Dominican curator Yina Jiménez Suriel reflects on the envisioning of alternative futures and emancipatory processes in the Caribbean that emerge when new sonorities are collectively created and received.
Illustration: Edson Ikê
The imagination in which we live is dried out. Although we inhabit its ghost, the world in which stability and the binary were the foundation of everything, died a long time ago. The current crises and socio-political scenarios on the planet only evidence its death.
With this awareness, we must conquer the crisis and create new visions, but this time recognizing movement as an intrinsic characteristic in the life of every living being. And for that we don’t have to go very far: the ocean is the space from which we can create that moment radically different from the present. Take any human idea and put it in the ocean; it will surely end up collapsed or diluted, because that which is rigid, has no place in water.
Undoubtedly, we are talking about an emancipatory process, or rather the continuation of what has been going on over the last three centuries. For, are not the American and African independences the result of the search for a movement that denies colonialism?
In my part of the world, this search for movement began to be thought of in the Maroon communities [consisting of escaped enslaved people] in the high mountains. So, paradoxical as it may sound, in the Caribbean, continuing emancipation across the ocean cannot be separated from the history of the mountains.
The first thing the mountains tell us is that the key tools to disarticulate old ideas and create new ones are not supernatural devices, but sonorities and active listening. Used as a wind instrument, the fututo [an instrument made from cone shells] made possible in the Caribbean the formation of communities of resistance where indigenous and African populations fled from enslavement. Tracing the origins of regional independence processes of the 19th and 20th centuries leads us to the fututo as an articulator, with different ways of sounding but always calling to freedom.
Madeline Jiménez Santil, La mami del swagger, 2019. From the project Chew and Swallow. Courtesy of the artist.
Walking back and forth, and becoming aware of these maroon processes, I realized that sonorities continue to accelerate emancipatory processes, this time from the coast, and bringing us closer to the ocean. The karstic relief, the soil, saturated with memory of waters where the wind reverberates, has allowed the continuation of what started with the fututos, now with the dembow.
Dembow is a musical genre with roots in Jamaican and Puerto Rican rhythms. It appeared on the scene around 2009 in the city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and has become the main manifestation in conquering the crisis. While in its early days it had a specific rhythmic composition, today it is characterized by more diverse arrangements.
Dembow is helping us to rediscover what is moving. The reconfiguration in the management of power posed by exponents of the genre such as Tokischa and Kiko the Crazy has surpassed even the ideas of many progressive thinking people in the local context. With sonic and visual imagery, dembow is materializing the long-awaited realities. The radical defense of body autonomy, the recognition of other ways of constructing knowledge and broadening of notions of affection are just some of the debates that dembowserxs have raised in recent years. They have created a language common to the entire spectrum of the Dominican community and the interpellation of their ideas is a proof of that.
Post data: Five days before finishing this letter, the Chamber of Deputies of the Congress of the Dominican Republic approved a penal code that categorically prohibits abortion, omits discrimination based on sexual orientation and justifies discrimination of any kind based on “institutional requirements”. A desperate act that shows how cornered those social groups that pretend to continue living in an illusion of stability. At the same time however, just as we hear about this, Shakatah, a Dominican trans girl with more than 1.1 MM followers on Instagram, made a live dembow dancing and then bathing. In the first few minutes, the post got more than 5,000 views.
Yina Jiménez Suriel is a curator and researcher specialized in visual studies. Her thinking departs from movement, visualities and their potential to create new visions from the present ones. She lives and works in the Dominican Republic.
Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen