Skin Color Politics In The Latin/o Community And The Roots Of Afro-Latino Music

Skin Color Politics In The Latin/o Community And The Roots Of Afro-Latino Music
Discrimination and racism has forced many Afro-Latinos to hate themselves

AFRICANGLOBE – Some Latin music found its from roots in the slave trade, and that music grew alongside important traditions and practices in Latin America, changing with time but retaining the essence of its beginning. Afro Latino music claims the voice of African and Latin people, and bellows heritage and pride. It is music that details pain, regret and difficulty. It communicates soulfulness and resiliency, broadcasting the strength of its collective people. Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd recently sat down with NPR’s Michel Martin for a show entitled, “Afro Latino Music: Reimagining Songs Rooted In The Slave Trade,” where they revealed knowledge about Afro Latino Music and colorism.

“Africa Brasil (Zumbi)” by Jorge Ben; “Soy Todo (¡Ay Dios Ampárame!),” by Los Van Van; “Bruca Manigua,” by Arsenio Rodríguez; and “Somos Pacífico,” by ChocQuibTown are just to name a few songs and musicians that represent Afro Latino music.

Puerto Rican/Colombian DJ Geko yet is another representative, one who explores his roots through music, seizing traditional Colombian sound and blending it with electronica and house music — generating a distinctive and fresh sound that’s inherently Afro-Latino.

“Overall, it’s very percussive. And primarily, it’s because during the slave trade, only in the United States were the slaves not allowed to keep their drums. And in the rest of the Caribbean and South America, they were allowed to keep their drums and some parts of their culture,” Contreras said, explaining the definition of Afro-Latino sound. “So that’s why places like Brazil, Cuba, and we’re finding out Colombia and Peru, these countries, they have a very, very strong African heritage that was shunned and looked down as lower class and less sophisticated, but it’s being rediscovered.”

The sound of revival in a great deal of Afro-Latino music is pronounced, and more easily felt than the dejection that its creators may have felt. The sound of celebration and rejoice was integrated to act as a celebration of the past and well-wishes for the future.

Batucada, a substyle of samba that has a distinctive repetitive style and fast pace, is an African-influenced Brazilian percussive style that’s normally performed by an ensemble, known as a Bateria. The style employees a variety of drums (surdo, tamborim, caixa de guerra, timbal, cuica, Tarol), which proclaims the African influence.

“That is a samba band. It’s a Batucada,” Contreras said, describing music that was being heard in the NPR studio during the time of the interview. “Batucada is an African-influenced drum style. It’s also the name of the group — the drum group that has all these drones. We transition to a DJ named Maga Bo who is using — you can hear the same instruments, the same drumming at a much slower pace. He’s using a tradition, but adding on electronics and all these other different kinds of electronica things that they do nowadays.”

Music’s ability to capture and share an experience is one that is shared by all communities; its use as a timeline and a diary provides a point of reference, particularly for Afro Latinos. History is gauged, and what becomes apparent is that the mainstream acceptance of Afro Latino music was a prolonged process, one that conceivably occurred before the acceptance of “Afro Latino” as an identity — as many denounce their African roots.

Colorism in Latin music is not only seen on the screen, but experienced audibly. Afro-Latino artists are not as prominent as non-Afro-Latino artists, in the U.S. and in many Latin American nations. This practice is deeply rooted in a history that muddied with oppression and slave trade.

The Caribbean was a part of the middle passage, and slaves removed from Africa comingled with Latin American populations, producing a new racial experience. The history of the Afro Latino has trickled down to their descendants, who are now willing, more than ever, to share stories about their skin tone and heritage, and the experiences of their ancestors.

“It’s the younger generation [representing Afro-Latinos as a source of identity], and in a lot of ways, there’s a parallel to the musicians as well. They told their own particular stories about how they are both darker skinned, and they don’t look like the rest of their family because they’re lighter skin, straight hair,” Contreras said. “And that is a common occurrence in Latin America. And traditionally, from the parents; generation on, you know, you don’t talk about it. You sort of keep it under the table. It’s not discussed openly. And a lot of times, it’s something to be ashamed of.”

Internalize racism is bred in Afro Latin communities, and many feel a sense of shame about their Blackness, or don’t acknowledge it. Often, there are Latinos with very dark skin, but will deny all Blackness, and iterate, “no, no, no my grandparents are from Spain.” Latin heritage is subsumed under Blackness, which Martin points out when he mentions that Sammy Davis Jr.’s mother was Cuban, yet that’s a little known fact due to his appearance as a Black man.

Contretras also mentioned Herencia De timbiqui, which is traditional Colombian music that resembles West African djembes, a great deal of hand percussion. The music manages to tie in tradition, but an updated version involves building “fabulous, fabulous electronic sculptures on top of [the baseline] to create this beautiful sound called “Bosque.”‘

The new-found appreciation for Afro-Latino music has not necessarily translated to other areas, particularly in Mexico. Garsd mention that the Mexican airline Aeromexico was preparing to develop commercials, and made the point of saying that dark-skinned actors need not apply. Mainstream media barely reacted to the egregious act, though social media outlets flared with outrage, condemning the archaic the airlines’ take on skin color-politics.

“It caused barely a stir in regular, mainstream media. I mean, absolutely — I would never have heard of it. But I think where it’s going to change is in these alternative forms of media like in Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, blogs. That’s where I heard about it,” Garsd said. “And it’s a story that’s worth telling and worth getting angry about. So I think just to answer succinctly, no it’s not probably going to change in traditional media, but it definitely — there’s a great movement happening in alternative forms of media.”


By: Nicole Akoukou Thompson