Tasha Goldberg

(author photo: Bénédicte Lechrist)

 

Tasha Goldberg is a traveling reporter for the United Nations, covering negotiations on sustainable development, while also working as a consultant on sustainable strategies for international businesses. A music critic and regular contributor to Afropopshe’s also a trained herbalist and experienced tarot card reader and drawn to the mystical aspects of culture as well as their political and social fabric. As a hula dancer, Tasha has studied the embodiment of storytelling for over a decade in the Hawaiian Islands. Her love of music and collection of vinyl has taken her on adventures of discovery, meeting the people and places that tend to the fires of tradition. Traveling the world, she delights in tracing the connections, building bridges. (portfolio photos: Tasha Goldberg)

 

Broken Beats

 

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In broken beats, I walked broken streets. Cobblestone corners crumble under the crush of time. My passage through the lace of Cuba was partially paced by the 12th Havana Biennial, a tradition started in 1984. This year’s theme, “Between the Idea and Experience,” curated my own personal expansion. I followed the path of art forms springing off faces of buildings and lining urban spaces…and listened.

 

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There is a conversation that transpires in the movement of people from one place to another. Language, song, dance and instruments narrate this passage of time. The voice that has been recognized as ‘Afro-Cuban’ brings to focus a harmony of context and culture. One of the most influential and strongest voices in the Afro-Cuban identity belongs to Nicolás Cristóbal Guillén Batista. Guillén’s African and Spanish blood alchemized into a man during the “Afrocubanismo” movement of the 1920s. A rising of people through a mutual identification inspired by a spirit that was stronger than the injustice that prevailed in power. As a child, Guillén witnessed his father protest against electoral fraud…and be shot to death for doing so. With his child eyes, he was forced to bear witness to the subsequent and forceful destroying of his father’s newspaper, La Libertad. Guillén had only one choice: to be honest and thus bravely gut the thin veils that allowed for the mistreatment of dark skinned Cubans. Through a poetic lens, he named it, described it and pulled it out of the shadows.

 

Nicolás Guillén’s recitation of his poem ‘Che Comandante’

 

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Guillén made his significant contribution to the revolution of self-love and mutual respect of dark skinned Cubans throughout his poetry, embodying music by converting traditional rhythms to a written form. He introduced words to express rhythm, re-creating the cadence of tradition. Through Guillén’s techniques, he peaked the interest of musicians, who borrowed back his interpretations to inspire a new Afro-Cuban sound. Amadeo Roldán, known for incorporating Afro-Cuban percussion into orchestral music, composed eight pieces selected from Guillén’s first official collection of poetry Motivos de son (1934). ‘Son’ refers to the style of music and dance that is a combination of the structure and traits of Spanish canción with Afro-Cuban stylings and percussion, becoming the eventual root of salsa.

 

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Kneeling under a lemon sun on cool cobblestones, I thumbed through the layers of time in wax artifacts. Finding a vinyl recording of Orfeón Santiago performing music inspired by one of Nicolás Guillén’s poetry made me feel like….like a princess. Truly the luckiest girl in the world I would be to have a chance to hear the whispering intimacy that was breathed in the poetic shapes of Guillén’s heart and laid gently into sounds. The many layers in the poetry would remain hidden if not played into song. The only vehicle safe and capable to transport the full meaning of his poetry, Guillén had to be set to sound.

Orfeón Santiago is a choral group composed of Cuban artists that was originally founded in 1960 by Electo Silva Gaínza in Santiago. Silva, born in the far eastern point of contact, studied and pursued a career in music, eventually becoming the Dean of Choral Music in Cuba. He formed his first chorus in 1955 and has since become known for his passion to both develop and promote choral music, directing Orfeón Santiago for over forty years.

On the second to last track on Side B, Guillén’s poem ‘Negra Bembon’ is given voice under the direction of Electo Silva, a poem that was translated into English by Langston Hughes. Hughes and Guillén’s friendship played a role in linking Afro-Cuban culture to African-American culture. It seems as though these two literary greats spotted each other from across the seas, recognizing their own reflection in each other’s work. Somehow, it was in their vision of each other’s work that they identified the common components that were not their own, but surviving forms of tradition from Africa. As they spent time together during two different visits of Hughes to Cuba, Hughes marveled at the use of ‘son’ as a base of poetry, and Guillén discovered jazz from blues.

 

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Guillen A Coro, Orfeón Santiago ‘Negro Bembón’

 

‘Negra Bembon’ – Thick Lipped Cullud Boy
Written by Nicolás Guillén
Performed by Orfeón Santiago
Translated by Langston Hughes

 

¿Po qué te pone tan brabo,
cuando te dicen negro bembón,
si tiene la boca santa,
negro bembóm?

Bembón así como ere
tiene de tó;
Caridá te mantiene,
te lo dá tó.

Te queja todabía,
negro bembón;
sin pega y con harina,
negro bembón,
majagua de drí blanco,
negro bembón;
sapato de dó tono,
negro bembón…

Bembón así como ere
tiene de tó;
Caridá te mantiene,
te lo dá tó.

 

***

 

How come you jumps salty
when they calls you thick-lipped boy,
if yo’ mouf’s so sweet,
thick-lipped cullud boy?

Thick-lipped as you is
you got everything.
Charity’s payin’ yo’ keep.
She’s givin’ you all you need.

Still you go around beefin’,
thick-lipped cullud boy.
No work an’ plenty money,
thick-lipped cullud boy.
White suit jes’ spotless,
thick-lipped cullud boy.
Shoes two shades o’ honey,
thick-lipped cullud boy.

Thick-lipped as you is
you got everything.
Charity’s payin’ yo’ keep,
she’s givin’ all you want.

 

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The stories are all there. They are painted on walls, played through horns, reflected in lover’s eyes and danced at sunsets. The traveler’s heart tends to indulge in savoring these stories. But in the voice of poetry and music, as embodied in the captain of this tale by Mr. Guillén, we owe so much gratitude for sonic meditations to bridge awareness. May we never stop listening.

 

*Note: For a critical examination of Langston Hughes and his translations of Guillén’s poetry, we recommend reading The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas by Vera M. Kutzinksi 

 

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