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Reviews Detail of the cover of the album El Olimpo de los Orishas. Detail of the cover of the album El Olimpo de los Orishas. Design: Atelier Barr.

The Olympus of the Orishas / Afrosideral & Kumar Sublevao-Beat

As a child, my grandmother took me to catechism, to Sunday morning masses and processions of the diocese convinced of that absurd theory that is social whitening. Due to these paradoxes of life, my great-grandmother —her mother— had little wooden gods, with wide open eyes, gourds with honey and rum, kilos and fruit that they ate with their mouths closed. My grandmother called that pagan animism “the ancestor”, with fear and shame. My childhood ideas about magic, the spiritual and the other world moved in those two poles.

I wish I had understood at the time that race is a process. Being born black, phenotypically speaking, is the first and least of your circumstances. The rest is a life under construction, it is filling in and breaking stereotypes, it is mediating between legacy and oblivion, the past and the present. Black is not born, it is made.

Conceptual collapses aside and academic accusations that I will review later, I can say that few black artists (skin blacks, hair blacks, art and life blacks) take a sincere path regarding their raciality, their blackness. That, I dare say, is the case of that artist who has attached a title for each creative stage: Kumar Sublevao-Beat-Afrosideral. Banishing the shame of the ancestor while continuing to be carried away by pride towards him, that is his mission.

Certainly, there are those who could approach his most recent phonographic production, The Olympus of the Orishas for the religious reason that moves it, and whoever does it runs the risk of becoming obvious. Kumar places the Yoruba deities on Olympus, that theological pinnacle of Western culture that has been imposed on us. Some lofty little voice will say that it is a game of intertexts, that it is transculturation, that Kumar wants to give his deities the same place and preponderance that the Greek gods, white, with rich elements and powers, have enjoyed anthologically. A wise idea, I would say, obviously. That is actually just the beginning.

The Olympus of the Orishas, so prove it. Kumar has reached this point in his mature artistic career, without becoming a cartoonish redundancy of the rapper underground that it was and, at the same time, without moving away from it. The aesthetic is different, the intention too, but the essence is the same. Amid so much self-plagiarism and faded copying among artists of his generation, I am pleased to understand that Kumar grew up.

The complexity of his proposal proves it. At first hearing or by advance recommendation, The Olympus of the Orishas It seems like one more inside that big bag that is the cliché, another remix of the Afro-Cuban to gain ground with its mysteries, to sell exoticism and take advantage of the ignorance of many. However, Afrosideral's music comes in wisely superimposed layers: the saxophones and the xylophone in Deliver me from Araye, the electric guitar in Chango on Olympus and the acoustics Filho do Mar. In the center of all is his harsh voice, rough but sincere. Like a bit of salt in syrup is the inclusion of Sixth Sense in Eshu Odar.

Filho do Mar it is perhaps one of its jewels. This piece is dedicated to the queen of the seas, the one who can do everything, the queen of the world and patron saint of Havana: Yemayá. The piece also proposes the importance of Afro-descendant, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin culture. That its lyrics are in Portuguese is just one of the ways to explain how blackness is an experience that transcends spatial limits to encompass all the points where the African diaspora spread. In Ode Ni Ire is accompanied by DJ Nickodemus, who joins the afro-cuban groove, of which Kumar is the leader.

The extension of the tracks reveals not only Kumar's penchant, as an author, for loop machine and the superposition of sonorities, but also as a producer adding details, twists and hooks every certain frequency in the songs and that prevent the listener from getting bored. In fact, the artist leaves nothing to chance: he arranges everything. None of these tracks leaves the feeling that something is missing and, curiously, nothing is left over either. Of course, conceived under the determinants of the house, they all comply with their intro-hook-climax-outro structure, with their mandatory reiterations. In this sense, Kumar is not surprising, but he is not disappointing either.

At this point it is not unfortunate to say that Kumar is an afrofuturist. In his favor, he counts the acoustic synesthesia that includes in almost all the pieces, an element that reminds us that this Olympus is not climbed on open roads, but is entered by breaking through the bushes. There are the chirps of the birds, the crunches and drips, the forest and its thickness. Afrofuturist is also his intention, to take the elements of the past and place them in a possible future. It is subverting the victimizing and marginalizing narrative of the black past by bringing it to the present, looking to its future, Kumar speaks to his orishas in the language of yesterday, with songs of today. This element is not new, but he incorporates it in his style and does it with praiseworthy virtues: avoid easy stereotypes such as the sensuality of the black woman condensed in his deities, or the physical power of the black man in his Changó and Oggún. His speech rescues from forgetfulness what an orisha is: an accompanying deity, wise, imperfect but moral. Its aesthetics shows Africanness not as a ballast or an exotic attraction, but as a tasty inheritance, legacy and heritage.

Listen The Olympus of the Orishas here.

Gladys M. Quesada Degree in Spanish Philology, Announcer, Scriptwriter. Master in Communication Sciences. Convinced that there is life outside the Earth and life. Crespa by conviction, Philologist by vocation. Voracious consumer of series and music. Eternally, guajira girl. More posts

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