Last year on the 21st November, my birthday, the Film “They Are We” Premiered in the UK at the London Latin American Film Festival, an established film festival directed by the power force of Cuban born Eva Tarr-Kirkhope Llaff . I had been looking forward to seeing it for a long time and was thrilled that it was being shown in the UK. The film follows a small family group known as the Gangá-Longobá from Matanzas who have kept their heritage songs and customs alive for many years, trace where their customs originate from.
It is a fascinating journey of discovery for communities both in Matanzas, Cuba and a village in Sierra Leone, which involves the viewer in the roller coaster of emotions from each communities seeing films of each other’s community to the final reunion of family members from Cuba and the Community in Sierra Leone.
For me, this was an incredible film which highlights so many important issues. Firstly it is remarkable how the power of ceremony, aural tradition and song can last the test of time, without resource to technology or anything fancy or modern. As a Lucumi practitioner of the Orisha tradition, and a singer by profession, I am always amazed at the survival of our songs and customs despite trauma, geographical displacement, repression. It was also remarkable that that the link between the communities was found due to the songs that were sung. The next step was to travel all over Sierra Leone asking elders of communities all over Sierra Leone, highlighting the importance of the knowledge of elders. Secondly it also pointed to the fact that Slavery did not only affect those that were taken from their lands by force, but also those that left behind. The reunion between the communities was not only highly significant and emotional for those in Cuba, but finally the community in Sierra Leone were able to understand what happened. It’s interesting to observe how many small communities all over Cuba maintain traditions and songs that are not particularly connected to the main religions, and this highlights the huge area affected by the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Thirdly the Orisha tradition which is so ingrained in the culture of Cuba, is often seen by some Cubans to be belonging to Cuba. It is a reminder that wherever you practise and whatever lineage you respect, ultimately this is an African religion and an African way of life.
Finally connection and understanding where one comes from is so important. Paying homage to your ancestors, understanding your journey and living in a society which respects each community and their differences is so important. I witness in today’s society specifically where I live in London, a lot of disconnected and lost people. It does not help that society does not celebrate, acknowledge or respect differences in communities. This film can teach us all so many important lessons, it is not only the Story about those two communities, it is a story about humanity.
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