Ma­puto RE­BORN

Mozam­bique’s cap­i­tal is emerg­ing as a cos­mopoli­tan des­ti­na­tion of choice in Africa. It has re­ju­ve­nated it­self with a strength­en­ing econ­omy, in­fec­tious friend­li­ness, de­li­cious food – and by de­sign. Fre­quent visi­tor Adam Levin hangs out with some of Ma­puto’

CityPress - - Opportunity index - Ed­i­to­rial as­sis­tance from Thabo Seroke. Levin was a guest of the South­ern Sun Ma­puto. For more on the grandly ren­o­vated ho­tel, go to tso­go­sun­ho­tels.com /ho­tels/ma­puto

When I first be­gan vis­it­ing Ma­puto in the mid-90s, it was a re­mote and elu­sive place with a slight sci-fi feel to it. The skele­tal apart­ment blocks left un­fin­ished af­ter the Por­tuguese colonists’ hur­ried ex­o­dus in 1973 still seemed haunted by the ghosts of a gru­elling civil war.

At night, the strobe-like flicker of con­stant power out­ages did lit­tle to faze the lively bus­tle of pedes­tri­ans prom­e­nad­ing along the broad av­enues named for Mao Ze­dong and Karl Marx. I re­mem­ber the Art Deco apart­ment blocks, peel­ing pas­tel in the hu­mid air, as though ship­wrecked along the pot­holed pave­ments. Time-warped yet re­silient, Ma­puto seemed many worlds away from Jo­han­nes­burg.

The Ma­puto I re­turned from last week is, if any­thing, a shim­mer of its for­mer shadow. So­cial­ism has segued quickly into vis­i­ble pros­per­ity and long-awaited con­sumerism, with prop­erty prices soar­ing as high as the co­conut palms.

I have vis­ited fre­quently over the past two decades, es­cap­ing at whim to its sum­mery win­ters, warm cre­ative sub­cul­ture and rich sourc­ing ground for the kind of hand­crafted ob­jets d’art I trade in.

Per­haps I mis­lead you. Per­haps the moun­tains of gar­lic-driz­zled ca­ma­raoes (shrimp) in peri-peri sauce washed down with a frosted bot­tle of Dos Equis with lime has equal al­lure.

This place still seems worlds away from Jo­han­nes­burg and yet strangely rem­i­nis­cent of a balmy Mediter­ranean af­ter­noon or a busy morn­ing in Sao Paulo. And yet, this gi­ant cul­tural leap is merely a 45-minute flight (with no visa for­mal­i­ties), or if you’re a bar­gain hound like my­self, a com­fort­able R250 overnight bus ride from Jozi.

I have nur­tured some spe­cial friend­ships among Ma­puto’s in­fec­tiously friendly cre­ative set. It is, af­ter all, a city where peo­ple ges­ture in the traf­fic that they’ll phone you later (and later may well be mid­night). For a decade, change seemed slow and te­dious in Mozam­bique, but in the past few years, that pace has ac­cel­er­ated most buoy­antly.

Two years ago, I was sit­ting at a pave­ment café near the leg­endary Polana Ser­ena Ho­tel with my good friend Louiggi Lu­ciano Ju­nior on a rare break from his busy shoot­ing sched­ule, sourc­ing wardrobe for the coun­try’s un­likely but grow­ing in­die film in­dus­try. Mid­way through a mouth­ful of heav­enly Pasteis de Nata (Por­tuguese cus­tard tarts), I re­alised that Ma­puto had turned a cor­ner.

“It’s all hap­pen­ing here man!” Louiggi ex­claimed– or more ac­cu­rately, sang. “We have found nat­u­ral gas and oil in the north, and with new places open­ing ev­ery day, ev­ery­one wants a piece of Ma­puto, but us Mozam­bi­cans, we ain’t go­ing nowhere.” He slapped me a high-five.

Five. You could get five met­i­cais for a rand the year be­fore, but so quickly it was down to three. In­deed in 2012, the Mozam­bi­can cur­rency was the world’s best-per­form­ing against the US dol­lar, economic growth was at 13% and mem­o­ries of war were mak­ing way for a sense of op­ti­mistic prag­ma­tism. The sound of jack­ham­mers and the swing­ing of cranes were wak­ing the city from decades of fright­ened paral­y­sis.

Iron­i­cally, its for­mer con­quis­ta­dores were en­joy­ing a less abun­dant sea­son back in Europe and 400 000 Mozam­bi­can work visas were is­sued to for­eign job hun­ters in 2013.

South African chain stores cropped up on the pe­riph­ery, al­though Wool­worths didn’t meet ex­pec­ta­tions and the aisles set aside for pre­pared meals have been in­vaded by chunks of Chorizo, Bacha­lao and im­ported soft drinks. Wher­ever you go, Ma­puto feels in­creas­ingly up to date and cos­mopoli­tan.

You will find many of th­ese trav­ellers eat­ing sal­mon lasagna at my friend Mirella Irsce’s ris­torante at the French Cul­tural Cen­tre, the city’s un­of­fi­cial in­for­ma­tion hub. Twenty years ago, Mirella moved from Mi­lano to Ma­puto and into a mod­ernist apart­ment perched 13 floors above the Polana and the breath tak­ing bay. She came be­cause it was the least likely place one would go and she stayed in spite of its re­union with the 21st cen­tury. Her love af­fair with Mozam­bique has en­dured.

Her new house­mate, Bongiwe Dlamini, a Swazi per­former with ef­fort­less grace, re­vives van­ish­ing in­dige­nous mu­sic and in­fuses Ma­puto’s nightlife with her lul­la­bies. She came here two years ago with hopes of join­ing an African dub col­lec­tive and was so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally re­ceived by the pro­mot­ers that she’s still here.

“There is so much hap­pen­ing here,” she says. “There are th­ese par­ties on the rooftop of an old the­atre or at the For­t­aleza [Ma­puto’s 17th Cen­tury fort]. There are also mu­sic, film and dance fes­ti­vals pro­vid­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

For a re­mote and rel­a­tively small city, the cre­ative den­sity and di­ver­sity here is re­mark­able.

Many young artists hang around the well-known Nú­cleo de Arte gallery, which ini­ti­ated a ca­reer that has be­come one of Ma­puto’s most il­lus­tri­ous. Gonçalo Mabunda has shot up the world art ranks re­cently with his com­pelling masks, thrones, ar­moires and metal fur­ni­ture forged from the mas­sive sur­plus of still haz­ardous am­mu­ni­tion sal­vaged since the civil war ended.

The sculp­tures re­mind us how re­cent and how hideous the coun­try’s 20-year civil war re­ally was. Mabunda’s tal­ents are truly an ex­pres­sive, even whim­si­cal, take on the macabre sub­ject mat­ter. It is prob­a­bly what has re­cently made him a ris­ing star on the in­ter­na­tional art cir­cuit.

We visit Mabunda in his down­town stu­dio, where a clut­ter of scav­enged heavy metal is be­ing rapidly rein­vented into an ar­ray of baroque, colo­nial and cu­ri­ously an­i­mated pieces that could be yours for between R10 000 and R500 000.

The body of ran­dom scrap that fills his yard tells a quintessen­tially Mozam­bi­can tale of heavy mil­i­tari­sa­tion; prag­ma­tism de­spite scarce re­sources; heal­ing through cre­ativ­ity; and the for­get­table and tacky trin­kets of rapid glob­al­i­sa­tion.

Later we visit Astrid Sul­ger a Swiss de­signer in her Costa Do Sol work­shop. She spe­cialises in jew­ellery made from ani- mal horn. Af­ter liv­ing in Ma­puto for 20 years she was ready to close shop two years ago, but then ex­pe­ri­enced a sud­den boom in busi­ness. The tide has turned.

While the city has not been spared ugly new malls, China marts and a casino, Ma­puto’s charis­matic ar­chi­tec­ture, al­though largely un­re­stored, har­bours colo­nial Art Deco and trop­i­cal mod­ernist gems. The lat­ter have a par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance in the Latin world: an em­brace of moder­nity of­ten ab­sent in our ur­ban land­scapes. The fan­ci­ful forms of leg­endary lo­cal ar­chi­tect Pan­cho Guedes and mu­rals (like those at Zambi Restau­rant) as well as the par­tic­u­lar dank aroma of pre­cast con­crete dreams are as mag­i­cal here as in Brasilia or Barcelona.

Sadly, the vinyl and wood-pan­elled travel agen­cies I used to spot down­town in arch 60s and 70s splen­dour have been re­placed by Flight Cen­tre chic.

How­ever, grad­u­ally, if one looks across a va­ri­ety of dis­ci­plines, there is a new wave of strongly Latin de­sign that is help­ing Ma­puto forge a new vis­ual iden­tity.

Pop into Rodizio for a tra­di­tional Brazil­ian Chur­ras­caria (bar­be­cue) and you could be in the Clube Privê of some 70s James Bond flick.

At times it is hard to tell the vin­tage from the brand new.

The charms of other ar­chaisms are not lost in Ma­puto. To swim with­out mem­ber­ship, you would need to con the bowtied wait­ers of the Clube Navale, and white ta­ble cloths, no mat­ter how worn, will still be laid tra­di­tion­ally for your seafood meal.

Pi­ratas do Pau (Pi­rates of Wood) is an ea­ger new col­lec­tive that sal­vages tim­ber from ship­wrecks and up­cy­cles it as fur­ni­ture. The strong mod­ernist shapes some­how seem ap­pro­pri­ate to the city’s de­sign ver­nac­u­lar. The col­lec­tive also pre­sented at Cape Town’s De­sign Ind­aba this year.

The Por­tuguese ship-build­ing skills have pro­duced gen­er­a­tions of fine car­pen­try in Mozam­bique. For many years, I have been com­ing to buy wooden arte­facts from Car­los Mont lane, who works with Aid to Ar­ti­sans to cre­ate a se­ries of ves­sels to stun­ning ef­fect. The hand-lathed ebony ves­sels have funded Car­los’ trips to Spain and Por­tu­gal, where he has se­cured an im­pres­sive ex­port mar­ket.

Mar­i­ana Cle­mente also ex­ploits the lo­cal car­pen­try ex­per­tise, along with a rain­bow of bold ge­o­met­ri­cally pat­terned cot­ton Ca­pu­lanas, or lo­cal sarongs, to make a sexy range of wing-back chairs for her brand, Ca­pudeira. Down­town, near the bustling cen­tral mar­ket, you can ex­plore the shelves of the famed tex­tiles store Casa Ele­fante.

The am­bi­tious pro­jects of ren­o­va­tion can not only be seen down­town, but across the scat­tered hori­zon of Ma­puto.

The re­cent R370 mil­lion up­grade to the South­ern Sun Ma­puto, where we are stay­ing, is the big­gest ho­tel in­vest­ment in Africa since the 2010 soc­cer World Cup.

Qual­ity prop­erty prices, in both buy­ing and rent­ing, are ex­or­bi­tant. Ever more restau­rants open around the city, cater­ing to the coun­try’s new mid­dle class, al­though some be­lieve this spec­u­la­tive bub­ble will burst in a cou­ple of years, bring­ing prices to more re­al­is­tic lev­els.

For decades be­fore the civil war, Lourenzo Mar­ques, as Ma­puto was still known, was the ul­ti­mate week­end get­away for South Africans for its mix of sun, surf and sin. A week­end in Ma­puto to­day may be less il­licit, but the great cli­mate and va­ri­ety of cul­tures and tra­di­tions to ex­plore will leave you on a high. How­ever, it is not just the ex­oti­cism so close to home that is re­fresh­ing; it is the sense of new­ness and op­ti­mism so tan­gi­ble in a coun­try that has, for the most part, healed its hor­ri­ble war wounds and is dis­cov­er­ing a whole new cre­ative and economic pos­si­bil­ity. Like Brazil in the 50s, Ma­puto is dis­cov­er­ing a new rhythm, feel­ing its way to a mag­i­cal brand-new beat, or bet­ter put, its Bossa Nova.

LIFE AND CUL­TURE A beach view of the newly ren­o­vated South­ern Sun Ma­puto. IN­SETS: (left to right) The fa­mous Roma

PHO­TOS OF HO­TEL, SUL­GER AND MABUNDA BY LUNGILE HLATSHWAYO

olic cathe­dral; Jew­eller Astrid Sul­ger; singer Bongiwe Dlamini; sculp­tor Gonçalo Mabunda; a tasty Pas­tel de Nata

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