2019 has been a pivotal year for Angola since it recently passed law to decriminalize homosexuality in the Southwestern African country. The decision also prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation—protecting employees from being refused work or others from receiving resources.
Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola was not one of the major countries where the LGBTQ community was persecuted. Still, this new law is a major step for Africa, but leaving 69 countries that uphold bans on gay sex and homosexuality.
For Angolan citizens this is a sigh of relief, but only the beginning of the work that needs to be done for equity and inclusion for all. For independent recording artist, model, and entrepreneur Coréon Dú this is a landmark that will only help elevate his work and the way reaches the world with his music.
34-year-old José Eduardo Paulino dos Santos, better known as Coréon Dú, is a multi-faceted and multilingual Angolan artist who has found success in music, dance, fashion, television, film, and print—and he is also the son of the 2nd president of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos who served from 1979 until 2017. Although Coréon finds great pride in being the son of a political dignitary in Angola, he has been fervent in his path to pave his own path, following his passions and making a difference where it counts.
A native of Luanda, Coréon has experienced his share of setbacks as an openly gay man and the son of a political figure. Still, he remains focused on his creative projects that have earned him numerous awards, including various International Emmy nominations for his television series Jikulumessu and Windeck.
His latest musical venture, The Love Experiment, is a manifestation of Coréon Dú’s life experiences and features tracks in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
His latest single is a Latin-inspired cover of Jacques Brel’s famous song Ne Me Quitte Pas and we are happy to premiere the video here:
Instinct had the pleasure of getting to know Coréon Dú in more detail. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:
What’s the story behind your stage name?
Coréon comes from my favorite character from an Australian sci-fi kids show I used to watch in the 1990s called Spellbinder and Dú comes from second part of my first name Eduardo. Most people never really allowed me to have an identity or to be my own entity. I was always treated as an extension of someone else. Since I have very well-known parents in politics and academia I was always the “son of” as a teenager and as a young adult I already had older siblings who were successful in business, so I also became “brother of”.
As an adult and as my professional work grew more visible, I knew I would have to find a constructive way to deal with many people´s and press´ obsession with politicizing every personal and professional move I ever made. That´s why around ten years ago I actually stopped using my birth name and started using Coréon Dú as my professional name. I think everyone has the right to be able to express their own personal identity and when it comes to creative professionals, we should all be allowed to be our own creation and not necessarily fit in the boxes that others tell us in order to feel more comfortable.
What is the inspiration behind your albums?
The Coréon Experiment is probably the most cathartic of my musical works because I felt like it was a form of creative exorcism. I had a very typical old-school African and immigrant upbringing where most elders around me really pushed me to be practical and go for a sensible career that every family could be proud of and I´ve learned over time it´s not just in my culture that many parents would prefer their child be a doctor, lawyer, engineer or any of those more socially palpable and palatable professional options.
I´ve always been an artist at heart, however my desire to advance myself in that aspect was negated or circumvented very actively at a point in my life my parents would even find ways to prevent me from doing things such as going to dance class, do anything musical or artistic too many hours out of the week, and not have contact with some of my relatives who were professional musicians.
So there was a lot of bottled up emotion that probably went into my songs including the joy of making music, which was a lifelong dream. However, there was also a lot of angst and trying to navigate issues I thought were important to communicate musically. Interestingly enough though people love my more upbeat songs, a lot of my fans seem to still really emotionally connect with songs where I´m discussing a lot of introspective emotions even when it´s not in a language they speak.
How would you classify your style?
Eclectic. I appreciate that it is becoming increasingly acceptable now within mainstream culture for artists to actually create outside their comfort zone. It's not always easy, because I understand even as a fan it´s nice to know what your favorite artist´s strengths are, but on the same token I love being surprised in learning new ways of expressing myself.
Who is the type of person you design for?
As someone who struggled with very low self-esteem most of my life, when I started designing, I just wanted to make my fans smile. Most of my first designs were just t-shirts and basic merchandise I´d sell at my gigs. When I got the opportunity to develop WeDú by Coréon Dú as a collaboration with a local retail chain that had stores in Angola and Namibia it really allowed me to expand on that.
When I am designing, I always try to think about something that can allow people to make themselves feel confident, to infuse some optimism and sassiness into their everyday life with something as simple as a garment.
Who/what are some of your inspirations?
Bjork is still one of my biggest inspirations because she´s always pushed boundaries within the worlds of music, visual art, and fashion all while still being considered a Pop Star. Vocally speaking, my late uncle André Mingas was a really big inspiration. I grew up listening to his very soulful style of mixing traditional Angolan music with R&B and Jazz. Sadly, he passed away from cancer after my first album came out and it means the world to me, he was still able to hear the song he gave me to record. There´s also Filipe Mukenga and Filipe Zau who I also had pleasure of working and writing with in my first album and on my latest release The Love Experiment.
Artists whose work I can connect with emotionally like David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Elton John, and Alejandro Fernandez. As far of contemporary artists, I´m really interested in the ones who show that similar sensibility like Christina Aguilera, Jessie J, and Lady Gaga--especially when it´s just her and her piano which is always magical.
What have been some of the greatest challenges in your career?
I never had the luxury of a neutral starting point wherever I went. Most artists have the luxury of being seen for their art first, and that often attracts opportunity. In my case most people, don’t believe I need or deserve to be given opportunity in the first place. That´s probably why until this day I still do not count on a manager or an agent, because most people see me as an easy meal-ticket before anything else—someone who will bankroll their lives.
What has it been like to be the son of the Angolan president as well as a member of the LGBTQ community?
When I was a child, I just was thought I was normal little boy until I realized my whole existence could be politically weaponized by third parties with questionable intentions, and this happened while I was still in elementary school. For one I never really had the opportunity to be “in the closet” or having time to figure things out because there was always people with political interests trying to exploit my sexual orientation for their own “special interests” or political agendas. Any illusion of privacy disappears very quickly when you have family members in politics.
There´s also the complex for many gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the metropolitan parts of Angola where, in many cases, everyone knows your sexual identity. They just don’t really want you to talk about it. That stems from how, culturally, people in Angola value privacy. The same goes for heterosexual people. It´s still a conundrum that in most cases you don´t really see straight couples showing public displays of affection, and in many places it´s still frowned upon. However, a lot of our music, dance and art are filled with sensuality. On the same token, that social policy of keeping your intimacy behind closed doors has often been used an excuse to efface the visibility of serious issues especially for LGBTQ and women. Often times issues around discrimination, sexual health or violence pertaining to these groups of people are erased from social discussions using the excuse that those are personal issues that should be discussed in private and not in public forums.
As I grew and the internet became more available back home there have always been “leaks” from people who were close to my family and further trolling, and of course very high-profile cases of people in politics and religious leaders accusing me of pretty much being a” deviant” who wanted to “pervert” young minds and get them all to subscribe to my deviant ways.
Though a lot of it was mainly political jabs or attacks to my decency or credibility, there were also some very serious moments. People use the anonymity of the internet and social media to send me death threats filled with epithets and I even had someone send me an e-mail once threatening to harm me and kidnap one of my exes. The sad part was that I remember reporting that instance to the authorities. They actually caught the person, but let him go as they alleged there was no reason to make a big deal out of that situation.
What does the new law in favor of the LGBTQ community in Angola mean for the future of the country?
That is a great question, I have the same question myself. I´m cautiously optimistic about this sort of situation, because on one hand I applaud the level of maturity and sensibility that the Parliament members of the Legislative branch in government showed by finally reviewing some of these laws that had not been amended since 1886. This reflects the aspirations the more progressive-minded and younger Angolans, and seems that some of the government is listening. However, as someone who was forced to learn how politicians operate from an early age, I´m still cautious to see how this will actually affect the LGBTQ community on a day to day basis. Being raised by a mother who is a lawyer has taught me to always pay attention to details, and to be aware of loopholes we are not seeing.
It is indeed wonderful news in the sense that our state of being as LGBTQ people and our expressions of intimacy are no longer considered a crime. But we still have a long road ahead and we need to have a lot of patience, mental and emotional fortitude because there´s still much to do when it comes to educating society and creating further dialogue to build bridges with our straight counterparts in a balanced way. This is still only one very small step in a long complex journey, even if it is an important one.
What are some of your next project?
My latest music project, The Love Experiment, is available in all the digital platforms which is exciting as I had not released any new music in a few years.
I must confess that these days a project that has been taking up a lot of my time and making me very proud is my work scouting and mentoring models. I started doing this as a small project almost ten years ago, and now it´s been growing and allowing more opportunities for models who are primarily African born scouted in Angola, Cape Verde, and South Africa to shine internationally.
Coréon Dú’s music is available on his official YouTube page and on all major music streaming services.