition to huge gratitude. And, now, here he is in the peace of musicality, talking about himself.
Big Nelo or Emanuel de Carvalho Nguenohame?
It is a mixture of both. My name is Emanuel, but most of the people from my childhood call me Nelo, and fans Big Nelo.
Which do you prefer?
It makes no difference to me. Nelo is the most personal.
You were born in Namibe. Do you remember the time you lived there?
I was born in Namibe, by accident, because my parents were there. At the time, my late father was there and I ended up being there for a year. From there we went to Lubango, and then I ended up growing up here in Luanda. So, I do not remember anything of this time in Namibe.
You are a singer and songwriter. Where did you begin your career?
I started my career in Germany. At the time, it was the time when that fever for American Rap first appeared, and it ended up having a very great influence on me, as it was a more Western music. At the time in which I was in Germany there was the capitalist, socialist side, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. I ended up riding more of a Rap wave; I launched a group, SSP, in Angola. It lasted until 2005. Then I started my solo career.
But it turned out much better on your own. Today, you are an icon of modern national music...
So they say. That’s what happened, modesty aside. I’m almost 100% here. 25 years of success, with its ups and downs, but always present.
You’ve had hits with singers and groups: Warrant B, O2, Mess, Kalibrados, C4 Pedro... you’ve become a legend. «The legend never dies?» ...
At one point my fans gave me a name: Lenda (Legend). I ended up doing a song – A lenda nunca morre (The legend never dies). I always believe that when an artist reaches two decades he ends up revealing other parts, which makes him a little more timeless. The music ends up being heard, but people end up liking you, not only for the music but also as a person. When you’re at this stage, with a career of more than 20 years, people make your career last for many more years, because they like you and not just your music. That’s what’s happening. What makes me a legend is that people, independent of whether they like my music, like Big Nelo.
In 2014 you were given an honorary award by Rádio Nacional Angola (RNA). Do you want to talk to us about it?
It was because of my more than 20-year career. It was the culmination of the story. It was exciting. You see your work being recognised, not because you have been an artist who is behind songs, because it’s no good if you have several awards if people forget about you afterwards. What counts is the fans liking what I do and continuing to follow me. The awards are lovely, rewarding, but I have never seen awards as a goal.
Are there any that have marked you more?
Maybe early on in my career, as SSP, the awards were more captivating. It was that euphoria. After that I began to appreciate other things, not the awards exactly. During my solo career, in Angola, Portugal, Cape Verde, I’ve always seen awards as a reward and not as a goal.
Why are you called «Mister Karga»?
Because in 2009 I released an album called Karga. It is a compilation of some years of my career. I ended up being «Karga», heavyweight in person, and the music stuck forever. I mark an album, as I mark a season. I believe Karga was my greatest success, after SSP. It was the turning point.