Black Music Sunday: Celebrating Changó and Iansã!


When writing about Chucho Valdés’ 81st birthday in October, I talked about his composition La Creación (The Creation), which celebrates the Orisha. He took a bow and a masterful solo in this amazing performance at Lincoln Center in New York City.  

To open its 2014-15 season, Jazz At Lincoln Center welcomes the world premiere of a work by managing and artistic director Wynton Marsalis. Ochas, for big band and Afro:Cuban percussion, features special guests in the commanding pianist Chucho Valdés and percussionist, vocalist and Santería priest Pedrito Martinez. With the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, they blend jazz with the traditional folkloric and religious music of Cuba. Jazz Night In America explores how the new suite of music came to be.

MUSICIANS: Wynton Marsalis, Pedrito Martinez, Chucho Valdés, Roman Diaz, Clemente Medina, Denise Ola DeJean, Amma D. McKen, Dreiser Durruthy Bambolé, Yesenia Fernandez Selier, Walter Blanding, Chris Crenshaw, Vincent Gardner, Victor Goines, Carlos Henriquez, Sherman Irby, Ali Jackson, Ryan Kisor, Elliot Mason, Ted Nash, Paul Nedzela, Dan Nimmer, Marcus Printup, Kenny Rampton, Joe Temperley, and Gregory Gisbert.

I have a personal connection to this performance, since two of the women singing here sang at my initiation ceremony to the priesthood in the Afro-Cuban Lucumí tradition, which took place in 1998. 

RELATE STORY: ¡Qué viva Changó!: West African deities in the Americas

I’m continuing with more from Chucho, but switching to the Orisha Oya (aka Yansa).

Oya, or Yansa, is the Orisha who rules the winds. Tornados and whirlwinds accompanied by lightning are her element. She is a warrior Orisha who rides to do battle at the side of Shango, her husband. She is also the guardian of the gates to the cemetery. Her symbols are masks, and a horsetail fly-whisk. Her number is nine, said to represent the nine tributaries of the Niger River. She is Catholic, syncretized with The Virgin of Candelaria in Cuba, one of many manifestations of a Black Madonna who came from the old world to the new.

Valdés teamed up with saxophonist Archie Shepp, recorded at the Fort Saint-Agathe de Porquerolles Festival on July 14, 2011. Shepp’s riffs on the sax give me the feeling of riding her winds.   

Archie Shepp – saxophone, Chucho Valdés – piano, Carlos Manuel Miyares Hernandez – tenor saxophone, Reinaldo Melian Alvarez – trumpet, Lazaro Rivero Alarcón – double bass, Yaroldy Abreu Robles – percussion, congas, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé – vocals, Batà drum, Juan Carlos Castro Rojas – drums

Yusimi Moya Rodriguez, Cuban dancer and educator, demonstrates dancing for Oya in her video.

This video shows a folkloric dance performance of the female Orisha Oya, a Yorùbá deity, as danced today in Cuba to the rhythms of the Lukumí batá drums and singing. The Yorùbá name “Ọya Ìyánsán” means literally “Oya mother of nine (children)”. Oya is the goddess in charge of wind, tornado, torrential rain and hurricans and beloved wife of Orisha Shango, who is often only called by his name Yor. “ọkọ Ọya”, husband of Oya. Like wind and thunderstorm they cannot be separated one from another. Oya was Ogun’s wife, but left him for Shango. She is also hot-tempered and energetic. In Yorùbáland, Oya is the Orisha of the river Niger. In Cuba she resides at the entrance to the cemetery, where she leads the dead ones and hands them over to the female Orisha Oba and Yewa, who live inside these walls. Walking on the boundary between life and death Oya is closely related to the Yor. “Eégún”, the dead ancestors. She herself had nine stillborn children she is still protecting. With strong winds she can blow away obstacles and bring new things into the life. Oya stands for the female strength in times of struggle, respected for her strong will and fearless through her connection with the world of the deads. Oya is the female warrior goddess and also known for her strong medicines. Oya’s color is mostly burgundy or wine-red. Around her waist she wears a belt with nine different colored pieces of clothes attached, symbols for being the mother of nine dead children. Oya can wear all colors, except black. Sometimes palm fibers from the “palma real,” Shango’s tree, are added.

She carries an “ìrùkẹ̀” made of a black horsetail. She can hold a “machete” or a “vaina,” a huge painted seed from the flamboyant tree, in her hands. It has the form and almost the size of a “machete” and is used like a rattle to call her. In her dance Oya moves around like a whirlwind or tornado, spins around her axis to the left. She swings her whisk above her head, brings wind and dynamic change, clears and purifies the air. She brings both arms high in the air above her head in mirrored positions and in a sudden powerful movement stretches them downwards to her hips, followed by a wave, a spinal ripple, moving through her body, going from her pelvis up where it twists the head. She is crying out loudly while dancing, looks fierce and strong, aggressive and violent, her movements are impulsive, energetic and characterized by abrupt stops. Some people say one dance of her in the rhythm “shashalokafun” is related to the buffalo, her sacred animal and the steps mimic the gallop of this massive animal.

Switching genres to contemporary hip-hop reggaeton, Ramón Lavado Martínez, who is known as “Chacal” and has a worldwide following, made this video, which includes reverence for Shango and dancers for all the Orishas. He is dressed in all-white like a typical “Iyawo” (bride-initiate of the Orishas) as he pays homage to the Shango shrine. The video, which was made in 2016, currently has over 6 million views. 

Shifting to Brazil, where St. Barbara Oyá and Iansã live, I recently came across a duo who have produced an entire album dedicated to prayers to the Orixa. Their album is Rosa Amarela (Yellow Rose):

Yellow Rose is a musical work composed by Pris Mariano and Rodrigo Di Castro. Its genre is the religious aspect of Música de Rezo, allied to MPB and Brazilian Pop. Our intention is to provoke people to reflect on their beliefs, seeking to expand their thoughts and attitudes. We believe that art is a big step in this beginning. […]

Canto de Oyá

I’m made of wind

Of fire and steel

Bad weather doesn’t bother me

I’m reborn from time

Between forests, roads and bamboo groves

I ride where nobody goes

My mom taught me

To be a breeze when you can

And also gave me

The bravery of a thousand buffaloes in one woman

I do it in time

In the shadow of space

My path is not slow

I’m an impulse, I’m a trail

The Brasil Calling music review website provides an introduction to the early work of Juçara Marçal, who sings to Xango, on this song from her first album, with Kiko Dinucci, entitled “Pade”:

Padê was the first album to feature Juçara Marcal and Kiko Dinucci together, before they went on to form Metá Metá with Thiago França. […]

In the Yoruba language, the Padê is a candomblé ceremony in which food and drinks are offered to Exu. It was believed (and in many terreiros is still believed) that in case the Orixá did not receive the proper homage, it would disrupt the whole ritual. The Padê also serves as a catalyst for superhuman energy, in which the faithful evoke and demand protection from the ancestors (Egunguns) and the ancestral mothers (Iyami Oxorongá), and Exu is responsible for taking such requests to these entities. Exu is still responsible for bringing the Gods of Africa to dance on Brazilian soil. Without Padê there is no ceremony; it only materializes if Exu is always the first to receive the tributes.

Here is their song to Xangô, entitled “Xangô’s Axe”:

Her bandcamp page has a brief bio:

Juçara Marçal is a Brazilian singer and a member of the group Metá Metá. Her fist solo album ENCARNADO was released in 2014 and It was considered the best album of 2014 by APCA (Paulista Association of Art Critics). The partners of this project are Kiko Dinucci, Rodrigo Campos and Thomas Rohrer.

Shifting back to the Catholic/Candomble Saint Barbara/Iansã tradition in Brazil, here’s a glimpse of the dual practice at a feast of St. Barbara, from TV UFBA. The visuals and audio paint a clear picture of the duality, with saint statues carried through the streets as women priestesses of Candomblé, dressed in traditional Afro-Brazilian dress, wearing the beaded necklaces of Oya, shout praises to Iansa/Oya and shoot off fireworks.

A translation of the video’s text provides:

A crowd in red and white goes in procession through the streets of Pelourinho (Salvador) in a procession that inspires faith and tradition. The popular festival that honors Santa Bárbara, in the Catholic religion, and Iansã, in Candomblé, is celebrated on December 4th and makes up the scenario of religious syncretism in Bahia. The saint is known as godmother of the Fire Department and patroness of markets, as an orixá she is famous for the title of lady of lightning, wind and thunder.

Considered Intangible Heritage since 2008, the party marks a history of more than 300 years of worship to Santa Bárbara / Iansã. The celebration is marked by an outdoor mass near the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, shortly after, the procession continues to the Fire Department headquarters. During the festivities, traditional carurus are also served throughout the region, such as those at Mercado Santa Bárbara and Mercado de São Miguel, all accompanied by a lot of samba de roda and capoeira.

I’ll close with a rousing tribute to Oya and Xango in Brazil from YouTube channel Canal Macumbaria:

Check out another one of the beautiful moments of Juliana D Passos and Macumbaria. Our show brings together music, dance and multimedia projections to celebrate Brazilianness, talk about our African heritage and the beauty of the Orixás and their energy for our spiritual path. See how the stage at the Centro Integrado de Cultura, in Florianópolis, literally shook when honoring the strength of Iansã and Xangô.

I’ll be continuing the celebration in the comments section—join me! 

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