Blackness seen from the arts

Hector “Coco” Barez (The Coconut Labyrinth) once wanted to test if they would let him into a hotel disco with his long curly hair, styled dreadlocks. It was a challenge, even though he had been warned that he would not be allowed access, not necessarily because of his hair, but because of his black skin.

He tried once and was denied access because he was wearing a plaid shirt. She changed it. She tried a second time and was denied entry again because of the shoes she was wearing. She also changed them. Already on the third attempt the excuse was that they reserved the right of admission and did not allow him to enter.

It was the occasion that he experienced racism more directly, but it also happens with the music he plays, the bomb. “That’s black music”, they tell him, to which he replies, “yes, I’m black.” Added to this is the slop on the drum. “(La bomba) is the purest thing, the closest thing we have to slaves, and it has been called witchcraft music, that is, there are many stigmas regarding the drum, and no, this has been used (historically ) to celebrate life, or to protest”.

Hector “Coco” Barez, The Coconut Labyrinth (Pablo Martinez / staff GFR Media)

Vin Ramos (solo, pop) He was rehearsing for a ballet piece, when the production asked him to straighten his curly hair and then have it combed so that there would be no trace of his afro, which, as he was given to understand, was not accepted within the framework of ballet classic. “I had to straighten my hair and comb it with a blower to get a shaggy hairstyle, because the Afro was not well seen in the classical environment in terms of ballet”recalled the “traumatic” moment that he later recognized as a racist act.

In the article Why we need to diversify hair in ballet, from the digital publication Pointe, Lauryn Hayes recounts the moment when she walked into a ballet class and was immediately warned that her hair texture – at that time with an updo of braids-, was not appropriate for the aesthetic of ballet, one that has its roots in the Eurocentric style, as detailed. However, changes are beginning to be seen in this artistic genre, although at very slow steps. Dancer Daphne Lee of Dance Theater of Harlem stepped forward to start normalizing different hair textures by creating versions of hairstyles required by ballet companies tailored for her hair.

Vin Ramos
Vin Ramos (Pablo Martinez / staff GFR Media)

Alméstica (new salsero, educated in singing within the genre of opera) is considered “super black”, although it is also recognized more lightskin. He wears the 1970s-style afro, which is now part of his artistic image, but it wasn’t like that before. “I spent zero high all my life, from little to fourth year. I didn’t know I had an Afro, I never saw my hair.”shared.

He does not see this reality as a denial of his natural hair, but as a habit that he adopted as a child until the moment he entered university, he wanted to do something different to mark this new stage in his youth. So, her interest in growing up in salsa and the need to create an image crossed paths, and she chose the afro.

“That’s crazy, there is no such thing as bad hair, what is that phrase, who said it?”questioned the culturally ingrained – and stigmatized – commentary regarding curly hair.

Almética (Pablo Martinez / staff GFR Media)

Vin Ramos celebrates the moment in which he voluntarily decided to exhibit his natural hair, and with it, convince his family that curly hair is not “bad hair”, as was led to believe among Afro-descendants in the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America.

“I had the blessing of helping my relatives to heal that which is so immersed in the mind (in an unconscious way), because later my parents realized this type of dialogue or expressions they made and they have apologized to me,” he explained.

Coco, Vin and Alméstica have different musical personalities: bomba, pop and salsa, but each one defends their blackness in a literal and figurative way.

Vin and Alméstica take it more from an aesthetic point of view and in the case of Coco, particularly, they try to keep the essential elements of bomba alive, even though their proposal Laberinto del Coco is defined by fused bomba (rap, jazz, flamenco, among others). styles). It preserves the drum as the axis of the rhythmic-musical conversation, the call and response between the singer and the choirs and the dance.

“It is super important to recognize that you are black, that you are playing black musicthat you have to spread as an educator, continue to spread the genre, that people know it, consume it, because by consuming it you understand it and you can have all the sensations that we go through, or have your own sensations, but with a context that this music is black, creolized”, he affirmed.

Salsa, likewise, finds African roots in the assimilation of sounds and rhythms that in the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America evolved to give it a new musical definition, making it the genre that is known. It is said that the key, that rhythmic pattern, is part of that African heritage.

Alméstica adopted the hall under the influence of her father after having trained in opera at the Escuela Libre de Música and at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music.

“I decided that I wanted to do salsa, because I heard (the song) ‘Pedro Navaja’ (Rubén Blades and Willie Colón, Siembra, 1978) and I became obsessedPrimarily, with (the music) by Héctor Lavoe, because ‘Pedro Navaja’ was the one that made me a salsero, but Héctor Lavoe was the one that graduated me,” said Jomar Alméstica de León.

For this trio of talents, racist manifestations continue to be explicit and implicit in our daily lives, and events such as the murder of George Floyd (2020) in the hands of the Police, brought out many of those experiences that are usually silent, although less and less. .

“That stirred up the anthill and people came out who had experiences and gave themselves the opportunity to express it, and even I realized in this process of George Floyd that the ballet was an act of racism,” said interpreter Vin Ramos.

We are surrounded by that (racism), as it was in the beginning, that is latent, what happens is that there are people who put up with it and hide it, and others who let you know”

Coco, percussionist