Take an audio-visual tour of music of the African diaspora in the Latin Caribbean on BBC’s Afrocubism. This site offers sixteen incredible tracks from the album of the same title, Afrocubism, a project-album that involves a collaboration between Cuban and Malian musicians, representing the centuries-old connection between Western African and Latin Caribbean culture. Once the Atlantic slave trade began, cultural traditions, languages, social structures and cosmological conceptions from the regions of western Africa were supplanted onto the islands of the Caribbean Sea, which up to that point had been inhabited by a plethora of Amerindian peoples, including the Taino and the Carib.
African traditions and languages, however, did not arrive alone; the entrance of European culture was equal in magnitude to that of West Africans, however the European influence took on a distinct aspect being that the colonial powers were systematically and institutionally advancing their languages, religions and cultural traditions, while those of the Africans were left alone, at best, and actively squashed by colonial authorizes at worst. Out of this violent confluence of cultures and historical narratives, however, emerged new forms of identity, new forms of art and music that reflected this distinctive mix for the generations of Afrolatino Caribbean communities that followed. On the island of Cuba, this has been exceptionally evident, as Havana and the Cuban hinterlands have been the source of so many world-famous movements in music and dance throughout the 20th century. For a more regionally nuanced view, see this absolutely incredible resource on NPR’s Africa Boogaloo.
A key element to Afrocuban music is the instruments. By studying the instruments used, you can see where the mix of cultures intersects with sound-producing objects. For instance you can see the European string instruments in the guitars and the bass, West African drumming traditions in the percussion, and even notes of jazz in the wind and brass instruments. The Bata drum, modeled heavily from a West African drum style is heavily incorporated in traditional Cuban music and wildly popular. Check out this video to see an example of Bata drum music. Before or after listening to the sixteen track playlist on the BBC, you can follow the link “More” to the Last.FM page on the Afrocubism album. Here you can find more detailed information on the group, the collaboration; you can see the album artwork and also watch an amazing video which is embedded in the center of the page.
Another musical group rich with online multimedia information is Buena Vista Social Club. Their work and many of its members have been highly associated with the Afrocubism project and have reached a worldwide audience. Check out this amazing documentary style music video to see some of the artists and some great shots from around the streets of Havana, Cuba.
And remember that the most important part of this lesson is to make room, because once the songs come on, everyone will want to stand up and move. This is not the type of music to be listened to while sitting still, although even then it is still quite amazing. Enjoy!!!
Image: Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club live in the Netherlands. Reprinted from Patrick Sinke under CC ©.