In my investigations of Santo Domingo over the years, Xiomara Fortuna appears regularly as an integral part of the vibrant music and arts scene. She has been putting out albums since the eighties, with some of her songs on the early world music albums of Putamayo. Her fusions of jazz, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, rock music (and whatever else she sees fit) have garnered her fans around the world. During our final film production trip to the Dominican Republic this past April, I was able to interview Afro-Dominican singer-songwriter Xiomara at her home. It was truly an honor.
In this this excerpt, you will hear her thoughtful reflections on the richness of Dominican culture and the roots of its cultural heritage that are vital to our documentary and how we tell the story of the spirit of the cimarrón people.
Xiomara was born and raised in Monte Cristi, in the northern region of the Dominican Republic along the border with Haiti. Her exposure to a mixture of indigenous, African, Haitian, and Dominican folksongs at the border has shaped her sound. She reminds us that African culture in the Dominican Republic exists in the land, the music, the bodies of the people, and in the arts and cultural traditions of the present. The title track of her 2001 album Kumbajei (included in the video above) comes out of a childhood song about a little crab, she told me, and the word “cumba” is Congolese in origin.
In our interview Xiomara explained that her first introduction to the traditions of Gagá was while studying with anthropologist June Rosenberg at La Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. These were cultural practices that Catholicism had taught Dominicans to fear. Xiomara went on to draw into her work the cultural richness of the Caribbean and she has had a significant impact on the next generation of transnationally recognized Dominican artists and musicians (Rita Indiana Hernandez, for example). Listen to Xiomara’s song “Baisabi” from the 2000 Putamayo album Latinas: Women of Latin America.
Xiomara brings her thoughtful guidance to our collaborative film project, trusting we will carefully consider how we present the cultural traditions of the island to a broader public, and how we represent communities who have already had so much cultural history stolen and so much lost.
In the full-length interview, Xiomara talks about how so many of the spectacular aspects of the religious traditions of Gagá that we have had the opportunity to witness and record were created to be seen. However, she reminds us, much will forever remain secret from those not inducted into the religion; traditions we do not need to know about, since to reveal them would be a theft not unlike the acts of colonization that continue to shape the lives of Dominicans to this day.
If you make it to the Dominican Republic, visit Xiomara out at her Rancho Ecológico in Campeche or find her at one of her regular engagements at concert venues in the colonial zone of Santo Domingo. And look forward to seeing much more of this interview with Xiomara in our film.
Video editing & composition by Rubén Durán. Interview & blog post by Rachel Afi Quinn. Recording by Michael Brims.