Nigeria, December 7th, 2022. Cuba and Casa de las Americas greet this new edition of the Festival of Arts and Black Cultures, Festac, a celebration of African cultures that, 45 years after its first edition, continues to consolidate exchanges between Africa and its diasporas through the arts, literature, social sciences and humanities.
The intercultural dialogues between the island and Africa date back to almost a century ago, when acetate plates of the most famous Cuban popular music orchestras began to arrive in the colonial territories of the continent, in the suitcases of African students, intellectuals and artists returning home from Europe and North America. The musical historiography of our country highlights, in a special way, the contribution of Arsenio Rodriguez, composer, arranger and orchestra director who, in the late thirties, began to incorporate Kikongo to some of his musical lyrics until recording an album, in 1963, entirely dedicated to Cuban cultural Africanism. His familiarity with that language of Bantu origin was due to the patient work of one of his grandfathers, a teenager who was kidnapped and taken to Cuba as a slave in the 19th century and who, many years later, instilled in his descendants the love and respect for their origins.
In the thirties of the last century, Africans and Caribbean people from different islands danced the son, together with Cubans, in places like La Cabane Cubaine, a nightclub in the popular neighborhood of Montmartre, in Paris; they admired the vocal excellence of Rita Montaner; or built their first representations of Cuba under the impression of Wifredo Lam's painting. But what was most transcendent for all these people was the discovery of the affection and sensitivities that linked us as a great Pan-African family, despite the colonial and divisive policies of the former metropolises.
After 1959, the dialogue between Cuba and Africa became more fluid and emblematic artistic collectives, such as the National Folkloric Ensemble and the Aragon Orchestra, led a reencounter that nourishes and sustains our national cultures, like powerful rivers marching to the encounter of the same sea.
The cultural policy of the Cuban Revolution stimulated the knowledge of African literature. The Palm-Wine Drinkard, the first work published barely ten years after the triumph, corresponds, precisely, to a Nigerian author: Amos Tutuola. The publication of a volume of Anonymous African Poetry and two anthologies, with poems translated from French and Portuguese by Rogelio Martínez Furé, winner of Cuba's National Literature Prize and participant, in 1977, in the first edition of Festac, were also relevant events in Cuban publishing policy. This wise and true Cuban griot completed his effort to disseminate African thought with Pequeño Tarikh. Notes for a dictionary of African poets, a work that gathers, in more than three thousand entries and several languages, the names of poets, philosophers, narrators and essayists of the mother continent, from Antiquity to the present day.
In the musical field, the innovations carried out by the first generation of Cuban musicians trained by the Revolution, incorporated instruments of ancient ritual use, as well as rhythmic and harmonic elements of African matrix to produce new sonorities, in incessant dialogue with the rest of the world's music. These creative processes -very noticeable in the discography of groups such as Irakere, Síntesis and Oru-, are similar to those carried out by contemporary African musicians.
For more than five decades, the public policies of the Cuban Revolution and those of the new African republics have coincided in the recognition of culture as a strategic weapon for emancipation. Today our useful and stimulating exchange experiences extend to visual arts, cinema, artistic education, preservation of cultural heritage and many other areas in which cooperation strengthens our Pan-African identity and, with it, our resilience in the face of new colonization strategies.
Casa de las Américas
December 6, 2022
(Embassy of Cuba in Nigeria)