All photos by Mario Carrion for New Visual Collective
“We’re going to end at the beginning” the MC gently intoned. “End with the drum. End with rhythm.”
The last panel discussion of the day at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute’s event, “Trade/Ition” was beginning. Those who had been at Aaron Davis Hall in upper Manhattan the longest had been there for around nine hours at that point. It was a day of lectures and panels, film screenings and kids’ events, centered on how traditions have been maintained in the face of genocide and enslavement, and how tradition and culture can continue to nourish and flourish in a year that has seen the re-emergence of unapologetic white nationalism and consistent attacks on communities of color. The drums were evidence of a connection that persisted through enslavement, and the percussionists from Haiti, Brazil and Puerto Rico were confident that their power remained.
Held Sat., Sept. 23, Trade/Ition was organized by the CCCADI to explore the sacred traditions of the African diaspora and to talk about the role of vodou practices in people’s lives. Hence the drumming, an essential part of Orisha religious services from West Africa to the Caribbean to anywhere else people trace their roots to the continent.
The event culminated in a concert and dance performance which featured the hip-hop duo Oshun, and the unmistakable Navasha Daya.
And far from being an abstraction, the CCCADI was there to bring about change in the real world. The extent of the hurricane damage to the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico in particular, was coming into focus. The institute unveiled its campaign to contribute to the relief and recovery efforts to those affected by Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, Dominica, St. Thomas and St. Croix.
“One thing that we have learned from looking at our ancestors, at the sacred traditions that they practiced, is that we are a resilient people. This knowledge gives us strength and gives us a mandate to help our people affected by these recent natural disasters to rebuild. This is the time to come together and be giving in service and resources. That’s what we intend to do,” Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, CCCADI’s founder and director, said in a press release.
From a musical standpoint, it was interesting that none of the musicians believed in an impermeable distinction between sacred and secular music. Carlos Mena, who spoke on one panel, is both a DJ and a priest. In either situation, he explained, he views himself as a vessel. The rhythm could simply be opening up someone to a good time, or it could be opening them up for something else. But the rhythm was always the first word.