Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Legacy of Black Music in Latin America

I am addressing the New Amsterdam Musical Association in Harlem, New York City, the largest African-American musical association in the U.S. on African history in Latin Music.

Years ago, I was coming home from work on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train from San Francisco where I  worked headed to Oakland where I lived. On the train, I ran into a black friend from Cuba. A couple of stops later, a friend (black) from Colombia, South America joined us. Because his English was limited, the three of us switched our communication to Spanish, and it became evident that the rapport between the three of us was quite strong. 

 Kimba Kúa dancers of Paraguay, South America

Yet, despite our black skins, brown eyes, and wide noses, we still saw each other as foreigners. It never occurred to any of us that there could have been the possibility of our having the same ancestors from the same village in Western Africa as family members and fellow villagers that were broken up during that notorious slave trade, and scattered throughout the Americas.

Singer Pépe Vasquez of Perú

In the U.S., blues was born among the African descendants, rumba music was born in Cuba to African descendants, and in Colombia, cumbia music was born. I, as an African-American grew up on rhythm and blues, just one of the various legacies of black music in the U.S. My Cuban friend grew up on son-montuno music, another legacy of black music in Cuba, And naturally,  my friend from Colombia grew up on cumbia music and Colombian-style salsa.

 Afro-Venezuelan dancing to tambor music at a festival

The legacy of black music took various forms all over Latin America depending upon the nation, and the various regions in those nations. This is just a shortlist:

Argentina: the tango
Bolivia: saya music
Brazil: samba
Chile: cueca
Colombia: champeta, cumbia, and vallenato
Costa Rica: calypso and reggae
Cuba: rumba, son-montuno, changui, songo, and timba
Dominican Republic: bachata and merengue
Ecuador: bomba and marimba
Mexico: son-jarocho
Honduras: punta rock
Panama:calypso, congo, cumbia, reggaetón, and tamborito, 
Perú: festejo, landó, and zamacuenca
Puerto Rico: bomba and plena
Uruguay: candomble
Venezuela: tambor

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Black Pride in a Latino World

The main square of the all-black town of San Basilio
 de Palenque in Colombia, South America

All through my life, I heard stories about black Americans who try to pretend they are Native American, Latino, or anything other than black American, but never met them personally until I met Harold who goes by the name of Mialdo. With his impressive salsa dancing skills, he proceeds through life masquerading as a Puerto Rican, but speaks very little Spanish. 

One Saturday evening, Harold and I went to a salsa music and dance club near San Francisco where he stated to a group of Latinos that both he and I are Puerto Rican. I didn't want to make a scene; I simply looked at Mialdo out of disgust for his apparent self-hatred and his propensity to live a lie. And when he included me in his lie, I made up my mind not to socialize with him again.
Visiting a black community in the Andes Mountains 
of Ecuador, South America

Back in the day when answering machines were mainstream, I had an outgoing message to entertain callers waiting to leave a message. It was a bilingual English/Spanish message with salsa music in the background. My girlfriend at the time accused me of being like Mialdo, trying to be something other than black American. Of course, I knew better, but surprisingly, I have been called a sellout by a few other African Americans and criticized by even some Latinos for having such an ardent interest in Latino culture appearing to forsake my own. 

Posing with Mamainé at her Peruvian soul food restaurant
in Guayabo, Perú

My late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda, who noticed the progress I was making in learning to speak Spanish admonished me to learn the culture if I am going to speak the language. In my exuberance to follow her advice, I decided, as a black person, to make an effort to explore, and when possible, immerse myself in black Latin-American cultures while improving my Spanish.

When I travel through Latin America, I habitually wear t-shirts with pictures of Barak Obama, Luther Vandross, or Muhammad Ali proudly representing black U.S.A.  At the same time, I try to blend, as much as possible, with black communities to learn more about black history and culture in those countries and blog about my experience.

 This is as touristy as I have ever gotten
 in my travels, a trip to the equator

I am inclined to believe that I am one of the very few black travelers to Latin America who engage the black communities in my visits. Most blacks, as do other tourists, opt for fancy hotels and major tourist attractions whereas I head straight for the barrio (the hood) where I can have more fun stretching my dollars. 

When I visited a historic African village in Colombia, South America, a village that won its freedom from the Spanish almost 200 years before the rest of South America, I was served a scrumptious fish, rice, and plantain dinner. The bill was not even five dollars. Many of the residents, pleased to see a “black” visitor touring the town for a change, they marveled openly wondering who I was and where I come from.  

No, I have no issues whatsoever with my black American heritage. Like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, I am a lover and respecter of the African diaspora in the western world where we members represent a diversity of cultures and speak a diversity of languages. Music such as salsa, samba, reggae, jazz, R&B, hip hop, and even the tango are nothing more than African legacies made in the Americas.