Arts + Culture

This Proposed Museum Would Celebrate Brazil's African Heritage—Finally

These activists are fighting for the support of the Brazilian government to back a museum dedicated to Afro-Brazilian culture and history.

On a recent Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, the Filhos de Ghandi afoxé group congregated at the Cais do Valongo (Valongo Wharf) to celebrate the naming of the area as a UNESCO World Heritage center. Clad in blue and white robes, the group’s members danced to African drum rhythms. Many of the dances were dedicated to specific orixá gods. The public, many of whom learned about the event through a public Facebook event, watched or joined in on the celebration.


One hundred years ago, such public celebration so strongly connected to the Candomblé religion would have been prohibited. The public expression of Afro-Brazilian culture and religion was often so suppressed that African religion devotees celebrated inside their homes or in the woods.

These days, Rio de Janeiro is undergoing a transformation similar to what Afro-Brazilians are personally experiencing: the city is starting to publicly embrace and promote its African heritage through Afro-Heritage tourism trails. If one man’s dreams come true, then within the next decade, visitors from all over the world will be flocking to Rio de Janeiro to visit CASA África-Brasil—an expansive museum dedicated to African and Afro-Brazilian culture and history.

Cais do Valongo (Valongo Wharf). Photo courtesy of Kiratiana Freelon.

“It would be a space of triumph and not just a memorial to slavery,” says Carlos Vainer, who presented the idea for the museum at a public hearing about the future of Rio de Janeiro’s port zone. “It would be a museum of the past, the present and the future."

At the end of 2015, the city of Rio de Janeiro took its biggest step ever toward affirming its blackness and embracing its relationship with Africa—it applied for UNESCO World Heritage Status of the Cais do Valongo. The unassuming Cais do Valongo archaeological site sits right outside of Rio de Janeiro’s downtown. Between 1811 and 1831 it functioned as a port; more than 1 million enslaved Africans arrived here on slave ships originating from present-day countries of Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Angola, Mozambique and Madagascar. More enslaved Africans landed at this Rio de Janeiro port than anywhere else in the Americas. During this time period, the economy of imperial Brazil depended solely on the wealth generated through slavery.

“Cais do Valongo is an example of a sensitive historical site that awakens the memory of traumatic and painful events,” says UNESCO in a statement released last July. "Therefore, the wharf of Valongo materializes memories of the pain and survival in the history of Afro-Brazilians, who now total more than half of the Brazilian population."

Now that the wharf's UNESCO status is official, community members, political leaders and academics are debating how to properly honor this painful history. A memorial has already been designed for the site, but locals want something bigger. Academics want to build a museum of the Cais do Valongo. A local political leader wants to build a museum of Slavery and Liberdade. Carlos Vainer, a professor of urban planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro is proposing that the city and Brazilian government build a CASA ÁFRICA-BRASIL to honor Brazil’s relationship with Africa and the descendants of those who were trafficked into slavery.

"The contributions of Africans and Afro-Descendents in Brazil, which include culture, art and politics, are so much more than just slavery,” Vainer says. “The story does not conclude with slavery. It was just a horrible chapter in the story of Africa and Afro-Descendents in Brasil. A Casa África-Brasil would recognize this."

Photo courtesy of Kiratiana Freelon.

Vainer is proposing a multi-purpose institution that includes a museum, cultural center, research center, school and a broadcast center. The centerpiece of CASA ÁFRICA-BRASIL would be a museum covering the history of Africa, the African diaspora, and of Afro-Brazilians. He's hoping that some of the permanent exhibitions would include the religions of Africa and Brazil, a genealogy of Afro-Brazilian families, the relationship between Brazil and Africa today and history of the fight against racism in Brazil and across the world. Out of the seven national museums in Brazil, none of them address Brazil’s African heritage. At least five Afro-Brazilian museums are scattered throughout Brazil, with the largest being the state supported Afro-Brazilian museum in São Paulo.

This institution would also be a tribute to the “Pequena Africa” community that emerged near the wharf at the end of the 19th century. Back then black families lived together in communal houses that populated the area, and these became gathering places for religious celebrations that honored African gods. These houses were often led by “Tias” (Aunties), who sold sweets during the day in the streets of Rio de Janeiro and at night presided over the religious celebrations as “Mães de Santo” (mothers of the spirit). The celebrations, accompanied by African drumming, led to the creation of samba music by pioneers Pixinguinha, Donga, João da Baiana, and Heitor dos Prazeres. All of them lived or frequented celebrations around the port area. Today the historical area is represented by the Quilombo de Pedra de Sal, an organization that preserves the memory and history of this area as an African and Afro-Brazilian community.

While Vainer hopes that such a center will be supported by the national government, he has no plans to mount a large campaign to garner the support of the community and government. In recent months he has presented his presentation to community organizations and locals, but he says it's simple.

“This was my contribution to the black movement, but I don’t plan to be a leader of a museum,” Vainer says. “Rio de Janeiro has an obligation to have a CASA África-Brasil that talks to everyone in the world."

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Janet Jackson Returns With Afrobeats-Inspired Song & Video 'Made For Now' Featuring Daddy Yankee

The icon's latest is a nod to the sound, fashion and culture of the diaspora.

Ms. Jackson is back.

The iconic artist returns with her first single since the release of her 2015 album Unbreakable, and it's a timely nod to the "made for now" influence of afrobeats fashion, sound and culture.

On "Made For Now," which features Puerto Rican reggaeton titan Daddy Yankee, Janet Jackson does what she's done successfully so many times throughout her decades-long career: provide an infectious, party-worthy tune that's fun and undeniably easy to dance to. "If you're living for the moment, don't stop," Jackson sings atop production which fuses dancehall, reggaeton and afrobeats.

The New York-shot music video is just as lively, filled with eye-catching diasporic influences, from the wax-print ensembles and beads both Janet and her dancers wear to the choreographed afrobeats-tinged dance numbers, even hitting the Shoki at one point in the video. The train of dancers travel throughout the streets of Brooklyn, taking over apartment buildings and rooftops with spirited moves.

It's obvious that Jackson has been studying and drawing inspiration from the culture for some time now. She even hit the Akwaaba dance, popularized by Mr Eazi, during her Icon Award performance at this year's Billboard Music Awards.

The bouncing video, directed by Dave Meyers, features contributions from a number of creatives from Africa and the diaspora who were involved in the creation of the video, including designer Claude Lavie Kameni and choreographer Omari Mizrahi. Ghanaian health guru, Coach Cass pointed out some of the many dancers involved in the production on Instagram, who hail from Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad, Grenada and the US.

Ahead of the video's release, it garnered attention on social media when Jackson was spotted filming in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, wearing what many thought was a questionable fashion ensemble. The outfit in question only makes a small appearance in the video, and we're glad to see that Janet's other looks appear, at least slightly, more coordinated.

Watch the music video for "Made for Now" below. The singer is set to perform the song with Daddy Yankee live for the first time tonight on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, so be ready!

Audio

You Need to Hear Juls' New Single 'Saa Ara'


New hip-hop and highlife grooves from the celebrated UK-based Ghanaian producer.

By merging the diverse influence of growing up in Accra and East London, Juls has managed to cultivate a hybrid afrobeats style that has set him apart from the rest.

For his latest single, "Saa Ara," he teams up with award-winning rapper Kwesi Arthur and gifted lyricist Akan.

The brilliant fusion of vintage highlife instrumentals and booming hip-hop beats, along with Kwesi Arthur's lively chorus and Akan's fiery delivery gives the song a very spiritual and classical feel.

Soothe your soul this weekend with these tasteful sounds from Juls.

Listen to "Saa Ara" by Juls featuring Kwesi Arthur and Akan below.

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News Brief

FIFA Refuses To Meet with Nigeria's Sports Minister as Ghana Takes Steps to Avoid Ban

This could jeopardize Nigeria's qualifier against Seychelles in September, while the Ghanaian government has pledged not to dissolve its football association.

In lieu of the ultimatums Nigeria and Ghana's football associations faced from FIFA, one country is on its way to dodge the threat of being banned, while the other is not going down without a fight.

FIFA has refused a proposed meeting with Nigeria's sports minister, Solomon Dalung, to discuss problems in the country's football federation, BBC Sport reports. They say their leadership and the FIFA president is unwilling to meet during the proposed time period.

FIFA is giving the NFF until August 20 for Chris Giwa, who was acknowledged by the courts as the president of the federation, to leave the NFF offices.

Giwa's lawyer Ardzard Habilla asserts that FIFA can't ban Nigeria as the federation's issues need to be sorted out internally by the country's judiciary.

Habilla questions, "Do we take it that FIFA laws are superior to the judgment of the highest court in our land—the Supreme Court, and has FIFA elevated itself before the constitution of Nigeria?"

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