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Tito Puente Jr on the African Origins of Latin Jazz

Tito Puente Jr is keeping the legacy of his father alive. He spoke to Okayafrica about the African roots of Latin Jazz and Spanish Harlem.

El Barrio Latin Jazz Festival happens every year in Harlem to celebrate the birthplace of Latin Jazz Music and to commemorate its king, the late Tito Puente. Last month in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, thousands of people from different backgrounds, danced Salsa to the sounds of Puente’s son Tito Puente Jr who is carrying on his father’s musical legacy. We went to talk to the master percussionist about his father and Latin Jazz music’s connection to the African diaspora.


“Mister Ernesto Antonio Tito Puente himself was raised right here, this is where Latin Jazz came together,” Tito Puente Junior told Okayafrica after concert. “I want the people who came here tonight and the people around the world to remember who Tito Puente Santa Cruz was. And thank everybody to remember Tito Puente, It’s been 16 years that my father passed away, but tonight we celebrate his life”.

Puente Sr. was raised in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, and he is often credited as “The Latin Jazz Music Pope.” Puente played popular Afro-Cuban rhythms, bringing together Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds. Puente youngest son, Tito Puente Jr has continued his father’s legacy by presenting many of same songs in his performances and recordings.

Puente Jr insists that even if his father is the son of Puerto Ricans, that a large part of his music is from Africa.

“My father played in Africa many times,” said Puente Jr. “You know, this music is from Africa, it is called Afro-Cubano music. We call it Salsa. My father used to call it “Salsa Tomato Goya… But the Music is Afro-Cubano Music and it is worldwide known as that, and it is good that African people recognize Tito Puente—he’s an honorary African.”

In order to extend his father’s legacy Puente Jr envisions opening schools in Africa and elsewhere in an effort to better promote Latin Jazz to the world.

“The music is very important,” said Puente. “The drum, the conga, the timbales, all the great sounds of the Afro-Cuban percussion, that’s the roots of all this music—they come from Africa." So we want to make sure that all the kids from Johannesburg, South Africa to North Africa—all over the continent that music be taught at school and at home.

“The world is so small on internet, think about it. What if Tito Puente had recorded and learned on the internet. I am going to Senegal in January next year, I am so excited it will be my first trip over there. My father took me to Johannesburg when I was a little boy we performed with Santa Cruz, it was wonderful.”

At the end of the concert, the friends of the late Pope of Latin Jazz joined his son onstage to play the drums and song for Tito Puente memory. The king of El Barrio, and his Afro-Cuban rhythms lives on in a new generation.

Placide Magambo is a multimedia journalist and researcher with experience working for large international organizations and various New York and African media outlets. His special passion is covering topics related to sustainable development, human rights and socio-economic issues.

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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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