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Travel

Coming Together In Santo Domingo: The First Annual African Caribbean Pacific Festival

By Jason Gardner
Published July 2, 2007

Crowds filled the Plaza España in front of the historic Alcázar de Colón, the colonial palace where Christopher Columbus’ son lived in the 16th century, to see world music and dance.

For one week in October, the Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo, known for meringue and bachata, baseball, rum, cigars, and nonstop nightlife, saw something different. The first annual African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) festival showcased music, dance and visual art from many of its 79 member countries. Crowds filled the Plaza España in front of the historic Alcázar de Colón, the colonial palace where Christopher Columbus’ son lived in the 16th century, to see world music and dance.

Bands from Congo, Mozambique, Senegal, Cape Verde Islands, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Samoa, Ivory Coast, Zanzibar, Mauritania and others filled the nights with fantastic music and dance. Many Dominicans in the audience had not heard any music from many of these countries, making for a fascinating cultural exchange.

The festival began by showcasing Dominican culture; members of dance company Ballet Folklòrico Nacional jumped and swirled their bright red costumes to pulsing rhythms. Xiomara Fortuna mixed rock and salsa with gagà (Dominican voodoo), Sergio Vargas continued with his contemporary mix of pop and meringue, and Francisco Uchoa ended the night with his accordion, backed up by saxophones and electric guitars.

Next, the Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade played fulano music on a metal pipe with holes, using a kitchen knife as a scraper. The crowd loved her warm and velvety voice, even though she sang in Portuguese.

Manou Gallo lit up the stage as she played djembe and slap bass, delivering her lyrics in French, English, and African, keeping her roots firmly planted in her Djiboi origins from the Ivory Coast.

Zanzibar Culture Music Club introduced two distinct types of music—traditional slow Muslim singing and instrumentals, called taarab Swahili, and kidumbak, more like rock ’n’ roll with ribald booty-shaking for the crowd. Together since 1950, they are the largest and most prolific taarab orchestra of Zanzibar, playing oud, accordion, and double bass, as well as sanduku (string and box) and ganon, a 78-key instrument also seen in Iran and India.

Malouma introduced modern music from Mauritania. Singing with feeling and strumming electric guitar, she combined traditional Moorish music of the Sahara with rhythms of the Senegal river and the savannah, at the crossroads of West Africa, Arab and Berber worlds.

Nfithe, from Beira, in the north of Mozambique, offered a high-energy show, dancing their “African salsa” with the crowd, climbing scaffolding and waving their national flag, bodies undulating in time with the rhythm.

The Seven Stars Band from Samoa blended hip hop, traditional Samoan church music, and Fijian dance. Bandleader Melvin Solomona performed a traditional faataupati (the Samoan slap dance).

Bongo Love from Zimbabwe worked the crowd, shouting “Santo Domingo, we love you!” Brothers John Mambira on djembe and Mpho Mambira on baritone marimba led the band, composed of other instruments such as soprano marimba, mbira, and electric bass.

The Gishora Drummers from Burundi played drums on their heads while leaping and dancing, treating the audience to their intensity, sweat, red and green costumes, calling and yelling.

The Congolese artists of Kékélé honored the roots of rumba by using maracas, guitar, and song to get the crowd moving and shaking. The majority of enslaved Africans transported to Cuba were from the Congo, so naturally the culture was transferred and mixed there. Kékélé brought that music full circle, revisiting the classic rumba from Cuba with current African sounds.

Omar Pène and the Super Diamono group from Senegal captivated with his strong presence and powerful yet almost pleading voice, showing off his own “Afro-feeling” style, music shaped by jazz, funk and Afro-Cuban stylings.

The festival ended with a parade of musicians, including traditional music from the Haitian gagá, fea

  Travel notes
WHERE TO EAT:

El Rey de Falafel, Billini 352 and Sanchez. Decent falafel in Santo Domingo.

Adrian Tropical, Malecón. Good seaside restaurant for typical Dominican food.

D’Luis Paradilla, Malecón. Great grilled fish and other grilled meats. Decent view of the harbor.

Comedors – always an inexpensive option for simple pollo guisado (chicken stew) and rice.

Harry’s Bar, Atarazanas 29, Plaza España. Nice views and good comida criolla.