It is often said that music has the power to bring people together. That sentiment is definitely an understatement when it comes to the Afro-Cubans community Ganga-Longoba of Perico.
Cuba’s Ganga people have been singing the same African chants for generations, but it wasn’t until an Australian researcher took interest in the songs, that they were able to trace their chants to a remote village in Sierra Leone, 170 years after the slave trade.
“When I first filmed the Ganga-Longoba, I believed their ceremonies were a mixture of many different ethnic groups,” says historian Emma Christopher, of Sydney University.
“I had no idea that a large number of Ganga songs would come from just one village. I think that’s extremely unusual,” she says.
The initial breakthrough came when a group in Liberia saw her footage of a Cuban ceremony and recognised part of a local ritual.
Spurred on to seek the songs’ exact origins, the academic spent two years showing the film across the region until she confirmed that the Cubans were singing in the almost extinct language of an ethnic group decimated by the slave trade.
Her enquiries finally led her to Mokpangumba, where villagers not only identified the Banta language but recognised songs and dances from the initiation ceremony for their own secret society, devoted to healing.
“That’s the moment when they said: ‘They are we’,” Dr Christopher recalls, describing how the incredulous Africans began singing and dancing along with the Cubans on screen.
They identified nine of the songs in total, despite lyrics twisted over the decades and distance. For the villagers it was compelling proof that the people of Perico were family.
After tracing their roots back to Sierra Leone, four Cubans made the trip to the African country to delve more into their history. Emma Christopher captured the moment for the documentary “They Are We”.
“When I opened my mouth to sing, they just stood there staring,” Elvira Fumero recalls of her arrival in Mokpangumba.
“Then it was like an explosion. They started to sing the responses, and dance with me. And I knew then that this was where the Ganga came from,” she says, smiling.
Read more at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-25876023