Ecuador and Rhythms of a Shared Heritage

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People2People…with Oke Epia

History is rich with records of cultural intercourse between Latin America and Africa. This mutually reinforcing relationship has often been traced to the infamous era when lives were traded in exchange for tokens like mirrors and gunpowder. In fact, certain accounts of the slave trade recount how the forced migration of human beings from the continent of Africa to Europe, Latin America and the Pacific invariably transposed cultures from one end of the world to the other. The vagaries of that exploitative epoch emasculated centuries-long traditions and customs of indigenous peoples who were suddenly uprooted from their ancestry and implanted in foreign soils. But because a man’s culture and tradition is his inalienable identity, the slaves of yore took with them togas of their heritage across the transatlantic stretch. Having been violently removed from the roots of their comfort zones the conquered lots of merchandise could find only but cold comfort in the rhythmic collectivism of a subdued spirit which though in chains, sprouted afresh in a strange land. But the umbilical connection with the land of birth was never lost.

That is why people in far-away Haiti hardly hesitate to regard themselves as brothers and sisters with the Igbos of South-east Nigeria; same way the alleys of Isale-Eko (Lagos Island) and the Favelas of Rio De Janiero share common memes and nomenclature in spite of the millions of miles separating both extreme ends of the earth.

It is in this light that a musical performance of Latin melody easily found a rhythmic agreement with African dance. And that was precisely the point Julio Cesar Almeida Lopez, a professor of Classical Music, effectively communicated in a thrilling concert at the Korean Cultural Centre, Abuja, on Thursday, May 26, 2016. Being a one-man band of classical music, Lopez lowered his modest frame into a sturdy chair on the theatrical stage and then launched a rein of harmonious torture on the strings of the wooden guitar with his fingers. The effect was a delight of several sonorous renditions which elicited excited applause from an appreciative audience.

After several spells of riveting run on the guitar, Lopez indulged his audience with brief interludes. He had taken such moments to speak on the similarities of rhythm and dance in Africa and Latin America. The soloist who pulled a captivating hold on the choice audience of diplomats and other representatives of the reserved Abuja persona, easily blended with the setting; in fact, he was quick to assert the historical connections. “The way you nudge to the sounds with the sliding movement of the neck is a sign of common heritage between Africa and Latin America,” he said enthusiastically even if in patched English. (At another time, he got his chief host, the Ambassador of Ecuador to interpret for full effect). Indeed, it was a Thursday evening of guitar glory, courtesy of the professorial dexterity of the performer who told this writer that he was on his first visit to Africa.

For music lovers, the notice of invitation to the event from the Embassy of Ecuador had rightfully raised expectations as it stated that the guest artist studied “Classical Guiter with Reinbert Evers at the College of Music in Munster-Germany, completing his studies with highest distinction.” And then the programme booklet used for the concert gave a good summary of the performer’s background. It stated that Lopez’s “frequent performances as a soloist and in chamber music collaborations have taken place in prestigious concert halls such as the Carnegie Hall in New York, the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, the Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires, the Beethoven Hall of Bonn, the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Teatro di Marcello in Rome, the Chiesa della Pontificia di Sant’ Anna in the Vatican.

“He had also presented his music at the Hotel National des Invalides in Paris, the Sydney Opera House, the Min-On Music Museum in Tokyo, the Grand National Theatre in Pekib, the Royal Castle in Warsaw, the Teatro Duna Palota in Budapest, the Concert Hall of V.V Mayakovskiy National Museum in Moscow, the Andishe Concert Hall in Tehran, the Museum of America in Madrid, the Albert Long Hall in Istanbul, the Middle East University in Ankara, the AUB Assembly Hall in Beirut, the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Kuala Lumpur, the Usmar Ismail Hall in Jakarta, the Casa de la Musica in Quito, among others.”

From the reaction of guests, it was an event to remember. Incidentally, it was also a remembrance event. According to the Ambassador of Ecuador to Nigeria, Leopoldo Rovayo, who readily warmed up with smiles to his guests, the evening of classical guitar was the “first of its kind the Embassy have organized in Nigeria.” He added: “Music is a universal language and so the aim is to promote cultural heritage between Ecuador and Nigeria and to pay tribute to the victims of Ecuador’s recent earthquake.” Congratulations to Mr. Rovayo for pulling off a commendable demonstration of fine public diplomacy.

––Follow writer on Twitter @resourceme