Mining Rap And Spoken Word, ÌFÉ Continues To Innovate And Expand Afro-Cubanism

Members of the band ÌFÉ.

Joao Rodríguez/Courtesy of the artist

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Joao Rodríguez/Courtesy of the artist

Earlier this year, I sang the praises of the debut full-length album by the groupÌFÉ, a dramatic meditation on traditional Afro-Cuban rumbaand santeria music.

After seeing the band live in Philadelphia, I was even more convinced that its spirit of innovation is just as intense as its dedication to tradition.

They’ve just released a remix which challenges the concept of “remix,” in that it is not an electronic re-imagination of their song “Tres Mujeres” but rather a faithful rendering of the song, with Afro-Cuban rapping and a spoken-word performance added to the electronic flavorings that made the track so exciting in the first place.

Bandleader Otura Mun has tapped into the vibrant Cuban rap scene to further explore the beauty of the musical manifestation of santería worship.

Santería is a very musical faith, with ceremonies centered around hundreds of chants and songs dedicated to various deities. Much like gospel singing has influenced modern music here in the U.S., ceremonial santería music has had a profound influence on contemporary Cuban music, especially over the last 40 years.

Lending their voices to the track are three up-and-coming Cuban rappers: El Individuo (Rafa Bou), JD Madafaca (Jadit Prieto) and Positivo Siempre (Osmani Fernandez Lopez). Spoken-word artist Amehel Mission Raíz (Amehel Incera Cepeda also appears.

What is fascinating is to me is that these rappers are expressing words of devotion and prayer, devoting themselves to the guidance and wisdom of the orishas, or saints, of this faith. The poetry of the lyrics is just one element to appreciate, but there is also the flow of the rappers against the electronic rumba being laid down by the members of ÌFÉ that adds to its musicality. It’s as if the voices are another layer of rhythm instruments.

It’s another stunning statement, and expression, from a band that seems to have no limits on its creativity.

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Qatar Ends Visa Requirements For 80 Nations, Calling Itself 'Most Open' In Region

“Qatar is now visa-free for over 80 countries around the world,” says Group Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker of state-owned Qatar Airways, as the small nation announced that it will issue waivers rather than visas — and won’t be charging for the service.

The change, which is effective immediately, means that people from the U.S. and other countries are now able to enter Qatar “with no paperwork, no payment, and no visas,” Al Baker said. Visitors from 33 countries would be able to stay for up to 90 days.

The U.S. is not on that most-favored-nation list; instead, it’s among the 47 other countries, such as Russia and China, whose citizens can stay in Qatar without a visa for up to 30 days.

Rather than applying for a visa beforehand, citizens of those 80 nations can obtain a visa waiver after arriving in Qatar.

The move makes Qatar “the most open country in the region,” according to officials from Qatar’s tourism and interior ministries who announced the loosening of immigration rules on Wednesday.

Saying that the change reflects Qatar’s outlook at “a historic time,” Al Baker added, “While some countries in the region have taken to closing their skies and their borders, Qatar has instead opened its borders to more freely welcoming visitors from all corners of the world.”

Immigration and international travel have been hot topics both in the U.S. — where President Trump has made tighter border controls a priority — and in the Middle East, where Qatar has been isolated by its neighbors since June.

Qatar’s visa change could help the Persian Gulf country reach its target of hosting 7 million tourists annually by 2030. It could also provide some relief from the blockade led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — and which Al Baker on Wednesday called an “illegal violation of international law.”

As part of the blockade, Qatar Airways was barred from entering the airspace of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — although there are now signs that at least some of those restrictions might now be relaxed.

Despite the diplomatic standoff, Qatar noted that citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates — and of Turkey don’t need visas to enter Qatar.

Saudi Arabia and its fellow Sunni nations have accused Qatar of supporting terrorism. The peninsula nation has denied those accusations.

The U.S. response, particularly early in the dispute, has been criticized as being mixed. Even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to ease the tension and called for an end to the blockade, President Trump said that he had consulted with Saudi Arabia before calling out Qatar for what he called its “very high level” of terror financing.

Here are the 33 nations whose citizens can stay in Qatar for up to 90 days without a visa:

  1. Austria
  2. Bahamas
  3. Belgium
  4. Bulgaria
  5. Croatia
  6. Cyprus
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Denmark
  9. Estonia
  10. Finland
  11. France
  12. Germany
  13. Greece
  14. Hungary
  15. Iceland
  16. Italy
  17. Latvia
  18. Liechtenstein
  19. Lithuania
  20. Luxembourg
  21. Malta
  22. Netherlands
  23. Norway
  24. Poland
  25. Portugal
  26. Romania
  27. Seychelles
  28. Slovakia
  29. Slovenia
  30. Spain
  31. Sweden
  32. Switzerland
  33. Turkey

And here are the 47 countries whose citizens can spend up to 30 days in Qatar without a visa:

  1. Andorra
  2. Argentina
  3. Australia
  4. Belarus
  5. Bolivia
  6. Brazil
  7. Brunei
  8. Canada
  9. Chile
  10. China
  11. Colombia
  12. Ecuador
  13. Panama
  14. Costa Rica
  15. Georgia
  16. Guyana
  17. Hong Kong
  18. India
  19. Indonesia
  20. Ireland
  21. Japan
  22. Kazakhstan
  23. Lebanon
  24. Azerbaijan
  25. Macedonia
  26. Malaysia
  27. Maldives
  28. Mexico
  29. Moldova
  30. Monaco
  31. New Zealand
  32. Paraguay
  33. Peru
  34. Russia
  35. San Marino
  36. Singapore
  37. South Africa
  38. South Korea
  39. Suriname
  40. Cuba
  41. Thailand
  42. Ukraine
  43. United Kingdom
  44. United States
  45. Uruguay
  46. Vatican City
  47. Venezuela

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'What She Ate' Reveals The Plates And Palates Of 6 Notable Women

Eleanor Roosevelt presides over the table at a dinner celebrating her husband’s victory in the 1932 Democratic presidential primary. Author Laura Shapiro notes that later, as first lady, Roosevelt would seem “apathetic about what was on her plate” while in the White House.

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Back in the late 1980s, when I was first starting out as a critic for The Village Voice, one of the books I was assigned was Laura Shapiro’s Perfection Salad, a social history of the home economics movement during the turn of the last century.

I can’t recall many of the other books I reviewed in those days, but Perfection Salad has remained indelibly with me. Shapiro helped break new ground by taking the history of women, housework and cooking seriously, even as her witty and vivid writing style was decidedly un-solemn. Now, some 30 years later, Shapiro has done it again, this time, breaking new ground in the art of biography by taking the adage, “you are what you eat,” literally.

Shapiro’s fascinating new book is called What She Ate, and it focuses on the lives of six women from different centuries and continents — all prominent to different degrees. Among them are

In the resulting portraits, Shapiro, like a consummate maître d’, sets down plate after plate of the food these women cooked, ate or thought about and an amazing thing happens: Slowly the more familiar accounts of each of their lives recede and other, messier narratives emerge. As Shapiro says: “[O]ur food stories don’t always honor what’s smartest and most dignified about us. More often they go straight to what’s neediest.”

Take the chapter here on Eleanor Roosevelt, certainly one of the most chronicled women in history. The common wisdom is that food was mere fuel to Roosevelt. Shoring up this official story is the fact that Roosevelt hired as her White House chef, Mrs. Henrietta Nesbitt, whom Shapiro calls “the most reviled cook in presidential history.” Here’s a sampling of the regularly repeated White House luncheon menu, made from leftovers:

There were curried eggs on toast, mushrooms and oysters on toast, broiled kidneys on toast, braised kidneys on toast, … chipped beef on toast, and a dish called “Shrimp Wiggle,” consisting of shrimp and canned peas heated in white sauce, on toast.

Shapiro surveys the well-mined trove of Roosevelt’s letters, memoirs and newspaper columns and spots a striking pattern: “Inside the White House, [Roosevelt] was apathetic about what was on her plate.” Outside, she “discovered the delights of appetite,” enthusing, for instance, over the popovers she made for her beloved bodyguard Earl Miller in the 1930s or “a delicious Arab dinner” she enjoyed in Beirut in 1952.

As Roosevelt herself said in looking back on her White House years, “I had erected someone outside myself who was the President’s wife.” Shapiro’s astute reading of Roosevelt’s “food trail” testifies to Roosevelt’s distaste for that official role.

The Braun chapter here is practically the insane inverse of Roosevelt’s and every bit as illuminating. Since Braun’s existence as Hitler’s mistress was kept secret from the public, she gloried in her private and very feminine role as hostess of the meals at Hitler’s mountain retreat, where high-ranking Nazis “feasted on the rightness of their cause.”

Shapiro opens Braun’s life story with its chilling end: late April 1945, when she and Hitler were hiding in the Berlin bunker where they would commit suicide. Braun welcomed architect Albert Speer to the bunker for a frantic good-bye visit and, as he recalled in his memoir, Braun, ever the enthusiastic hostess, “radiated an almost gay serenity. “How about a bottle of champagne for our farewell? [Braun asked] And some sweets? I’m sure you haven’t eaten in a long time.” As Shapiro says, “the guilt-free zone in the heart of Hitlerdom” that Braun helped create through gourmet meals held fast to the very end.

Several times throughout What She Ate, Shapiro repeats what surely is one of her life’s mantras: “Food talks — but somebody has to hear it.” How lucky for us readers that Shapiro has been listening so perceptively for decades to the language of food.

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