Arts + Culture
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10 Things You Need To Know Before Practicing Lucumí

Santana Caress Benitez, who plays Mars' sister Lulu on "She's Gotta Have It," shares what you need to know before practicing Lucumí.

Spike Lee reimagining She's Gotta Have It as a series on Netflix was all we were obsessed over as we closed out 2017.

One stand out character among Nola Darling's lovers is Mars Blackmon, and as we got to know him, we were introduced to his sister, Lourdes or Lulu, a young, Lucumí priestess who we see give Nola some much needed clarity throughout the season.

Lulu's practice of the religion stemming from Yoruba spirituality on the show was as real as it could get—especially since Santana Caress Benitez, the actor playing Lulu, is a Lucumí practitioner in real life. The religion slightly differs from Santería, as it does not incorporate elements of Catholicism that many are familiar with.

"Lucumí is pure Yoruba, orisha worship," Benitez says.


Although she was raised Christian, the Afro-Boricua always wanted to be connected spiritually outside of that faith tradition. "I didn't buy the Christianity thing anymore," Benitez says. "And when I was 23 or 24, I met a Babalao, a priest of Ifá, and fell in love with him."

It was through her relationship that lasted over a year that Benitez was introduced to the practice. She then moved to New York after their breakup, wanting to sink her teeth into the practice on her own terms. She's been practicing for five years since, with the help and guidance of her godfather and New York-based professor, Weldon Williams.

A chef with a Chopped championship under her belt, playing Lulu was Benitez' debut role as an actor. She says she kept up with Lee on social media, when a recent exchange on Instagram prompted Lee to message her directly the summer of 2015.

"He asked me if I've done any acting," Benitez says. "At this time, the writers were still developing the show, and he asked, 'Would you be interested in auditioning for this role when you get back to New York?' But you can't say no to Spike, so I said yes."

When it came to filming the scenes that incorporated the practice, including Nola's initial reading and spiritual cleansing, Benitez emphasized that Lee and Iya AkileAshe, the consultant and a Yoruba priestess for 20 years, wanted to make sure the scenes were authentic without revealing too much—and the pressure to get it right was real.

"For me, it didn't matter who wrote the script or who's behind the scenes," she says. "I'm the face of it, and I practice, so of course for me that was a big deal because I'm not yet initiated. I wanted to make sure that everything that I did was within reason, [and] wasn't anything that was going to compromise sacred protocols or rituals that we do. It was really important to me that we only show things that could be accessible to anyone—but also done right."

Being introduced to Lulu on She's Gotta Have It is a big deal, as we don't see the spiritual practices of the diaspora depicted accurately on TV often—if not at all. So in the wake of the show being renewed for a second season, we had to learn more.

For the curious, Benitez breaks down what you need to know before practicing Lucumí with us below.

1. It’s going to cost money.

Video still via Netflix.

"Ceremonies, initiations, ebos (offerings, large or small) will cost you. If it requires time and effort or even food, flowers, animals, etc., expect to pay for it. Granted, some priests take advantage of others and will charge crazy fees, but there are many out there who don't.

It's also important to keep in mind that when a priestess/priest provides you a reading, that requires their energy and ashe. The outcome of the reading also often leads to the priestess/priest working on finding follow up solutions for their client; it's an exchange that should be rewarded to keep that balance."

2. It takes time to find the right elder in the tradition who will teach you what you need to know and help you navigate Ocha/Ifa.

Video still via Netflix.

"We call them godparents. Spend time with them, learn who they are as a people outside of the practice. A godparent-godchild relationship is supposed to be one for life; be careful about making a major decision about who you align your spiritual path with before spending quality time to understand who they are. You should only connect with who feels right, not who feels forced."

3. Egun (ancestors) are your first line of defense.

Video still via Netflix.

"They live in you and they want you to succeed. It's true that we all also have problematic Egun and it's our duty to give them light. That sometimes looks like working in the present to right the wrongs from the past. It's also something as fundamental and accessible as setting up an altar in your home to honor them. A sacred space you hold and keep for only them. You can leave plates of their favorite meals, coffee, liquor, wine, a candle, fresh water, etc. Sometimes they'll tell you want they want. :-)

Sometimes, just sitting at your altar and meditating on whatever it is you need to meditate on can be very impactful."

4. It’s called spiritual “work” for a reason.

Video still via Netflix.

"It's not always honey baths and flowers—it does get messy. You'll sometimes find yourself in random places or looking for things that seem impossible to find. You'll help out your ilé with ceremony preparations, Ocha birthdays, feasts days, Bembes, etc. You'l have to pull up your sleeves a lot, but you'll gladly do it when you understand the results."

5. It’s okay to celebrate and practice our traditions openly.

Video still via Netflix.

"We are not forced to hide our traditions or what runs through our blood like our Egun once were. It's our birthright to find our path and be clear about how and why we are here. Our traditions are STUNNING and too beautiful to not show off."

6. But, some things remain private.

Video still via Netflix.

"Lulu's scenes in SGHI were accurate, but may have appeared watered down to some keen practitioners. We showed just enough of the reading and bath without compromising the sacredness of how it's done in real life. That was very important to myself, the Yoruba priestess consultant (Obatala, 20 years) and Spike. We knew we HAD to get it right."

7. F*ck the patriarchy—especially in practice.

Video still via Netflix.

"Although some practitioners in the past and in the present perpetuate a patriarchal environment, women and feminine energies are paramount to Orisha worship. Please understand that this tradition is very much a place for women to thrive and grow and be empowered. In fact, women are required."

8. It takes years, and more than initiation to learn to divine.

Video still via Netflix.

"Not everyone is born with the gift in the first place, and crowning won't make you a master. Even after some years in, I am still such a baby at this, and am constantly learning from my godfather (Priest of Yemaya, 18 years). He is amazing with the diloggun and I will be learning from him."

9. It’s okay to ask questions and learn why we do what we do.

Video still via Netflix.

"If this is something you truly feel pulled towards, there's a reason for that—you're magnetized to it for a reason and you owe it to yourself to have clarity. The right elders and potential godparents won't take curiosity as a sign of disrespect."

10. Practicing won't be a quick fix.

Video still via Netflix.

"Practicing these traditions is very powerful and certainly life changing, but it's important to know that it's not an instant fix on life. Nothing in life works that way. It will take 'spiritual work' and will happen on the Universe's time."

This YouTube Account Is Sharing South African Audiobooks For Free, And We Are Here For It

Listen to audiobooks by Steve Biko, Bessie Head, Credo Mutwa, and more.

Audio Books Masters is a YouTube channel that uploads audio versions of South African books and short stories.

Recent additions include Life by Bessie Head, Crepuscule by Can Themba, Indaba, My Children by Credo Mutwa, among others. South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who passed away three weeks ago, also gets read. You can listen to his poem No Serenity Here. More books you can stream include I Write What I Like by Steve Biko, Africa is my Witness by Credo Mutwa, among others.

Audio Book Masters was started by two friends, Bonolo Malevu (24) and Hahangwivhawe Liphadzi (23).

Malevu is a University of Pretoria BA Drama graduate, who is currently doing his LLB. Liphadzi is an LLB graduate, who is completing his LLM this year.

"I found a hobby of narrating books to craft my art skill after reading Credo Mutwa's Indaba, My Children," says Malevu in an email to OkayAfrica. "After reading the prologue, I knew that this book was meant to be converted [to] many different formats such as stage plays, series, movies and audiobooks."

Then came the idea of creating a YouTube channel. That was when Malevu teamed up with Liphadzi.

They both bought themselves high quality recorders, and started reading, recording and uploading.

Authors from the olden days such as RRR Dhlomo and HIE Dhlomo, whose audio versions of their books are available on the channel, are older than 50 years and their copyrights have since expired.

The rest, though, Liphadzi and Malevu say they are trying to get in contact with the publishers, but it's not easy.

"We have contacted the Department of Trade Industry (DTI) regarding this issue," they say. "We have been in contact with various copyright holders and we are still in the negotiation process. However we are finding it difficult to contact certain publishers, and the consistent uploading of their books is to attract their attention."

The two friends say they started the channel to bring books closer to people who otherwise wouldn't have access, and to get people to appreciate literature, especially African authors. "We want to bring such literature to the digital age in the form of storytelling which has been a unique African form of literature," they say. "The channel also helps develop our voices as we are a voice company that offers all kinds of voice services. We also identified how South African authors lack audio books, and found that there is a gap in this market, and this could really create many job opportunities in South Africa."

The two are currently developing stories in indigenous languages for children in English medium schools. "This is drawn from the fact that in such schools, a lot of African students struggle to speak their own native languages. So we approach various schools to sell them such literature. We are freelance voice over artists who also do radio, content production, news reading and radio adverts."

We are so here for this.

Subscribe to Audio Books Masters' YouTube channel and follow them on Twitter.

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Nigerian Actor Sope Aluko On How She Landed a Coveted Role in ​'Black Panther​'

Marvel's Black Panther is already on the brink of being a blockbuster, as it already broke box office records within the first 24 hours of it's pre-sale. Beating Captain America: Civil War's record in 2016, Fandango reports results from a user survey, stating Black Panther was 2018's second most-anticipated movie after Avengers: Infinity War.

One up-and-coming actor who will star alongside Lupita Nyong'o, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan (to name a few) is Sope Aluko. Come February 16, we'll see the Nigerian-born actor play 'Shaman' in the film. Her previous credits include recurring roles on Netflix's “Bloodline," NBC shows “Law & Order SVU" and “Parks & Recreation" and guest appearances on USA Network's “Burn Notice" and Lifetime's “Army Wives."

Her film credits include supporting roles in feature films including Identity Thief, 96 Minutes, Grass Stains, The Good Lie and more. Raised in the UK, Aluko studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Aluko speaks four languages, including her native language, Yoruba, French, and Bahasa, an Indonesian language.

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Music

Femi Kuti Spreads Some Much-Needed Peace In the Video For 'One People One World'

Watch the music video for the first single off Femi Kuti's upcoming EP "One People One World."

Femi Kuti drops the music video for his single "One People One World," the title song from his forthcoming 10th studio album.

The energy boosting music video sees Femi Kuti delivering an electrifying performance in the Kuti family-owned New Afrika Shrine in Lagos.

On the track, the accomplished musician promotes an unwavering message of peace and unity—things that the world could perhaps always use more of, but especially so in today's Trump-dominated political climate. His message of positivity is illustrated with graphics that appear throughout the video, showing various country flags and symbols of love and peace.

"Racism has no place, give hatred no space," Kuti sings atop brassy instrumentals. "Let's settle the differences, it's best to live in peace. Exchange cultural experiences; that's the way it should be," he continues.

"One People One World," (the album) is a plea towards global harmony and solidarity. When you look at what's going on in Africa, Europe and America, it's important to keep the dream of unity alive," the artist told OkayAfrica in November.

"When I was a boy, I listened to funk, highlife, jazz, folk songs, classical music and my father's compositions, so you will hear those things in the music."

"One People, One World" by Femi Kuti and his band, the Positive Force, drops on February 23 via Knitting Factory, and is now available for preorder.

Femi Kuti, 'One People One World' cover.

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