Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Bringing Salsa Music Back to Its African Roots

Featuring Great Voices
of Africa

The very first time, I logged onto the Internet in January of 1996. I had to choose a screen name for my brand new Internet account. Being that I was a diehard salsa dancer and salsa music lover who recognized its African roots, I chose the name Africando, not knowing that they would be as big and famous around the world as they are today. I was first introduced to this African salsa group by a DJ at a local night club. As I was looking over their CD's liner notes, I saw their mission statement, which read, our mission is to bring salsa music back to its African roots.

 “Africando,” mixes “Africa” and the Senegalese-Wolof phrase “ando,” meaning "advancing together."

 Africando, under the musical direction of the Cuban trained maestro Boncana Maïga, of Mali, West Africa, and Ibrahim Sylla from the Ivory Coast, was formed in 1990 as an intercultural merger between Senegalese vocalist and the most prominent salsa musicians from the salsa capital New York City. “Africando,” which mixes “Africa” and the Senegalese Wolof phrase “ando,” meaning "advancing together." As musicians from other African countries were later included, the name changed to Africando All Stars, as they feature some of the greatest voices on the African continent.

An intercultural merger between Senegalese vocalist and prominent salsa musicians from New York City.

Latin music has been very popular in Central and West African countries since the 1940s as Africando set out to connect the musical dots between the African continent and Cuba to the delight of music and dance lovers of the throughout the continent of Africa singing Latin-merican classics in their native tongue Wolof and Spanish, and progressing into singing popular African popular classics with a Latin-American beat. sung in a mixture of Spanish and the Senegalese language of Wolof. The Senegalese musicians call it Wolof-spañol.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Deadly Destruction in Latino and African-American Communities

How many more innocent children, men, and women must die senselessly before members of our communities wake up saying enough is enough?

What African-Americans and Latinos Have In Common
Despite the cultural differences, and in many cases, animosity between African-American and Latino communities, we have quite a bit in common. It's bad enough that both communities suffer prejudice, bigotry, police abuse, and discrimination from outside of our communities, but are also plagued by destructive and deadly elements from within our communities with gang violence, and other crimes. Yet, the minute a white person, such as a police officer, harms someone in the African-American or Latino community, there is an uproar from the citizens. When Latinos and African-American miscreants harm decent citizens of their own respective communities, people whine and mumble about how unsafe the streets are. No one wants to speak out and stand up against these terrorists.

There Is Strength in Numbers
Latino and African-American prison gangs are in frequent conflict with each other, but ironically, most are locked up primarily for the harm they did to members of their own ethnic groups. During the 1960s, the Black Panthers (African-Americans), the Brown Berets (Mexicans), and the Young Lords (Puerto Ricans) were standing up in unison against an oppressive American system. Isn't about time that we all stand up to an oppressive, criminal element in our own communities. There is strength in numbers!

Latin Music: Bolivia

Afro-Bolivian, Black Bolivian
Africa in Bolivian Music
When people talk about Latin music, they are generally talking about salsa, Afro-Cuban, merengue and other forms of music from the Latin tropics, which are generally African-inspired. Almost every Latin-American country has it's share of African-inspired music, such as Rumba in Cuba, Son-Jarocho in Mexico, and Punta in Honduras. 

The African inspired music in Bolivia is La Saya. Although it's growing in popularity in Bolivia, the music itself is still misunderstood. In fact, it has been said that the only people who do understand La Saya and can interpret it, naturally, are the Afro-Bolivians themselves. The music involves Andean instruments of the native Aymara people, such as gourds, shakers, and bells along with African percussion, like the drum passed down from their African ancestors. 

Afro-Bolivians wear Aymara style clothing when performing La Saya music and dance. You will see women wearing bright-colored blouses of many colors with ribbons and a pollera (a multi-colored skirt) with a manta (back cover) in their hand and a bowler hat. The men wear hats, feast shirts, and Aymara style slashes around the waist, and bayetas (pants make of thick woolen cloth, and sandals).

The saya rhythm starts with bells jingling by the Caporal (leader/foreman) who leads the dance. The Caporal leads with the whip (cudgel) in their hand wearing decorated pants and bells near his ankles. The women dancers have a guide of their own as they move their hips, shake their hands, and converse with men playing the bass drum called a coancha.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Semantics: Black and Latino

Hacienda de San Jose

This former slave plantation in Perú's District of El Carmen had a Nat Turner type uprising in 1879. Today, a large chunk of Peru's black population reside in El Carmen.

Black and Latino Are Not Mutually Exclusive

The majority of slave ships went to Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries.

An African-American female was in my office going over her job search plan when our conversation somehow led to the discussion of my African-American heritage. In astonishment she said, so you 'are' black. I said, yes, the last time I looked in the mirror I was black. What color did you think I am? Her response was, I would have never known with all that Latin sh...(expletive) on your wall. I then pointed to pictures of Muhammad Ali, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. They were on my wall too. However, she pointed out that those pictures were overshadowed by my travel pictures to Perú, Cuba, and several other Latin American countries. She made a good point. What I had trouble sinking into her head was that you don't have to be African-American to be black. In each of those Latin-American countries, with the exception of El Salvador, I saw black people who speak Spanish as a first language.

Actress Omarosa is black, but her ethnicity is African-American

On another occasion, a Mexican-American woman told me that her boyfriend is black. Immediately, I stopped her and asked for clarification. I wanted to know if her black boyfriend is Jamaican, Nigerian, Cuban, or what? Oh, you know what I mean, she said. No, I don't know what you mean, I insisted. She finally broke it down to me that her boyfriend is African-American. In such a diverse, multiracial, multicultural society that we live in, it is imperative that we be more specific when it comes to identifying race and ethnicity. There is a distinct difference between the two. For example, in Oakland, where I live, there are black communities that are not African-American. There are Continental Africans, Caribbean Islanders, South Asians, Afro-Latinos, and African-Americans.

Actress Zoe Saldaña is black, but her nationality is half Puerto Rican and half Dominican

A black Puerto Rican woman got irritated with me saying, what you have to understand, Bill, is that when people say 'black,' they are referring to African-Americans. I'm thinking, how ludicrous. If this Puerto Rican woman knew anything about her history, a significant number of 'blacks' were brought to Puerto Rico as slaves. In fact, only 10% of all black slaves came to the US. I never understood why so many people use the phrase' black and Latino' to describe African-American and Latino communities when there are more blacks among the Latin-American population than African-Americans, and this is without counting the one-drop rule.
It is imperative that we be more specific when it comes to identifying race and ethnicity. There is a distinct difference between the two.

I was in a chess game with my goddaughter Daniela of Perú. Before the game started, I said I wanted the black pieces because I'm black. She then touched her arm and said that she is black too. I felt so proud of her. Bottom line, black people come in many different cultures and speak many different languages. Latinos come in many different colors reflecting their indigenous, African European, Asian, and Middle Eastern ancestries.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Spanish-English Game

Learning Spanish, Speaking Spanish Practicing Spanish, Spanish
It's almost like a game to see if their English is better than my Spanish or if my Spanish is better than their English

While in transit from Havana, Cuba back to Oakland, CA where I live, I had a short layover at the Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City. Trying to get directions, I stopped an airport employee and started to ask my question in Spanish. Sensing that I'm not a native Spanish speaker, he snapped, SPEAK TO ME IN ENGLISH! That's when I realized his English is better than my Spanish.

On my second trip to Perú, I met Patricia through her sister, a Facebook friend living in Toronto. She told me in English that her English is better than my Spanish. I accepted that and resigned myself to speak English. However, as we continued to talk, we both agreed (LOL) that we should speak Spanish. As it turned out, my Spanish is better than her English.

I felt that he was assuming that I'm just another gringo who can't speak Spanish and I decided to teach his ass a lesson

Now, back in Cuba; I was riding my bicycle along the Malecón (waterfront) with a group of American visitors. A Cuban bicyclist came up beside me and started a conversation in English. I started getting an attitude. I felt that he was assuming that I'm just another gringo who can't speak Spanish and I decided to teach his ass a lesson. For everything he said to me in English, I responded in Spanish hoping he would get the message. Instead, he himself copped an attitude and demanded that I stopped answering him in Spanish because he was trying to practice his English. That's when I began to sympathize with him and comply with his wishes because I was treated the same way when I approached bilingual Latin Americans in the United States when I would speak Spanish to them. 

Just as many Spanish speakers who speak English feel insulted when people assume they are Spanish only; I too feel insulted when people look at me and assume that I'm English only.

In many cases, however, here and abroad, I get in Spanish/English conversations with native Spanish-speakers, and it's almost like a game to see if their English is better than my Spanish or if my Spanish is better than their English, and which ever one dominates, that is the language we speak. Just as many Spanish speakers who speak English feel insulted when people assume they are Spanish only; I too feel insulted when people look at me and ASSume that I'm English only, and that is here and abroad.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Afro-Peruvian Slave Revolt

  Hacienda de San Jose 
Hacienda San José
When I attempted to visit this old slave plantation, I was turned away at the door because it was shut down due to damages from the 2007 earth quake. 

Peruvian black folks make up 5% to 10% of the population, which is estimated at 2 million. Although I encountered black communities in Lima, the nation's capital, large numbers of black folks can be found in Southern Peru and Northern Peru. 

The first Africans arrived as slaves, sailors, and soldier among the conquistadors. In fact, they were among the troops that invaded and overthrew the Incas in 1533. By 1635, the Perú had a black majority, which started to decline by 1700 due to interracial relationships and marriages.

In the 1540s slave revolts began to occur, which were immediately put down. Slaves who escaped were called cimarones, and they built fortresses called palenques to defend themselves against slave hunters. One of the successful slave revolts occurred on a slave plantation in Southern Peru called Hacienda (Slave Plantation) San Jose.   

Hacienda San José, a sugar plantation, was built in 1868 in El Carmen, Perú and lasted until a rebellion of more than 300 African slaves took place in 1879 . The plantation owner was hacked down like sugar cane by machete wielding slave rebels on the principal stair entrance. Descendants of these slaves still populate the area known as the District of El Carmen where my goddaughter lives and where I visit every chance I get.

Today, this plantation (or hacienda) has been converted into a tourist attraction where people spend the night. Guided tours are in Spanish packed with 300 years’ black history. They serve an extraordinary Sunday lunch buffet featuring full range comida criolla (Peruvian soul food), and put on  Afro-Peruvian music and dance performances.

I stopped by the Hacienda in November 2010 and in November 2011, and each time, was told by the security officer that it will open next year. It was closed as a result of an 8.0 earthquake that took place in the summer of 2007.

Tribute to a Black Puerto Rican Activist, Poet, and Journalist

Felipe Luciano, Emmy-Award Winning Journalist
Afro-Puerto Rican Black Puerto Rican
The lone Afro-Latino member of the Last Poets, a renown group of black revolutionaries mentored by poet, author, and university professor Amiri Baraka, was Felipe Luciano. He was born in Spanish Harlem, New York City and raised by a single Puerto Rican mother. It was his black and proud grandmother who instilled in him a positive view of his Afro-Puerto Rican roots, which he grew to appreciate more as he approached maturity.

Felipe Luciano was a member of the original Last Poets
As a youth, Luciano did prison time for manslaughter while living in Brooklyn. After getting out early for good behavior, he enrolled in Queens College of the City University of New York and immediately became an social activist and a member of the Last Poets, which many say is the precursor to hip-hop. Because of his increasing popularity as an artist and activist, a group of young Puerto Ricans approached Felipe about coming together to fight poverty and oppression in the Puerto Rican community; the New York branch of the Chicago-based Young Lords Party, and ally of the Black Panther Party was established (see blog post: Puerto Rican Allies of the Black Panther Party. Felipe Luciano was elected chairman and distinguished himself in articulating barrio grievances and bonding with his Puerto Rican community.

Luciano as chairman of the Young Lords Party (YLP)
After leaving the YLP, Luciano got his break into the media producing popular New York radio shows on WRVR, and black-owned WBLS and WLIB becoming an ACE Award recipient. As his media career progressed, Felipe became WNBC-TV anchor winning two Emmy Awards.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Empowering Perú's Black Communities

Monica “Oru” Carrillo
Empowering Perú's black communities against racial discrimination and sexism.

As a Peruvian black woman, Monica Carrillo who herself faces racism and sexual discrimination, has become a role model and an advocate working to empower the Afro Peruvian community, particularly the young. She wants Peru’s rich African heritage to be included as part of the Peruvian national identity. Her work with impoverished black youth has given her international recognition.

The name, LUNDU, originates from a traditional African dance in The Kongo region of Western Africa, it means “successor.”

In addition, she is a hip-hop artist, writer, poet, singer, musician, journalist, and educator.
Monica, or Oru, as she is called, mixes poetry, Afro-beat, soul, hip-hop and Afro Peruvian music to highlight contributions made by black Peruvians to combat racism and sexism. Her
music has been featured internationally, particularly on MTV Europe, addressing how discrimination, sexism effects young black Peruvian women.

“The other day I left my house...and counted the number of insults I received in 20 minutes: 12. People say these things and they don’t run away, because they feel they’re in the right.”
--Monica “Oru” Carrillo

Oru founded LUNDU, the Center for Afro Peruvian Studies and Advancement (see Black Peruvian Rights Struggle), which strives to improve conditions for blacks who represent between seven and 10 percent of Perú's population. She and her organization LUNDU received threats because of their successful campaign to remove a racist television program from the airwaves (see Perú's Racist Propaganda).

LUNDU helps young Afro-Peruvians overcome discrimination using the arts, advocacy, education, civic engagement, and economic and educational opportunities. LUNDU
’s outreach to black youth involves life skills, sexual education, black pride workshops, and empowerment against violence, abuse, and forced sex, and unwanted pregnancies. Oru has been quoted as saying,
our girls believe their lives are worth something.
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