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Celia Cruz Live In Kinshasa, Zaire 1974

On what would have been Celia Cruz' birthday we reflect on her involvement in the Zaire 74 festival in Kinshasa, and her centrality to AfroLatinidad


The undisputed Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz would have been 88 years old today. In homage we're looking back on the time she spent in Kinshasa, (then-) Zaire back in 1974.

Born in 1925 Celia Cruz's career spanned a remarkable six decades. She was known for pioneering the salsa sound and for her remarkable voice of which curator Marvette Perez has said: "It was as if the earth opened her mouth to talk and to sing." Her humour was also second to none — even in the most heartfelt and poignant songs she would find room to improvise a punchline. In this 1988 BBC Arena performance she addresses the audience "If your husband hits you, make sure you hit him back. If you can't do it with your hand, hit him with the frying pan," an injunction that she follows with laughter and some on-point hip-rolls.

Cruz was also a pioneer in her celebration of AfroLatinidad and foregrounded the African elements of her identity at a time when it was not popular to do so. In the Americas, music, dance and religious practices informed by African cultural survivals had a long history of being outlawed or condemned as base, vulgar, even evil. In her music, lyrics and dress, however, Cruz drew on the parts of Cuban culture that were rooted in African cultural survivals. She often sang about Shango and drew her lyrics from Santeria ceremonies (see her hit Quimbara below). Her flamboyant dresses were pure Caribbean syncretism: part Spanish colonial, part Afro-Cuban they were modelled on a style called bata Cubana worn by rumba dancers. Even her well-known cry ¡Azucar! can be interpreted as a nod to her enslaved forbears who harvested sugar to produce European delights.

In 1974, Cruz was one of a group of artists including BB King, James Brown, and Miriam Makeba that performed in Kinshasa alongside top Zairean groups T.P.O.K. Jazz and Tabu Ley Rochereau. The performance was part of a three-day festival called ZAIRE '74, the brainchild of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and his producer Stewart Levine, who had come up with the idea of a music festival to precede the boxing match between reigning champion George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.  While the event had no specific politics, the current of black liberation politics must have run strong with Ali, Makeba and Masekela's involvement . The fight was to be held in Zaire under the dubious name "Rumble in the Jungle" and subsidized by President Mobutu Sese Seko (or rather, the Zairean people) as part of his plan to put the country at the helm of the black world. Despite this commitment to forging black Atlantic links, Mobutu made it clear that the musicians would have to sing for their supper. They eventually found money via Liberian bankers, only for disaster to strike when Foreman had to pull out of the fight due to an injury.  The fight was delayed by six weeks but the show went on, and the promoters reconciled themselves to a Zairean audience rather than one made up of international tourists.

Setbacks aside, Zaire '74 was a huge success,  as the copious amounts of footage collected in the documentary Soul Power shows. Above you can watch Celia Cruz and Fania All Stars' blistering performance before an 80,000 strong crowd. The audience is definitely vibing — no doubt recognising the influence of the Afro-Cuban rumba sound on contemporary Zairean pop, soukous. Check the video below to hear Celia's sound check on the day - good enough to to be a bona fide performance.

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Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Image

#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.



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