A Guided Listening Journey: Yorùbá Heritage Abroad
What do Smithsonian Folkways albums from the 1930s to 1990s have in common with the 2014 premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ “Ochas”? More importantly, what story does music tell about the flexibility and resiliency of African-derived religious practices?
I set out to explore these questions as an intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in the summer of 2019, knowing that my own experiences as an ethnomusicologist performer and as a student of Afro-Cuban Santería (La Regla de Ocha), would be helpful. On this journey, the sounds of the Folkways archives and voices of Román Díaz and Melvis Santa—important keepers and disseminators of Afro-Cuban expressive arts—offer a fresh perspective to begin to understand and appreciate the profound religious and musical traditions known as Candomblé (Brazil), Vodou (Haiti), and Santería (Cuba).
This is a story of music and culture that, at odds with being uprooted from its homeland and separated geographically, has maintained connections through shared common heritage, and whose practitioners represent a global presence rooted in the songs, rhythms, and dances of the òrìṣà.
Scroll through the multimedia story map below, or open it in a new tab for easier viewing.
Zane Cupec is a scholar of Afro-Cuban music with a doctorate in ethnomusicology from the University of Colorado Boulder. At the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, he presented the Candomblé music group Egbe Omo Alairá as part of the Creative Encounters program.