Black African culture heart of periphery arts

 

“Africa has taught us that songs, music, dance and visual arts are all intertwined. We have learned from Africa that laughs, tears, sweat, aroma, odour, panting, languor and all other senses are part of daily life.”

Artistic expressions produced within periphery communities originate from everyday cultural manifestations. Theatre, music, dance and painting are interlinked to popular society, sacred and street festivities, story-telling, and street vendor chants. The “periphery arts” that have ended up occupying stages, radio airwaves, television, or the internet derive from spontaneous day-to-day interaction that can hardly be disassociated from daily life and artistic experience. This occurred, and continues to occur, in Brazil. It also manifests itself in countries where the presence of black culture has transgressed the period of slavery throughout the Americas and the Caribbean Islands ‑ all members of the African Diaspora. It is prevalent wherever black men and women participate in the development of society apart from their economic contribution during slavery (farming, mining, and cattle, metallurgical, and domestic work). People south of the African Sahara and their descendants carved the aesthetical backbone that conferred identity upon these countries. 

Whereas Europeans established divisions between cultural/artistic expression and daily life, developing unique environments such as museums, conservatories, amphitheatres etc, blacks maintained the tradition of cultural self-expression within the realm of everyday routines. Through observation and participation, the black populace merged different cultural and artistic manifestations of African, European and Native American ethnicities (native peoples throughout the Americas that Europeans referred to as Indians). This resulted in aesthetic elaborations that are present in the streets and backyards of areas that came to be known as the “periphery.”

Periphery arts once resided at the distant margins of the self-centred elite class. They once lay at the margins of the cartographic lines that delineate cities. Nowadays, centric peripheries appear here, there, and everywhere. Without popular celebrations such as maracatu, reisado and bumba meu boi (having emerged in Brazil’s Northeast periphery and, due to migration, occupied the peripheries of the city of Sao Paulo) ‑ without the congada, jongo, capoeira, or Candomblé ‑ and without the black cultural manifestations of symbolic peripheries we would not have witnessed the appearance of cordel literature or the rich dramaturgy of current groups such as Teatro Popular Solano Trindade (continued by the family in the city that the dramaturge-poet “adopted”, Embu das Artes), Nós do Morro, Cia. Os Crespos, Capulanas, and others. Little by little, they are occupying theatre stages in productions that fill the eyes, ears and other senses beyond periphery spaces (both of equal importance to occupy!).

Musical genres that evolved from daily, periphery life include chorinho, samba (and their multiple spin-offs such as samba-choro or choro de gafieira, samba de breque, samba- enredo, samba de partido-alto, samba-soul, samba-reggae, samba-de-roda, samba-rock), axé music, mangue-beat, baião, xote, xaxado, rap, funk original, and funk carioca. All of these genres have produced dance moves. They have turned live performance into an experience that transcends fruition and appreciation.

This new-found sensorial experience, in which body movement is permitted, and even required ‑ be it dancing or rocking in a chair ‑ is a practice that was previously disapproved of during artistic presentations of European origin practised in Brazil and the Americas.

The form of social organisation that the Portuguese brought to Brazil prevailed for a long time. During the middle of the past century, the arts were divided into “erudite” and “popular”. Nowadays, communal environments where cultural manifestations occur are more valued than they were in the past. Spaces reserved for artistic performance still exist, but they are no longer untouchable like once before, when audience participation was reserved for restrained applauses during the finale ‑ art produced for entertainment where no interaction occurs.

As time passed, the elite class would occasionally bring popular artistic work to dominant, central spaces, however, without presenting the author. When the author could leave from backstage and risk introduction (generally unadvised if they were present) many times, such works were revealed to be authored by representatives of afro-descendent populations (including blacks and black mestizos). 

Afterwards, as popular genres became part of the entertainment industry, popular artistic niches were created independent of the social classes from which they originated. 

From this point, afro-descendent artists were no longer recognised as representatives of popular arts.

It remained this way until the emergence of hip-hop in the 1980s. Once again, young afro-descendent artists had returned to promote self-esteem through cultural activities and effervescent protagonists of the periphery. 

It reverberated into the proliferation of intergenerational literary soirées, theatre groups, and various cultural manifestations that have produced material of great esthetic importance. They appear with greater recognition in mainstream society during events such as ‘Periphery Esthetics’, which had its second edition in 2012.

Music, being an art of greater reach via mass communication, highlights multiple examples of the fundamental participation of black culture in mainstream, periphery genres. The most prominent representatives that have emerged between the 20th and 21st centuries include artists such as Jackson do Pandeiro, Luiz Gonzaga, Clementina de Jesus, Nelson Cavaquinho, Clara Nunes, Beth Carvalho, Jorge Ben Jor, Tim Maia, Elba Ramalho. Artists from the post-1990 generation include Chico Science, Zeca Baleiro, Chico César, Paula Lima, Fabiana Cozza, Emicida, and Criolo. Predominately composed of blacks and their traditions born from Africa, they are representatives of musical genres created by everyday activities of popular periphery segments.

They are genres created from the sacred liturgy rhythms of the Orixás and their inquices1; washerwoman work songs, farmers, and blacksmiths; of rhythms produced while undertaking those activities; verses of street vendor chants; vissungo2 or the game of call and response between the solo voice and chorus; and of the litany of Capoeira circles.

As the acknowledgement of the aesthetic quality of periphery arts increased, popular manifestations began to be studied in art schools without the weight of social prejudice. Their representatives were officially recognised and contracted as educators. Many times their educational projects were established and maintained in their own neighbourhoods and communities.

Nonetheless, obstacles remain and that is why Rede Kult Afro was created. I am an active representative of this organisation. It addresses the lack of black engagement in respect to their contribution to public discourse concerning periphery cultures and aesthetics.

Africa has taught us that songs, music, dance, and visual arts are all intertwined. 

In the 21st century, the performance of any one of these artistic manifestations are synonymous with the presence of all others on stage. 

We have learned from Africa that laughs, tears, sweat, aroma, odour, panting, languor, and all other senses are part of daily life. Subsequently, they confer life upon periphery aesthetics everywhere.

Historically, spontaneous artistic manifestations have been performed in peripheries throughout the Americas where blacks are the overwhelming majority. Certainly, the quality of these manifestations is enhanced when they receive incentives such as financial and logistic support. 

Everybody benefits when the arts and creativity are promoted amongst kids, adults and older people of all races and social classes. 

Without the conquered spaces where periphery aesthetics thrive, maybe their artistic potential could not have continued.

The black presence in the periphery has contributed to the present day aesthetics that exist in city centres and borders.  Without their presence, these aesthetics would certainly be different. 

The music would not be so rhythmic nor the visual and performing arts not as colourful and proverbial as bestowed upon us by the African Diaspora ‑ Africa’s periphery that is present everywhere. – Pambazuka News

 * Liliane Braga is the founder of Quisqueya Brasil – Afro-Diaspora cultural and educational projects and a member of Rede Kult Afro ‑ entrepreneurs, artists and producers of black culture in the state of Sao Paulo.lilianepbraga@gmail.com

December 2013
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