Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Proyecto Enyenison Enkama

April 14, 2009

Proyecto Enyenison Enkama

Titulo del Cd Ecobio Enyenison

1.Eribo Eriboñe2-Ekon Erima3-Itia Fondova4-Yumba Efo5-Danza Ñañiga6-Neri7-Mariba Konkai8-Beromo Ñampe9-Isunekue10-Iro Gañu

African secret societies played 
a formative role in Cuban cultural history. During the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries, no large kingdoms controlled Nigeria and Cameroon's 
multilingual Cross River basin. Instead, each settlement had its own 
lodge of the initiation society called Ékpè or Mgbè (leopard), which was in 
effect the highest indigenous authority. Ékpè/ Mgbè lodges ruled local 
communities while also managing regional and long distance trade. Cross 
River Africans, enslaved and forcibly brought to the Americas, 
became known there as ‘Carabalí’, after the port of Calabar from which many embarked. Evidence of Carabalí cultural practice is found today in Salvador Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Santiago de Cuba. However, only in Havana and Matanzas, Cuba did Carabalí leaders reorganize their Ékpè clubs into a 
mutual-aid society called Abakuá, a term likely derived from the Àbàkpà community of Calabar. 

Abakuá ritual 
languages and practices became a unifying charter for transplanted Africans and their successors; its ideas and expressions became foundational to Cuba’s 
urban life and music. Each lodge is a school that trains members in the performance of ritual theater and visual arts, as well as jurisprudence, or the legal codes of social organization. An analysis of Cuban popular music reveals ‘Carabalí’ influence in all genres, including danzón, rumba, son and timba. Cuba’s most famous 20th century painter, Wifredo Lam, incorporated Abakuá signs into his works, confirming this fraternity as a cultural symbol of the nation itself.

In 2001, Nigerian Ékpè and Cuban Abakuá met to display their related traditions, likely for the first time since separation through slavery some 200 years ago. The mutual excitement of this summit meeting, held at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, led to several further meetings, each incrementally larger. When the Obong (paramount ruler) of Calabar visited the USA in 2003, the Abakuá who arrived to greet him received invitations to visit Calabar. In 2004 the Governor of Cross River State, his excellency Donald Duke, arranged for two Abakuá and me to visit an Ékpè festival in Calabar, where the Cubans won the hearts and respect of Ékpè leaders. In 2007, the Musée Quai Branly of Paris invited two groups, one Nigerian Ékpè, and another Cuban Abakuá, to perform onstage for a series of five concerts exploring common themes in the music, chants, body masks, and visual signs of each group. The conversation that unfolded onstage demonstrated to both groups the significance of their links.

This recording by Proyecto Enyenisón Enkama is a brilliant effort to continue that conversation, using the same form in which both Ékpè and Abakuá have recorded their own histories: ritual phrases with symbolic rhythms. Members of Proyecto Enyenison Enkama have been leaders in the conversation with their African counterparts at each stage in the process, which certainly began before the first encounter in 2001. In 1997, the Havana rumba group Yoruba Andabo’s recording of ‘Enyenison Enkama 2’ (arranged and chanted by ‘Roman’ Díaz’) became the basis for the Brooklyn encounter; it included an historic chant evoking Efí Ebutón, the first Cuban lodge, that Nigerians interpreted as identifying ‘Obutong’, an important Calabar community. In 2000, Angel Guerrero led the creation of ‘Ibiono’ in Havana, the first full length CD devoted entirely to Abakuá ritual chanting that evoked historic lineages in Cuba and the foundation of Ékpè in Africa. Following this trajectory, in ‘Ecobio Enyenison’, Cuban Abakuá chant their history and proclaim their faith in their inherited traditions.

The phrases of each composition describe sacred geographies (maps) of West African source communities, as well as histories (epic deeds) of the African founders. By evoking these inherited chants, members of ‘Proyecto Enyenison Ekama’ praise their teachers, as well as all those Abakuá leaders of the past who maintained their faith in the teachings of those Carabalí migrants who established Abakuá. By chanting within the context of contemporary arrangements played by vanguard jazz musicians, they celebrate a cultural victory of continuity and evolution across time and space, as well as offer a vision of the expansion of their traditions into the future.

Dr. Ivor Miller

African Studies Center

Boston University

1) “Eribó Eriboñé”

Homenaje a un territorio sagrado para los abakua, el territorio de Orú (Uruan en el sureste de Nigeria) y a una de sus piezas sagradas, el simbolico tambor Eribó. Este número es una fusión de la musica abakua con elementos de jazz (en el bajo y trompeta). La campana del son cubano se escucha en la marcha. El numero tiene tres guías: Ángel, Román, y Pedrito. Los dos ‘cherekawa’ (maracas, o ‘erikunde’) estén en estilo de los Ékpè de Calabar.

Homage to a mythic territory sacred to the Abakuá — ‘Orú’ — (known as Uruan in southeastern Nigeria), and to one of its sacred instruments, the Eribó symbolic drum. (Uruan and Efik Ékpè leaders recognized ‘Eribo’ as ‘Dibó’, a core term for their Ékpè system). This composition is a fusion of Abakuá music with jazz elements (in the bass and trumpet). The bell pattern of the Cuban son is heard in the ‘march’. This recording has three lead voices: Angel, Román, and Pedrito. The two ‘cherekawa’ maracas, or ‘erikunde’) are played in the style of Calabar Ékpè.

2) “Ekon Erimaó”

En las culturas del Rio Cruz el ekon (‘nkong’ in Efik) representa la comunidad, porque es el instrumento de llamar todos a orden. Este composición se nombre con el titulo del ekón, porque es un homenaje al fundamento ekón. En Abakuá, el termino ‘Ekon Abasi’ (campana de Dios) quiere decir ‘naturaleza’, siendo el fuente del sagrado mineral del hierro y del sagrado vegetal con que se hace los cherekawa o ‘erikundi’ (maracas). Este composición evoca sentimientos que se desarolla dentro de la madre naturaleza en la forma del ekon el y erikundi, que se complementa con la voz humana y la música abakua, llamado ‘ibiono’. Este composition menciona los siguientes frases:

“Achereka waboko” (los güiros, maracas), “ibonko enchemiyá” (tambor que habla).

    “Ibiono asere” (no se puede hacer la música si no lo sientes).

    “Ekon akribia emban eri mabó” (hay que tocar el ekon bien).

“kufon ekon abasi beromo,” ‘El colegio de los sabios’ (referencia a las escuelas de enseñanza del Abakuá).

In Cross River traditions, the ekon bell (‘nkong’ in Efik) represents the community, being the instrument used to call people to order. This composition — an homage to the sacred ekón— is named with a title of the ekón bell. In Abakuá, the term ‘Ekon Abasí’ (bell of God) means ‘nature’, the source of the iron and vegetation with which both the ekón and ‘cherekawa’ or ‘erikundi’ (maracas) are made. This composition is a meditation on mother nature as expressed in the forms of the ekon and erikundi, complimented with human voice and abakuá music, known as ‘ibiono’. This composition mentions the following phrases:

    “Achereka waboko” (the güiros/ gourds, maracas), “ibonko enchemiyá” (the ‘talking drum’).

    “Ibiono asere” (one must feel the music in order to play it).

    “Ekon akribia emban eri mabó” (the ekon must be played well).

“kufon ekon Abasí beromo,” ‘The college of wisemen’ (a reference to the Abakuá initiation schools).

3) “Itia Fondogá”

Un homenaje a los Abakuá de Matanzas y a su música.

La frase ‘El amo no quiere que toco tambor’ es un montuno de Los Muñequitos de Matanzas que refleja la lucha para mantener la cultura, en este contexto específicamente la cultura carabalí.

An homage to the Abakuá of Matanzas and to their music. The phrase ‘El amo no quiere que toco tambor’ (the master doesn’t want me to play drums) is a chorus created by the Muñequitos of Matanzas that reflects the struggle to maintain inherited traditions, in this context those of the Carabalí.

4) “Yumba Efo”

5) “Danza ñáñiga” (Ernesto Lecuona)

“Danza lucumi,” nos dice el maestro Paquito D’Rivera, es el nombre original de esta obra de Ernesto Lecuona. Gracias a la versión del maestro con el grupo Irakere, esta obra llegó a nuestros días tras; su presencia en esta nueva versión nos honra. Entre sus letras son:

‘El secreto vive en lo natural,

Flora y fauna su expresar,

Viejos tratados que cuidar.’

Coro: “Si tu no estas” (es decir, el fe del neófito es un elemento esencial en el proceso del juramento).

“Danza lucumi,” according to maestro Paquito D’Rivera, is the original name of this composition by Ernesto Lecuona. Thanks to the version of D’Rivera recorded by the group Irakere in the 1970s, this composition has remained in the contemporary repertoire; the presence el maestro in this new version honors Proyecto Enyenisón Ekamá.

This version also takes inspiration from Saldiguera, a founding singer with the Muñequitos of Matanzas, as well as from popular Cuban poetry from the early 20th century. Among the lyrics are:

‘The secret lives in the natural world,

Expressed in flora and fauna,

Ancient pacts must be kept.’

This chorus is: “Si tu no estas,” ‘if you are not present.” That is: the faith of the neophyte is an essential element in the process of initiation.

6) “Neri”

Homenaje al papel del río (Neri) en la desarrollo del Ékpè en las comunidades del Río Cruz. El río era la fuente de comida, ruta de transporte, y referencia para adoración, un papel que no se perdió en Cuba en la organización de Abakuá.

La frase “kaña neri efó,” hable del nacimiento de lo divino en Ékpè, hace siglos en África y que todavía está viva.

Homage to the role of the river (Neri) in the development of Ékpè in communities along the Cross River. As source of food, as route for transportation, a reference for worship, this role was present in Cuba during the organization of Abakuá.

The phrase “kanya neri efó” evokes the birth of the divine in Ékpè centuries ago in Africa, an energy that the contemporary membership evokes in the present.

7) “Mariba Konkai”

La frase ‘mariba konkai’ quiere decir ‘las profundidades del mar’. Un homenaje a Nasako, el adivinador, quien con sus poderes, sabiduría, paciencia, fue capaz de unir los tribus en Africa por crear Ékpè a través de lo divino.

Coro: “Nangando mariba ekue uyo unkeno.” (se canta para hablar del procesión al río). En Abakuá, nangando ‘el río’; mariba ‘el mar’; ekue ‘Ékpè’; uyo ‘la voz’. Esta traducción tiene igual sentido a través de los idiomas Efik y Balondo en la zona del Río Cruz.

The phrase ‘mariba konkai’ means ‘the depths of the sea’. This composition is an homage to Nasako, the diviner, who with his powers, wisdom, and patience, was able to unite many communities in Africa by creating Ékpè through contact with the divine.

The chorus: “Nangando mariba ekue uyo unkeno” (chanted in reference to a procession to the river). In Abakuá, nangando ‘the river’; maribá ‘the sea’; ékue ‘Ékpè’; úyo ‘the voice’. This interpretation has the same meaning in the Efik and Balondo languages of the Cross River region.

8) “Beromo Ñampe”

9) “Isunékue”

Dedicado a los Isunékues, una plaza (titulo) de suma importancia histórica, según nos afirma el ilustre Isunékue Ernesto Sotolongo ‘El Zambo’, de la potencia habanera Itiá Mukandá.” ‘El Zambo’ fue uno de los tantos colaboradores en mi trabajo “La voz del leopardo” (2009).

La introducción es una poema en español sobre la importancia de Isunékue en la religión:

“Misterioso donde habita el divino, misterioso fambá. Allí Isunékue cual muralla protectora, la vista hacía adentro, mirada constante a los elementos superiores, que rigen el fluido de la vida.”

La melodía del montuno es contemporánea del Calabar, que enseñaron los Ékpè de Calabar a los cubanos en Paris 2007. Las letras del montuno son Abakuá en homenaje al Isunékue.

El ritmo de este composición tiene ‘gurarpachangéo’, creado por ‘Los Chinitos López’ en el barrio Jacomino (o ‘La Corea’) en el reparto de San Miguel de Padrón, La Habana. El ‘gurarpachangéo’ es la base de la rumba-guaguancó actual. La rumba siempre se ha mantenido en conexión con la música sagrado del rito y de la música popular. En este grabación se está utilizándolo por estas razones.

Dedicated to Isunékue, a title of tremendous historic importance, as confirmed by the illustrious Isunékue Ernesto Sotolongo ‘El Zambo’, of the Havana potency (lodge) Itiá Mukandá.” ‘El Zambo’ was one of many colleagues who supported research for my book “The Voice of the Leopard” (2009).

The introduction is a poem in Spanish regarding the importance of Isunékue in the Abakuá tradition, translated as:

“Mystical realm where the divine lives, mysterious fambá [temple]. There Isunékues is a protective wall, with his gaze turned inward, is ever watchful of the principal elements that govern the flow of life.”

The melody of the montuno (chorus) is contemporary from Calabar; it was taught to the Cubans by Calabar Ékpè during their interactions in Paris (2007). The Abakuá lyrics in this chorus speak to the importance of Isunékue.

The rhythm of this composition uses ‘guarapachangéo’, created by ‘Los Chinitos López’ in the barrio Jacomino (or ‘Korea’) in the region of San Miguel de Padrón, Havana. The ‘guarapachangéo’ is the base for the contemporary rumba-guaguancó genre. Rumba music has always been maintained in close relation to Cuban ritual music; it has also been a source of inspiration for popular commercial music. It is used in this recording for both these reasons.

10) “Iro Gañun”

Esta composición señala la importancia de los Efik en el desarrollo del Ékpè en Africa. Según el mito, en África, “Iro Gañun” era nombre de los Efí Nuróbia antes de consagrase. Muchas de las consagraciones que se hicieron en tierra Efí en África, se hicieron en tierra Efí Nuróbia. Esta composición es un homenaje al territorio Efí Nuróbia, donde había cazadores colindante con Efí Abarakó. En Cuba, el termino Abarakó es muy probable derivado de Mbarakom, una comunidad en Creek Town (Obioko), cerca de Calabar, y importante en la historia de Ékpè.

Este numero hace una dualidad: hable de las consagraciones en el pasado en África, y hable de Efí Núrobia, una potencia habanera y su familia: Efi Abaraká Itá, Efi

Akwarayo, Efí Eru Kánko, y Efí Masongo.

This composition signals the importance of Efik communities in the development of Ékpè in Africa. According to the myth, in Africa, ‘”Iro Ganyun” was a name for the Efí Nuróbia before they were brought into Ékpè; many of the ritual pacts made in Efik territory in Africa were conducted on land controlled by Efí Nuróbia, and their neighbors Efí Abarakó. In Cuba, the term Abarakó may be derived from Mbarakom, a community in Creek Town (Obioko), near Calabar, with an historically important tradition of Ékpè.

This composition speaks of ritual acts in the African past, as well as of the contemporary Havana lodge Efí Nuróbia and its family (ritual linage): Efi Abaraká Itá, Efi Akwarayo, Efí Eru Kánko, and Efí Masongo.


  1. Nice blog, looking forward to more posts. Can you tell us when and where this CD will be available?


  2. I agree with Barry. I would just love to get my hands on this CD.

    One more thing, I bought and read Dr Miller's book, which mentions an accompanying CD, but there is none. Just wondering if you knew anything.....