The Musical Heritage of the African Diaspora

Art Statement:

The history of styles and music genres around the African diaspora, including prominent genres and styles of Afro-Caribbean music, is a history of multiple dialogues and cultural exchanges between communities of African descent around the world. The African presence has left a deep mark on Latin American and Caribbean cultures through the art of music. Nearly every listened to, sung and danced genre of music in Latin America and the Caribbean is rooted in the traditions of African communities that arrived on the continent in the sixteenth century. Through fascinating mixing, appropriation and commercialization, several have also become national symbols such as the Brazilian samba and merengue in the Dominican Republic. 

All these rhythms bear witness to the everyday life, dreams and feelings of various groups and generations of diasporic people. Merengue for example is the national dance and music of the Dominican Republic declared during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Punta is a style of dance and music of the Garifuna that is very vibrant and present in their celebrations and festivities. It is popular in Honduras, Belize and Guatemala. The history behind Punta as a dance has evolved over the years, but it was said to have started as a spiritual expression that involved movement and singing that in part was also an invocation of the sacred spirits. Candomble is the most relevant music/dance in Uruguay, known as a popular (folkloric dance) and also the most significant music for Blacks in “La Banda Oriental”.

The origins of the word candombe can be traced back to 1834 in a newspaper article in Montevideo, Uruguay. It was both music and dance that was usually performed on Sundays and other festivities such as Christmas. Originated in the beginning of the 20th century, in rural neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic by African descendants who lived in the country side. Bachata music embraces the typical slow tempo of bolero*, with an incorporation of traditional African elements such as bongos (drums). Currulao is best described as African roots music, most of the time including a quick-stepping 6/8 courtship dance. Its marimba base is accompanied by instruments such as guasás, one double-headed bomb drums, shakers, and a pair of cununo drums. 

In order to reclaim our roots and connections to the African diaspora, our group focused on the diversity of dances and music in Latin America. The incorporation of various elements brought by our ancestors from Africa and its mixture with elements present in our countries of origin as well as the addition of instruments brought to us by our colonizers, play an essential role in the creation of our music as we know it today. We also chose to represent this hybridity through Las muñecas sin rostro: A symbol of identity, original from the Dominican Republic, that serves to represent the loss, mixture and recreation of identity as well as the originality of the cultural elements that make us so diverse. From  punta to tango, and from merengue to candombe, it is undeniable that our music would not be the same without the influences and creative nature that characterizes us as a people today; Something we obtained as inheritance due in great part, to the invisible baggage brought by our ancestors to the “new world.”  The baggage we are reclaiming in our project is dance and the music that usually accompanies it. They are of extreme importance to us because both are symbols of the uniqueness of the African diasporas in Latin America.





Project Creators:

Ildefonso Correas Apelanz, Caroly Gonzalez, Lindsay Gutierrez, Caryn McDonald, and Anyeline Mejia