In a desire to gain knowledge of the part of myself that existed prior to colonialism and that survived in spite of it, I have spent years purposefully examining the identifiable markers of Africa within Trinbagonian culture. Dr. Robert Farris Thompson’s work was bound to enter my intellectual repartee sooner or later. His preeminent scholarly work, Flash of the Spirit, had unlocked the meaning in familiar symbols and rituals for me.
Thompson describes the “sacred art of the Yoruba in transition” to the Americas as characterized by a “richness of detail, moral elaboration, and emblematic power,” which would hold both formal and metaphoric appeal for me. I relied heavily on Thompson’s comprehensive body of work to add elements of cultural and spiritual resistance to my body of work, Strange Fruit 21st Century, which traced forms of race-based oppression from colonization and enslavement through mass incarceration.
The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) recently hosted Trade/itions: Trans-Atlantic Orisha Sacred Traditions, a symposium at City College for the Arts. My attendance was simply mandatory. Dr. Thompson delighted the capacity audience with key ideas and experiences from a long list of his brilliant work. He sang, yodeled and ‘dropped beats’. He brought life to his prolific body of work with passion and respect for his subject matter, as well as pure joy.
The evening would be rounded off with a performance, “In Honor of Our Orishas,” that included Baba Neil Clarke & Iyesa Drum ensemble; Iyalorisha & Akpon Amma McKen; Master Cuban percussionist, Roman Diaz & ensemble; and Something Positive, Inc. from Trinidad and Tobago.