Arts + Culture
Photo by Redens Desrosiers.

The 6th Edition of Afro-Latino Festival NYC Continues to Honor Africa's Roots in Latin America

A recap of the three-day festival that beautifully had afrolatinidad on full display.

As the 2018 World Cup came to a close, so did the sixth edition of the annual Afro-Latino Festival NYC, with a day of music and celebration at The Well in Brooklyn.

The lineup included festival headliner Amara La Negra, who returned for the second consecutive year, as well as a diverse range of acts representing countries like Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. "We tried to curate the festival in a way that reflects the diaspora," Mai-Elka Prado, festival co-founder and co-director, explains.

This was evident to Puerto Rican-Haitian DJ and Brooklyn native Nina Azúcar who, after warming up the crowd with a house music-inspired set, tells OkayAfrica, "Everybody sounded different, but there was something that unified everything, a pride in our afrolatinidad, and I really appreciated that."

Food and fashion were also part of the milieu, with afrolatinidad on full display among the vendors and festival goers that packed the venue. "I definitely think that those who are here understand the mission of the festival," says Prado. In turn, she believes it's that mission—to affirm, to educate, and to celebrate—that brings the community back each year: "There are folks that have come since the first, second year, and continue to attend; I don't think they would keep coming to an event that hasn't impacted them."

Photo by Redens Desrosiers.

The sixth edition, billed under the theme of "Identity and Beyond" and a country focus on Colombia's estimated population of 5 million afrodescendientes, began on Friday, July 13 at the Schomburg Center in Harlem with a conference of AfroLatin Talks. Topics included the history and sociopolitical implications of the census in countries like Peru and Panama, which, in turn, relate to the question of self-identification. "There are real socio-political and economic implications to self-identifying as an afrodescendiente," states festival co-founder and co-director Amilcar Priestley.

The assassinations of two dozen black and indigenous leaders in Colombia, for example, was a constant refrain throughout panel discussions, as well as during the 2018 Afro-Latino Festival award ceremony, which honored Brazilian politician Marielle Franco and Afro-Colombian activist Bernardo Cuero. Haitian-American attorney Reggie Ossé and Panamanian educator Dr. Carlos Russell were also given posthumous recognition. "We are as political as we are cultural," asserts Priestley, "and if you're going to embrace your afrolatinidad in this context, please understand that there are people dying for this."

Urenna Best, recipient of the 2018 Pioneers Award, then gave a keynote address in which she detailed her journey to following in the footsteps of her mother's activism in Panama. The speech was bookended by citations of an African proverb, "The footprint of those who walk together cannot be erased" and the traditional African philosophy of ubuntu or "I am because you are and you are because I am."

Similarly, Brazilian dancer Ingrid Silva of the Dance Theater of Harlem, recipient of the 2018 Cultural Preservation Award, shared her story of realizing her dream of becoming a ballerina during a one-on-one conversation led by Marjua Estevez, Latin Content & Culture Editor at TIDAL.

The next day, the Festival moved downtown to the Abrons Center for the Arts in the Lower East Side, which hosted this year's Liberación Film and Wine Festival.

Photo by Redens Desrosiers.

Highlights include a first-look at the forthcoming documentary Awakened / Despertando. Co-director Juan Mejía introduced the project as "a film about afro-diasporic solidarity and how young people deal with white supremacy, 2,500 miles apart." Two events in particular—the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson and the civil strike of May 2017 in Buenaventura—join the youth of these communities as they learn to use film equipment, tell their stories, and begin to see themselves, via photos and archival footage, in their respective counterparts. "The world is globalized for capital, but it needs to be globalized for struggle," Mejía says.

The multimedia collective Defend Puerto Rico also premiered their latest short, AFROFUTUROS, which showcases several contemporary manifestations of Afro-Puerto Rican culture on the island, such as the jewelry-making of Afrolunatika, the poetry of the collective Afroversiva, and the Arturo Alfonso Schomburg-inspired ruminations of a community elder named Lester.

Among the special guests were U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY 9th District). In a brief address, she shared the history of her Afro-Latino heritage, which includes the circular migration of her Panamanian-born grandfather to Jamaica after the family had migrated from the island to work on the construction of the Panama Canal.

Rep. Clarke also expressed her solidarity with the struggle of the Afro-Colombian community, having sat in on a panel discussion in which Marino Córdoba, a colleague of slain activist and festival honoree Bernardo Cuero, explains that violence toward black and indigenous Colombians is ongoing, despite the signing of the Havana Peace Accords. According to Córdoba, there have been over 140 assassinations in 2018 alone, and more than 300 since the Colombian government negotiated an end to its 52-year armed conflict with FARC rebels in November of 2016. "The war continues in this region of the country," he says. The conversation was framed within the context of the 2014 film Manos Sucias, which tells the story of two young men swept into the drug trade that plagues Colombia's Pacific Coast.

The 15-minute short Jimmy Jean Goes to Tijuana also elicited a timely discussion of issues related to immigration, displacement, and family separation. In the film, Haitian-born actor Jimmy Jean-Louis travels to the Mexican border town accompanied by fellow actor Rainn Wilson to document the struggles of Haitian migrants stranded there because of the recent shift in U.S. immigration policy.

Overall, the festival was able to reinforce its mission while simultaneously using this year's theme to open the conversation of afrolatinidad to new possibilities. As for next year, Priestley expresses an interest in highlighting Brazil, while Prado hopes to continue to expand the conversation as the festival grows.

"This year's t-shirt says, '150 million strong, celebrating the contributions of people of African descent in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States,'" adds Priestley. "We're here. And this festival is one of many testaments to that."

Take a look at more highlights of the 2018 Afro-Latino Festival of New York in the slideshow below. All photos by Redens Desrosiers.

Photo by Redens Desrosiers.

Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

Photo (c) John Liebenberg


"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.


Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.

The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:

mage courtesy of TIFF

Senegalese Filmmaker Mati Diop Tells a Haunted Story of Migration

We caught up with the celebrated director at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about her new film, Atlantics

It's been a good year for French-Senegalese director Mati Diop and her film Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story.

The movie got its North American premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month after wowing critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix. Diop was the first Black woman to successfully submit a film in the Cannes competition, and naturally the first to win any award at the iconic festival.

In Toronto, the Paris-born director was also honored with the inaugural Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Female Talent, presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on September 9. The award is named after Mary Pickford, a Toronto native who went on to conquer Hollywood in the early days of the industry as an actor and producer. Co-founder of United Artists, she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood in her day.

Mati Diop, actor and director, was born in Paris into a prominent Senegalese family, the daughter of noted musician Wasis Diop, and niece of well known filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. As a director, she has several short films under her belt, including Atlantiques in 2009. Her short films Big in Vietnam and A Thousand Suns screened at TIFF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story is Diop's first feature, which she directed as well as co-writing the screenplay with Olivier Demangel.

It's in the story of the first Atlantiques – the short – that the new film came to be. "The two films are both connected and not connected," Diop tells OkayAfrica. The short Atlantiques was self produced, and shot on video on a shoestring budget, she explains. Diop was moved by the constant stream of reports, between 2000 and 2010, of young Senegalese taking to small wooden boats and braving the ocean waters in a bid to reach Spain and better opportunities. As she notes, the media tended to treat the phenomenon as largely an abstract issue, one that had to do with economic forces. Diop wanted to tell the story of the real people in that situation.

"I felt that my cinema should be put at the service of their voices," she says. "I wanted to understand." It's part of what motivated Diop to get into film in the first place. While the short was shot documentary-style, she worked the story as fiction. The actor featured in the short had actually made an Atlantic crossing, but was subsequently turned back by Spanish authorities. The way he spoke about the experience connected with Diop; in particular, his determination to try the perilous journey once more. "I am here, but not here," he told her. "Serigne felt it was here [in Senegal] he would lose his life," Diop says. She wanted to understand what drove so many young men to risk their lives. "He felt that his life was vulnerable in Senegal." The actor's words took on even more resonance when he died, while still in Senegal, before he could try again. Diop says he had gone to a hospital after falling ill, but the staff were on strike. After his death, it left her with mixed feelings. "I wondered if I had the right to continue."

TIFF Tribute Gala Mati Diop | TIFF 2019

Diop was left with the poignant memory, and a haunting impression. "When you leave, it means you are already dead," she says. After filming the short, she attended Serigne's funeral, and filmed his mother and sister—the women left behind who would become the focus of the feature film treatment. Diop says that the character of Ada, the protagonist of the new movie, is based in large part on the sister, who, in the short film, does not speak any lines.

In Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, Ada is 17 years old, in love with Souleiman, but her parents have already arranged a very practical marriage with another—and much wealthier—man. On the eve of her wedding, odd things begin to happen, and Ada learn that Souleiman and his friends have left Dakar in a boat, hoping to reach Spain. Ada and her BFFs anxiously await any word from them, as the mysterious happenings keep piling up.

"The beauty of women comes through marriage," a cleric tells one mother. Ada's story embodies the life of a young West African woman—torn between traditional forces in both her family and society, and the friends who wear Western dress and don't bother with the old ways. The wealthy family she has married into owns a large construction company, the one that didn't pay its workers for months, leading the young workers to try their luck in Spain. She loves Souleiman, but she also needs to find her own path.

Mama Sané plays Ada, the solid heart of the film, as a tangle of emotions and repressed desires. She veers from defiant when dealing with the police detective sent to investigate the strange occurrences, to a wordless expression of longing with the kind of intensity only a teenager can muster.

Diop's directorial vision turns Dakar into a place of both surreal magic and harsh reality. The film immerses the audience in the city's sounds, from the goats bleating outside a window while Ada and her friends talk, to voices in the next room, with the eternal heaving of waves against the shore as a recurring refrain. The original music by Fatima Al Qadiri adds to the effect.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon has shot the film with a poetic eye. There are many images of the shifting surface of the sea, with the open sky and sun above it, each different from the last. The streets of Dakar at night take on an otherworldly edge, framed in palm trees against the artificial lights. The building the young men have been working on is futuristic in design, all glass and steel, and the company owner's neutral modern mansion contrasts with the broken rubble on the streets, from slick sports cars to horse drawn carts. It adds to the sense of the surreal.

Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was acquired by Netflix after Cannes, and is intended for worldwide release by the streaming service, (with the exception of China, Russia, Benelux, Switzerland, and France.) As part of its new policy, Netflix, which became an official member of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America,) earlier this year, will be giving the flick a "theater-first" release, opening in selected theaters on November 15, with streaming available from November 29 in North America.

The film also stars Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou, Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. Dialog in the France-Senegal-Belgium co-production is in Wolof with subtitles.

(Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images )

Exiled Tunisian President Ben Ali Has Died

The former president had been living in Saudi exile since 2011.

Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, 83, has been declared dead while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali became interim Prime Minister in 1987. He ran unopposed and was elected Prime Minister in 1998 and served for 23 years – from 1988 to 2011. He was known for using autocratic techniques, eradicating presidential term limits and altering age caps in order to stay in power. In the beginning, Ben Ali was considered a "people's head of state" and garnered the nickname "Benavie" which loosely translates to "Ben Ali for life." By the 2000s, however, he had become deeply unpopular and prompted protests and unrest against his oppressive rule.

His reign ended when he fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 amid protests that ultimately led to a string of revolutions dubbed the Arab Spring. He had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia ever since. As France 24 reports, in 2018 Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by Tunisian courts to "more than 200 years in prison on charges including murder, corruption and torture."

Though there is no cause of death just yet, Ben Ali had been in intensive hospital care for lung cancer for three months. According to Al Jazeera, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha announced Ben Ali's death to news agencies via phone and the claim was confirmed by Tunisia's foreign minister.

There is footage of a Tunisian lawyer taking to the street at dawn celebrating the news of Ben Ali's death.

This past Sunday, Tunisia held free elections advancing Kas Saied and Nabil Karoui (who is currently jailed) as presidential candidates with neither receiving a majority vote. A run-off election between the two will be held September 29.

Tunisians and others are sharing their reactions to the news across social media. Here are some reactions:

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