The most important reason to watch the indie documentary Bakosó/Afrobeats de Cuba is that even if you think you know what it’s about, you actually might not know at all.
The first thing we think of when we hear the word “afrobeats” is the monolithic terms that gets applied to a variety of contemporary musical genres coming out of the African continent, styles that would be better served by individual names, revealing their diverse origins, from Ghana to Nigeria — where it was especially popularized and made brilliant by the late iconic Fela Kuti.
Applied to all of these types of music, afrobeats is merely a placeholder, an indication that we are still required to think more about how, as Korede Akinsete put it, “African art and by extension Black art should be allowed to exist without the constant burden of performance under a Western gaze.”
The film Bakosó shares the term afrobeat, some of that same music, but not the vague ethos of the generic genre. Instead, afrobeat in this context refers to the music that was brought from all over Africa, such as kuduro, semba, popular African and West African beats, to Cuba, specifically to the second largest city, Santiago de Cuba, by African medical students. In Cuba, this music took on a life of its own when it became enmeshed with the local music and culture, becoming bakosó — a dance, music, and lifestyle.
Directed by Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, the documentary traces the emergence of bakosó out of the happy mixture of Ghanian hiplife music, a preamble to afrobeat that has come to influence a number of Western artists, including Drake, and the local hip hop movement on the Caribbean island. Jacobs-Fantauzzi had already spent time in Cuba shooting his first two films, Inventos: Hip-Hop Cubano and Homegrown: Hiplife in Ghana, and the deep connections he had already formed in the Cuban musical community, especially with one of the island’s most prominent musical producers, Isnay Rodríguez, better known as DJ Jigüe, are the inspiration behind this film.
It was DJ Jigüe who first noticed the coincidence in the rise of hiplife in Africa and bakosó in Cuba and encouraged Jacobs-Fantauzzi to leave the capital city, Havana, and return to his hometown in the provinces to observe the burgeoning phenomenon. This pilgrimage to Santiago, where African students continue to flow through the outstanding medical programs there, reveals a place both familiar and exotic to its newly-minted doctor-musicians, a perfect backdrop for this new brand of music.
Making a film about the music of the Cuban provinces necessarily implies giving a sort of anthropological picture of what this cultural encounter is like. Resulting not only in the fusion of musical elements, the kinds of cultural artifacts that continue to emerge from this point of contact fuels Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s desire not only to chronicle it but to give back to and support his subjects.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi has already released video clips to inspire dance contests and promotions. He envisions that like the profits from his first film helped to buy new musical equipment for the Cuban hip hop musicians he filmed a decade ago, Bakosó; Afrobeats de Cuba will also bring recognition and “material support” for the community that creates it, dances it, and brings bakosó from Cuba to the world.