The New York Philharmonic opens the new David Geffen Hall with New York Brazilian composer Marcos Balter’s sound and light composition “Oyá,” about the Yoruba Orisha of Rebirth.
This is mind-blowing and wonderful. We had to look twice to be sure that the New York Philharmonic was really playing a concert about our beloved Yoruba Orisha Oyá.
New York Philharmonic “Oyá”
The New York Philharmonic “Oyá” reopens David Geffen Hall and its 2022-23 Season with a world premiere sound and light fantasy about the Yoruba Orisha of rebirth. It’s by New York Brazilian composer Marcos Balter, with electronic soloist Levy Lorenzo and light artist Nicholas Houfek, on Wednesday-Tuesday, October 12-18, 2022. From $80. nyphil.org 🇧🇷
Oyá is the Yoruba Orisha of wind and storms, of death and rebirth, a symbol of change.
She usually carries a whip made of a horse’s tail. Her skirt is many colors, so she owns rainbows. When she dances, her twirling skirt causes tornadoes.
Oyá is a fierce warrior who fights with two machetes and uses lightning as a weapon. She leads an army of Egun (spirits of the dead).
Oyá guards the cemetery gates. Orisha Yewa, the owner of the cemetery, helps people through the dying process. When ready, she passes them to Oyá to finish the process and be reborn.
There is nothing bad or scary here. In our traditions, we don’t fear the dead. They are ancestral friends and family who help us through the challenges of life and death. To be possessed by an Orisha is a great honor that helps you move forward in your life. It’s the exact opposite of what many people have been taught.
In the Caribbean, Oyá is syncretized (blended) with the Virgin of Candelaria, the patron saint of the African Canary Islands, and the African Diaspora around the world.
Oyá is a fierce warrior and the wife of Changó, the Orisha of thunder, lighting and war. They always fight together, but also love to sing and dance. Changó is actually a historical figure who was deified. He built Oyó state, which was the height of Yoruba power in Nigeria, Benin and Togo. He created the batá two-headed drum which is sacred in Cuba. There is a lot going on here.
In Puerto Rico, Oyá is much like Atabey, the supreme Tainó god(ess). She also owns the wind, rain, lightning and hurricanes. The similarity in the traditions is uncanny because they are pre-European contact and separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Humans do similar things around the world and across time.
Marcos Balter is a Brazilian composer, so Oyá comes to him through the beautiful Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. That’s the root of Brazilian Samba, Brazilian Carnival and Uruguayan Milonga which later became Argentine Tango.
He’s the Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition at Columbia University. For the last twenty years, he’s been working on compositions about the Yoruba Orishas, the helpers of the one God Olodumare (just like many other religions).
He told Eve Glasberg of the “Colombia News” that he wanted Orisha Oyá “to baptize and claim this new concert hall, to radically wash it clean from its history and to inundate it with forward-looking energy.”
We can’t think of anyone better for this purpose than her. Maferefún Oyá (God Bless). ¡Ashe! (good spiritual energy, like Amen).