African Americas project

Exploring connections between Latin America, Caribbean and the U.S.


1:16 p.m., Sept. 29, 2011--“There are deep and lasting connections between the Caribbean and black artists, intellectuals and institutions in the United States,” says Persephone Braham, University of Delaware associate professor and director of the Latin American Studies program. “But these connections are often overlooked due to language and geographic barriers.”

To help bridge some of these divides, Braham has created the African Americas project, an ambitious two-day symposium set for Thursday and Friday, Oct. 6-7, in the Ewing Room of the Perkins Student Center, that brings together artists, musicians and scholars of black music, art, history, literature and anthropology.  The project coincides with numerous Black American studies events underway at the University this fall. 

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As the Black American Studies program— awarded department status just last year—celebrates its 40th anniversary, and as the Center for Black Culture celebrates 35 years, the African Americas project aims to “contextualize the United States’ experience within the larger Latin American and Caribbean one, bringing new depth and scope to the understanding of the African diaspora,” says Braham.

The project also takes place during Latino Heritage Month and coincides with an exhibition by artist Keith Morrison, whose works will remain on display at Mechanical Hall until December. 

During the two-day conference, multidisciplinary panels, led by guest experts and UD faculty members, will emphasize the importance of African influences on American identity. The music panel, for example, will feature Robin Moore, an ethnomusicologist from the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in Cuban musical influences on early jazz; Wayne Marshall, a DJ, journalist and expert on reggaeton; and UD's Harvey Price, assistant professor and director of the Percussion Ensemble, who will speak on the development of steel drum music from the ghettos of Trinidad to the ivory towers of American higher education. 

“You would hardly ever hear the Trinidadian steel drum in Cuba, or the traditional Cuban son [musical style] in Jamaica,” Braham explains. “We’ll be looking at recent trends like reggaeton to highlight both the diversity and interconnectedness of the African diaspora.” 

Colette Gaiter, associate professor of art, will present a range of works by Cuban artists, and she hopes the symposium will provide a deeper understanding of the African experience in the Caribbean. 

“Every place and culture has distinctive artwork,” she says, “and because of our limited exposure to Cuba and Cuban art, I want people to understand the African experience, especially as it has been depicted in a Communist country.” 

Ultimately, Braham adds, the African Americas project aims to “investigate the cultural, historical, philosophic and creative dimensions of the human experience.

“Our hope,” she says, “is to engage students, faculty, guests and the general public in a conversation about one of the fundamental facets of American identity: our colonial and slave-owning origins and the ramifications of these origins throughout our collective intellectual and cultural experiences.” 

The two-day symposium will culminate in a performance by Delaware Steel, UD’s internationally known steel drum ensemble.

Article by Artika Rangan

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