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Documenting Cuba's Afrobeats: A Movement in the Making

A new film showcases the music and dance of bakosó, a burgeoning movement inspired by the arrival of African medical students to Cuba's second largest city from the mid-2000s onwards.

Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba, a new independent documentary from director Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, had its world premiere this week in Los Angeles at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival. The film showcases a burgeoning music and dance movement known as bakosó. Firmly rooted in Santiago de Cuba, where the film takes place, bakosó fuses contemporary African influences with Cuban culture and musical tradition.

Not to be confused with Afrobeat, Cuba's afrobeats are part of a global trend and the result of a unique cultural exchange captured in the film that involves medical students from African countries introducing Afropop, kuduro, semba, as well as an array of West African rhythms to artists in Santiago de Cuba, the island's second largest city.

Director Jacobs-Fantauzzi had been in Cuba years earlier when producer and DJ Isnay Rodríguez, better known as DJ Jigüe, noticed the connection between the emergence of bakosó in Santiago and the musical movement known as hiplife that had been the focus of Jacobs-Fantauzzi's second film, Homegrown: Hiplife in Ghana, which chronicles a group of musicians over the course of a decade.

Hiplife, which Jacobs-Fantauzzi describes as the precursor to the global phenomenon of afrobeats, with the former being absorbed into the latter, fuses a broad range of musical styles that have been appropriated by everyone from mainstream artists like Drake to fusion genres in other Latin American countries like Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and so on. Though not as widely known, bakosó is another evolution in this diasporic trend. "This is the latest version—direct from the continent, contemporary Africa," says Jacobs-Fantauzzi.

Enter DJ Jigüe, a Santiago native now based in Havana. He proposed returning to his hometown to document the movement behind bakosó. Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba is the story of this journey as it relates to his experiences traveling outside the capital, to where musical trends often develop before making their way to Havana. "The idea of this film was to go back to Santiago de Cuba to uplift those stories out of the provinces—to go to La Maya, Las Palmas, these smaller communities where they birth [music] genres that have traveled the world," says Jacobs-Fantauzzi.

DJ Jigüe. Image courtesy of Bakosó film.

Since the mid-2000s, when Cuba incorporated a second campus in Santiago for its world-renowned medical school program, African students have arrived en masse to the city. There, they adapt to a culture that is both alien and familiar all at once. The familiar, however, is what encourages them to share the music and dance of their home countries. "I always thought about how much Cuba gives them in terms of opportunity and it was really great to see what they offer, their culture and their music," says Jacobs-Fantauzzi.

This is evident in the music video for the film's title track, "Bakoso," premiering exclusively on OkayAfrica (above). Directed by Reinier Charon of El Templo Producciones, the video incorporates visuals from the documentary, including recording sessions led by DJ Jigüe with a local drum troupe and the two artists featured on the track: Oskaro Delgado and Kamerun. These scenes from the film speak to relationships that Jacobs-Fantauzzi cultivated years earlier with the Cuban hip-hop community, during the filming of his first documentary, Inventos: Hip-Hop Cubano, which was released in the mid-2000s. "I'm not the type of filmmaker or storyteller to mine stories and then profit from them; I'm the kind of storyteller that's committed to the community, that grows with the community," says Jacobs-Fantauzzi.

Image courtesy of Bakosó film.

Like the film, the music video offers a glimpse into the community that has formed around bakosó. "The idea behind the concept of the video: see the streets of Cuba, see the people dancing, and feel the energy," says Jacobs Fantauzzi. To that end, panoramic drone shots of the city and extended dance sequences help to convey a sense of what bakosó means for santiagueros, young and old.

In terms of next steps, Jacobs-Fantauzzi tells OkayAfrica that the film will continue on the festival circuit before seeking a distribution deal. Ideally, the film would also be able to provide material support for the bakosó community. Such was the case the release of his first documentary, Inventos, which led to the purchase of musical equipment and a music tour. "That maybe we could open a studio, organize trips back to Santiago and have a cultural center that promotes this music, that people could visit and become a part of—that's my dream," says Jacob-Fantauzzi. A bakosó dance challenge inspired by the music video is also in the works, with the full soundtrack of songs heard in the film forthcoming.

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Photo by Lana Haroun

From #FeesMustFall to #BlueforSudan: OkayAfrica's Guide to a Decade of African Hashtag Activism

The 2010s saw protest movements across the continent embrace social media in their quest to make change.

The Internet and its persistent, attention-seeking child, Social Media has changed the way we live, think and interact on a daily basis. But as this decade comes to a close, we want to highlight the ways in which people have merged digital technology, social media and ingenuity to fight for change using one of the world's newest and most potent devices—the hashtag.

What used to simply be the "pound sign," the beginning of a tic-tac-toe game or what you'd have to enter when interacting with an automated telephone service, the hashtag has become a vital aspect of the digital sphere operating with both form and function. What began in 2007 as a metadata tag used to categorize and group content on social media, the term 'hashtag' has now grown to refer to memes (#GeraraHere), movements (#AmINext), events (#InsertFriendsWeddingHere) and is often used in everyday conversation ("That situation was hashtag awkward").

The power of the hashtag in the mobility of people and ideas truly came to light during the #ArabSpring, which began one year into the new decade. As Tunisia kicked off a revolution against oppressive regimes that spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook played a crucial role in the development and progress of the movements. The hashtag, however, helped for activists, journalists and supporters of causes. It not only helped to source information quickly, but it also acted as a way to create a motto, a war cry, that could spread farther and faster than protestors own voices and faster than a broadcasted news cycle. As The Guardian wrote in 2016, "At times during 2011, the term Arab Spring became interchangeable with 'Twitter uprising' or 'Facebook revolution,' as global media tried to make sense of what was going on."

From there, the hashtag grew to be omnipresent in modern society. It has given us global news, as well as strong comedic relief and continues to play a crucial role in our lives. As the decade comes to a close, here are some of the most impactful hashtags from Africans and for Africans that used the medium well.

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Screenshot from the upcoming film Warriors of a Beautiful Game

In Conversation: Pelé's Daughter is Making a Documentary About Women's Soccer Around the World

In this exclusive interview, Kely Nascimento-DeLuca shares the story behind filming Warriors of a Beautiful Game in Tanzania, Brazil and other countries.

It may surprise you to know that women's soccer was illegal in Brazil until 1981. And in the UK until 1971. And in Germany until 1970. You may have read that Sudan made its first-ever women's league earlier this year. Whatever the case, women and soccer have always had a rocky relationship.

It wasn't what women wanted. It certainly wasn't what they needed. However, society had its own ideas and placed obstacle after obstacle in front of women to keep ladies from playing the game. Just this year the US national team has shown the world that women can be international champions in the sport and not get paid fairly compared to their male counterparts who lose.

Kely Nascimento-DeLuca is looking to change that. As the daughter of international soccer legend Pelé, she is no stranger to the game. Growing up surrounded by the sport, she was actually unaware of the experiences women around the world were having with it. It was only recently that she discovered the hardships around women in soccer and how much it mirrored women's rights more generally.

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Convener of "#Revolution Now" Omoyele Sowore speaks during his arraignment for charges against the government at the Federal High Court in Abuja, on September 30, 2019. (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images)

Nigerian Activist, Omoyele Sowore, Re-Arrested Just Hours After Being Released on Bail

Sowore, the organizer of Nigeria's #RevolutionNow protests, was detained by armed officers, once again, in court on Friday.

Omoyele Sowore, the Nigerian human rights activist and former presidential candidate who has spent over four months in jail under dubious charges, was re-arrested today in Lagos while appearing in court.

The journalist and founder of New York-based publication Sahara Reporters, had been released on bail the day before. He was arrested following his organization of nationwide #RevolutionNow protests in August. Since then, Sowore has remained in custody on what are said to be trumped-up charges, including treason, money laundering and stalking the president.

He appeared in court once again on Friday after being released on bail in federal court the previous day. During his appearance, Sowore was again taken into custody by Nigerian authorities.

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(Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage via Getty)

Listen to Wizkid's Surprise New EP 'Soundman Vol. 1'

Wizkid treats fans to new songs featuring Chronixx, DJ Tunez and more—just ahead of 2020.

Wizkid is back. The Nigerian pop star surprised listeners early this morning with the unannounced release of a new EP, Soundman Vol. 1.

Though Wizkid has released a couple of singles this year, fans had been awaiting a new drop and more extensive project from the artist. With it being so close to the end of the year, it didn't look like we'd get a new body of work from the artist till 2020, but he proved otherwise when he took to Twitter at the wee hours of the morning to quietly share streaming links for the new project.

He also announced that a second EP, Soundman Vol. 2, would drop sometime before his highly-anticipated upcoming album Made In Lagos (MIL).

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