Virtual Jazz 101 with Bobby Sanabria is on the CCCADI Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute’s YouTube and Facebook channels on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 at 7pm. FREE
Just added, Part 2, Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at 7pm on the same channels. ¡WEPA!
Jazz is African from New Orleans
Somehow, the roots of jazz come from West and Central Africa to the Caribbean to New Orleans, up the Mississippi to Memphis, up the Missouri to St. Louis, then overland to Chicago and east to New York where it was broadcast back out into the world.
In some way, jazz is related to Haiti which has the closest Caribbean culture to New Orleans, and Trinidad where Caribbean Carnival traditions were founded on French plantations.
Congo Square in New Orleans was a place where Africans were allowed to create a market and celebrate their own traditions on Sundays during parts of the French Colonial Period and sometimes up until just before the U.S. Civil War. Congo Square was the beginning of African-American culture in the United States, and it was Caribbean.
We’ve been contemplating the music of the African Diaspora in the Caribbean for over a year now since we moved to Puerto Rico. We sense many parts, but can’t quite put it all together because all things African have been demonized and suppressed by human slavers and their descendants since the founding of our country.
There is an Indigenous element too that is obvious in the Caribbean, but also unspoken in the United States.
The story of how the music of Africa evolved in the Caribbean and Latin America, and then evolved again in the United States into blues, jazz, swing, rock, salsa, reggaeton, Latin trap, and a bunch of other really creative things is a great story.
All of this African culture is part of our U.S. culture. Regardless of your heritage, this is part of who we are as “Americans.”
Hopefully Sanabria can help us make sense of it all.
New Orleans is a Caribbean City
These are some of the pieces that we are trying to put together.
Wynton Marsalis of Jazz at Lincoln Center will tell you that jazz is African-American from New Orleans and it is.
But New Orleans is a Caribbean city. It was a French city which connects New Orleans with what is now Haiti and the rest of the French Caribbean. First the profitability of the horrific French sugar colony on Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and then the instability of the Haitian Revolution caused a French diaspora around the Caribbean. New Orleans absorbed a lot of influences.
The ferry used to run twice a day between New Orleans and Havana. As the Cuban capital, Havana absorbed the island’s culture including the rumba of Matanzas and the son of Santiago de Cuba where Spanish flamenco mixed with African rhythms into the root of what we now call Latin music. The Haitian Revolution also influenced the music and dances of Cuba. Haitians brought a more syncopated feeling to Cuba. Whatever happened in Cuba spread across the Spanish Americas.
Spanish flamenco is from Andalusía, the southern tip of Spain, just 8 miles from Africa. Wherever there are people, there is a whole lot of mixing going on. Jazz and flamenco work so naturally together because they share common roots.
The blues which is the foundation of all U.S. American music including jazz, has an Islamic African root because Islam is a major religion in Africa from the days of the Arab traders.
Trinidad’s last colonizer was Great Britain, but the Caribbean Carnival culture that arose there developed on French plantations in response to French masquerade balls on Mardi Gras. Carnival was the only time of the year we were allowed to celebrate our own traditions.
The Cepeda family, the first family of Puerto Rican bomba, says their traditions came from a French plantation in Mayaqüez, Puerto Rico.
Living in the Caribbean, one can’t help but notice how much jazz sounds like our folkloric musics including Cuban rumba and son, Puerto Rican bomba and plena, Venezuelan tambor, and Colombian cumbia.
The improvisation of jazz may have grown out of the improvisation of West African griots (storytellers) and European troubadours.
Jazz musicians recognize their art in Caribbean music. Caribbean musicians recognize their art in U.S. jazz. They both say, “that’s my music.” And it is.
All of the above mixed together is jazz.
Bobby Sanabria Knows Latin Music
Drummer and percussionist Sanabria is a Puerto Rican New Yorker who is a 7-time Grammy-nominee.
Sanabria has played with a Who’s Who of Latin jazz. In particular he toured and recorded with Mario Bauzá, Machito’s arranger who wrote “Tanga,” the first modern Latin jazz song, and introduced Chano Pozo to Dizzy Gillespie, thereby putting the Latin back in jazz.
Bobby is a teacher. After 20 years at the Manhattan School of Music, he now teaches at the New School and New York University. He also hosts the Latin Jazz Cruise on WBGO FM, the #1 jazz station in the United States.
Sanabria’s latest record is “West Side Story Reimagined.” It was nominated for the 2019 Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album.