|Carnival in Santiago de Cuba|
As I prepare for my show, sometimes I wonder how much I can explain without separating myself from some members of my audience. After all, the purpose of the show is to celebrate the oneness of the African Diaspora not fragment it. So, I never want to make too many distinctions as far as what I know because I’m a Caribbean member of this Diaspora.
What I wrestle with sometimes is the actuality that not everything that I know is common knowledge. For instance, planning this show on Fela means connecting the dots from present day Nigeria to the legacy of the Yoruba religion and culture. That sounds simple enough in theory but the idea of the Yoruba legacy outside of Africa is so vast and complicated that I realize there is a huge void of understanding between those of us who grew up with these core African themes and those who do not.
Mainland America, with maybe the exception of certain Deep South communities, was successfully purged of the unadulterated African concepts. Obviously, the Africans were not totally de-Africanized but the missing elements that survive outside of North America are pure enough to separate the cultural outcomes of South American and the Caribbean members of The Diaspora.
Just 90 miles separates Cuba from the United States of America but as far as African cultural elements, there is an ocean of separation. The faces in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are just like the faces in La Habana, Santiago and Matanzas but there is no rumba in Alabama. So, when I think about Chango, Obatalla, rumba and guaguanco I must explain to my audience from North America that African ideas were not a daydream in the Caribbean. The shackles that bound our bodies were the same but the shackles that restricted our souls were not. If I find myself talking a lot about traditional African religion on this show, it’s because it totally shaped our worldview. The drum and the music that it symbolized are not an African influence, as I’ve heard so many educators say, they are Africa!
Who influenced whom? We, after all, represent the first world culture. There is no coincidence that the former Portuguese and Spanish colonies stand out as the bastions of African Cultural preservation. Their proximity to Africa meant they were already unable to resist the influence of Africa. The English, Dutch, Danes, Germans and French were much more resistant to the African’s influence. Maybe, it was merely the affectations of a lack of geographic proximity.
Sometimes there seems to be resentment in some of us, when North and South American Afro-descendents get together. Yet, that which was preserved must be shared by whoever was entrusted with guarding it.