Music and Dance
African music and dance is a spontaneous eruption of cultural expression of self and traditions. The Afro-Latinos fusion and manifestation of their African musical and rhythmic DNA is apparent in its diverse intangible cultural traditions in music and dance. These music and dances are visually exciting, powerful and arouses the senses, enticing you uninhibitedly to physically, emotionally or spiritually move, feel and connect.
African music and dance is a spontaneous eruption of cultural expression of self and traditions. The Afro-Latinos fusion and manifestation of their African musical and rhythmic DNA is apparent in its diverse intangible cultural traditions in music and dance. These music and dances are visually exciting, powerful and arouses the senses, enticing you uninhibitedly to physically, emotionally or spiritually move, feel and connect. The commonalities of the African aesthetic in the musical and dance traditions across Afro-Latin America have been the guide in recognizing these valuable intangible heritage practices and the importance of safeguarding its cultural value.
According to Asante in African Culture, in recognizing the seven African aesthetic senses of polyrhythm, polysenses, curve in form and sound, texture, memory interpretation, repetition, holism; one can see the intercultural stylized fusion and African linkage in music and dance across the “Black Atlantic.” These dances and rhythms have endured in major part due to the strong value and religious systems that are preserved in these Afro-descendant communities. Rumba, Bomba, Saya, Marimba, Samba just to name a few, carry the polyrhythmic intensity, repetition, euphoric spirit of Juju and sakara music from the Yorubas, Nigeria and Yewe music from the Ewes,Ghana. These are sacred ritualistic musical practices that in crossing the Atlantic have maintained its spirit but also have played and still plays the role of resistance, liberation and culture griot. The quote from Letieres Leite from group Orkestra Rumplilezz emphasizes this point “I see the rise of candomblé, capoeira and samba as resistance, a place of reunion and restructuring of a culture...Africans reinvented themselves in an incredible and profound way; not only did they restructure their ancestrality, but they also influenced so many aspects of contemporary Western culture.”
The Africans that were forcibly brought to the Americas to work the land under brutal conditions imprinted their culinary traditions on the fabric of the Afro-descendant memory palate all across Latin America. In working the land-cultivating, harvesting, reaping, creating and storing their food source- their culinary palate was formed. These palate traditions were formed because of availability of the type of foods in their environment, their prior knowledge of preparing these foods and adapting to their situation by creatively creating dishes that communicated and described their histories, cultures, values and belief system.
Though African’s culinary stamp in Latin America menu is not recognized, acknowledged, and kept “invisible”, many of the national treasured dishes originated from these same marginalized Afro-Latino communities. Today these national dishes are a national pride and symbolizes a movement towards resistance to hegemony of ideals. They speak of pride of identity and pride of recognition. Food helps in the creation, connection and remembrance of a people’s identity; it tells the (hi)story of a people, it negotiates the socio-cultural intersectionalities which results in the formation of a palate’s “collective memory.”
The enslaved Africans brought new cooking styles, techniques, items, knowledge and re-memory of tastes. They brought creativity by using products and practices from the new world and connecting it with styles and flavors from Africa to form new culinary traditions. Unquestionably our senses keep traditions alive and food is indeed involved in all the senses, this we can see in the African culinary imprint as it permeates through Latin American life sustenance- it’s food.
The African food influences can be seen in staple foods, spices and flavorings across the region. The use of rice and rice cultivation which came across from the Sene-Gambia region during the 1500-1888 slave trade. The hearty use of the tuber root vegetables of yams-yuca-malanga, okra, sesame seeds, plantain, jamaica, tamarind, banana, black eye beans and spices like ginger, garlic, onions, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, coconut milk, palm oil and peppers are some of the main ingredients in Afro-Latino culinary traditions.
Religion & Spirituality
African religions in the Americas have been fundamental in identity creation for Afro-descendants in the diaspora. These religions have been both a blessing and a curse at various times in history. They were often not accepted because of racialized negative perceptions and the hegemonic criticisms from the Catholic church. The fact that these African religious practices survived in its new form, while others such as Islam did not- is a testimony of the power of traditions and memory. These Africanized religions with its variations, rituals, traditions and histories continue to transform and expand and reconnect with practitioners in Africa.
These religions united the enslaved Africans that were brought from all west Africa and as far east Africa as Mozambique- diverse groups, languages, cultures, traditions -through desperate oppression and pain. These religious practices helped to heal, restore them physically, spiritually, socially and mentally. It helped them to regain their identity and dignity, to symbolically and at times literally break their shackles and escape to freedom. Many Afro-descendants in Latin America that practice the various forms of African spirituality seek liberation and reconnection with Africa and their African ancestral spirits. By continuing these practices, rituals and traditions, the group contributes to the “collective memory” bank and assures the continuation of the African legacy.
Resistance & Identity Consciousness
Unfortunately there is still a stigma surrounding Blackness in Latin America with over 500 years of African presence in the Americas. The African influences in Latin Americans cuisine, musica and dance, religion, identity and socio-cultural landscape is astounding yet complex. They have been marginalized and placed in a double erasure sideline. Currently NGO’s, activists, academics, artists and other groups have been actively working to better the social-political and economic conditions of Latinos of African descent.
More African Influences
African influences on the cultural formation of the Americas and within the African diaspora communities are numerous, where some are visible and promoted while other contributions are barely acknowledged. Music, Dance, Food and sometimes spirituality are on full display as the intangible African practices that have endured. The art forms of music and dance are especially promoted and used as the main headliner in acceptance of African culture. While today the promotion of African influenced music and dance in the diaspora is well regarded, welcomed and preserved, there are many other aspects of African influences that are never mentioned nor acknowledged. We need to shine light on African influences on medicine and its natural and plant based traditions; politics, leadership and activism; education and the impact of family importance values, sharing of skills in building, innovation and cultivation; language and contribution of African words and expressions, hybrid native language of the Garifunas, palenqueros and quilombolas; sports and the African athlete-strength, endurance, courage, coordination of movements; and the remembrance of griot oral culture and (hi)stories.