Today, May 31, 2019, I had the enormous pleasure to view the new documentary Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba, by independent filmmaker, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. This documentary features DJ Jigüe (Isnay Rodriguez) a Cuban musician who Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi (from Puerto Rico) met over 20 years ago. Eli’s brother, Kahlil (based in New York City) is a co-producer along with Dj Jigüe. The Philadelphia Latino Film Festival presented the hour long documentary at the University of Arts, and afterwards there was a talk-back with Eli and DJ Jigüe. Kahlil, also present, offered support from the audience.
The film is making the rounds at different international festivals and has already premiered in California in the United States.
Bakosó follows the path of DJ Jigüe from Havana to Santiago de Cuba to the Afro-Latino Festival in NYC. Along the way he stops at Palma Soriano in Santiago, where he was born, to visit his grandmother. His grandmother is a santera, who practices the yoruba (lucumi) based religion, more popularly known outside of Cuba as santería. Although DJ Jigüe’s mother worked as a teacher in Angola, it is his grandmother, Cuca, who affirms that their African heritage, traditions and religion are of utmost importance in their lives. These traditions and links have been passed down for generations in his family.
Throughout the fast paced documentary, we are introduced to these different neighborhoods in Cuba and the street music culture to trace the origins of Bakosó. DJ Jigüe meets up with various musicians doing this kind of music, who I, and I believe most people outside of Cuba, are not familiar with, such as: El Inka, Maikel el Padrino, Kiki Pro, and the singer Alva. The children’s dance group, “Sangre Nueva” is also featured.
The fusion of music, storytelling, performance and image is seamless and powerful in Bakosó, and make this documentary a joyous delight to experience. The crowds and unnamed people in the streets of Santiago, dance expertly, yet naturally with abandon, and you can see how much they enjoy it. Their enthusiasm jumps out of the screen. But this is not just another movie about popular music or about Cuba. It delivers a glimpse into the heart and soul of people who were born to make music and dance in the steps of their ancestors. The connection with Africa is the focus of Bakosó, and the dance of Eleggua, the orisha of roads/paths, begins and ends the film. Eleggua must open every santería ritual and he is also a messenger of Olofi, one of three manifestations of the Supreme god in the Yoruba religion.
While watching the documentary, I was reminded of rumba dances and chants to the orishas that I heard decades ago in Havana, and how music and dance have been cultivated in Cuba by way of the Afro-Cuban religions and by the government in the schools and conservatories. African rhythms and dances have existed in Cuba since Africans were brought to Cuba and enslaved in colonial times. Bakosó also mentions the 35,000 Cuban soldiers who fought in Angola, and the many Africans studying medicine in Cuba, as more contemporary connections to the mother continent. Bakosó is a mix of these many influences and rhythms. Some of the rhythms mentioned are: Kuduro, afrobeats, conga, rumba, conguita and makuta.
The recital hall on the 17th floor of the University of the Arts building, where the film was screened, was nearly full to capacity. Many excited and happy audience members also stayed for the question and answer session afterwards with Eli and DJ Jigüe. At least 7 or 8 questions were answered in English and Spanish, and it could have gone on for another hour at least! To raise money, tee shirts and hats were sold at a table in the lobby. In answer to a question, DJ Jigüe said that each time he left the island, one of his most important goals was to show the world what Cuban artists were doing in Cuba, since Cuba has been in isolation due to politics for some 50 years. He did that and more with Bakosó. Overall, it was a rare opportunity to meet the director and producers of this documentary, to discover what new music is being developed in Cuba, and feel the alegría (joy) and spirit of the musicians and dancers of Santiago de Cuba. I highly recommend this documentary–if it comes to your city, don’t hesitate, just GO see it!
For more information about this new Cuban genre and the producers, check out: https://jigue.bandcamp.com/track/bakoso