and the Cuban sensibility
Pedro de la Hoz
JOHANNESBURG.—Apart from a few and
sporadic exceptions, little is known in Cuba about
the formidable contemporary African arts movement, a
disturbing paradox bearing in mind the fluid and
identifying links between our peoples’ cultures.
Attending the musical events which
accompanied the 1st Global African Diaspora Summit,
I recalled some isolated episodes which illustrate
the closeness of the Cuban sensibility to visible
demonstrations of the artistic hierarchies of this
Miriam Makeba, the great diva of
South African song, seduced us with her "Pata pata";
in the time of our combative solidarity with the
people of Angola some songs from that country became
popular in Cuba; and, more recently, the combination
of Cuban Eliades Ochoa and musicians from Mali and
the Congo toured the world, as was the case on a
lesser scale in past decades with Orquesta Aragón,
in collaboration with Papá Wemba and other singers.
In recent years, the Cubadisco
International Prize has distinguished recordings of
significant exponents of African song; and devotion
to the exceptional figure of Cesaria Evora from Cape
Verde has not been lacking.
In a quixotic undertaking, Guille
Vilar has been sustaining the presence of African
musicians on his television program "Música del
mundo" (World Music).
All this has a bearing because of
the question that we asked ourselves when, in the
Sandton Convention Center theater, we were
overwhelmed by the sonoric value of music from South
Africa and Mali. How much would Cuban music lovers
gain if they heard on the radio and saw on TV, with
merited frequency, the magnificent contributions of
Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Hugh Masekela, Sibongile Khumalo
and Salif Keita?
From Chaka Chaka we had the
reference of her fleeting presence on the cultural
program of the FIFA World Cup. Miriam Makeba said of
her, "She is my daughter!" She was born in Soweto
and was 11 years of age when the popular uprising,
criminally repressed by the police forces of
apartheid, took place. The combination of a
resounding rhythm and melodies surpassing the usual
parameters of pop sustain her musical projection.
They call her the Princess of Africa and her songs "Umbongothi",
"I cry for freedom" and "Motherland," are part of
the cultural imagery of various countries in the
At 73 years of age, Hugh Ramapolo
Masekela qualifies as the jazz icon par excellence
of Sub-Saharan Africa. Trumpet player, composer and
singer, he matured artistically starting in 1961,
when he settled in the United States. There, his
song "Grazing in the Grass" became one of the most
popular on the U.S. scene in 1968. His fame grew
when he took part in the Paul Simon’s Graceland
world tour and he made the world his with the call
launched in 1987 demanding the release of Nelson
Mandela, in the song "Bring Him Back Home,".
When Cuban audiences have an
opportunity to hear Sibongile Khumalo, they will
note the splendid maturity of an all-terrain singer,
who moves from blues and scat to popular South
African traditional songs, passing through opera and
classical music. She sang Bizet’s Carmen and
the great Yehudi Menuhin signed her up in 1995 as a
soloist for Handel’s Messiah.
Every Salif Keita album is an event
in Africa and Europe. He was born in Mali into a
family which was part of the national nobility, but
had to fight against the stigma of being albino,
believed to be a bad omen. His talent saved him. He
fused the traditions of the griots (jongleurs) and
Western pop/rock with supreme originality. And he
rose like a legend after Joe Zawinul brought him
into Weather Report in 1989.
These and many other jewels of the
African musical firmament should not remain
strangers to Cuban musical tastes. Now is the time.