This project is part one of a trilogy that explores through cultural expression the historical and cultural connections between Santiago de Cuba, New Orleans, and Haiti. The popular traditions in this project include: “Las Congas” from Santiago de Cuba, the “Second Line” from New Orleans, and the “Rara” from Haiti. Through a video documentary and photographic essay, we analyze power dynamics during popular festivals in the Caribbean region, exploring issues of resistance in the context of Afro Diasporic communities. In doing so, we draw connections between the New Orleans, Cuba, and Haiti.
After the Haitian Revolution from 1791 to 1804, Haitian migrants to the Caribbean relocated to cities such as Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo and New Orleans and had a substantial demographic impact on the region. The influx of Haitians, who often moved between these cities, left major marks on the culture of the region. Today there are still strong cultural ties between these distant locales that are especially obvious in the festive cultures in the region.
Sound has memory and history flowing like a cape through time resonating through us. We are reflections of the sound as is the sound a living mirror of the energy that is us. Rhythms are spirits and spirits have their own rhythm waves like fingerprints like waves of water and so these days during the annual Invasion Parade when the Conga moves down the street with the big drums slipping from rhythm to big rhythm they’re actually invoking the different faces of the gods.
Warrior rhythms forged in the slave fields of the new world where colonial Spanish figured it cheaper to work an African to death in six to eight months and import another soul than to rest and feed the people they’d already demolished and worked day and nights, bought, sold, raped, beaten and abused. What happens when people are stepped on and squashed, while the searing death of friends is all around them? Tapped into that energy what happens to the rhythm beat in the sound? Dispensable people who know there’s no such thing as a dispensable person what kinds of sound are made when warrior cultures are put to subjugation? The Conga is made up of stories of reclamation and worth and upheaval through the last resort of violent revolution and then change – there was a sound inherent to this time. An ancient drum beat of courage.
They say the conga is a demon burst out free to roam along outside in the streets of the city of Santiago so in front of the drums and behind the rhythm people moving low down slow chanting loud shuffling feet hips side to side as one flowing motion like a sonic fabric blowing in the booming sound of the 20 big drums echoing through the narrow streets of the city.
The boom of the big drums. Loud. War rhythms telling tales of home and valor and honor – Shango. The boom of the 20 drums with the drummers eyes rolled up to the sky for God.
Parades. Processions. Lost rhythms and the sonic force driving the energy of ancient beats rising out of the subconscious to electrify and release, re-energize the spirit and then like that the sound slipping back into the shadows of silence inside the spirits until the next year’s events.
The rhythms of power, the sonic jewels, the formidable waves of our time traveling through the ages aboard souls passed down and around, on and on through generations, history, space and time by way of vibrations going back further than anyone round can remember in words.
This big beat reemerging out of the uprising slaves in the last revolution for the independence of Cuba, has roots emanating from Haiti and before that the ways of the warrior west coast of Africa and beyond. The conga beat is the mother rhythm of all the other Cuban rhythms. This sound was birthed in Santiago de Cuba and manifests in a pure form in the Invasion Parades.