“We must retake African languages, reaffirm we are people and have souls”: Meet Tiganá Santana, the first Brazilian to compose in African languages

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Note from BW of Brazil: I can’t say for sure when and how I discovered the music of Bahian musician Tiganá Santana, but his sound is a necessary addition to my library of music that helps me to remember that there is still good, natural music out there. Call it maturity or called it fatigue of artificial music, in the past six months or so, besides the 70s/80s sounds that love, I’ve added a couple of Brazilian joints to my heavy rotation list. 

First, I stumbled across the 2016 CD, Ascensão, by singer Serena Assumpção. Assumpção was one of the singing daughters of musician Itamar Assumpção, the other being Anelis Assumpção. Unfortunately, Serena passed away in March of 2016, a few months before the release of her first and only album. The entire album is an ode to the orixás of the Candomblé religion. Serena was one of numerous artists who have paid homage to the African origin religion, this being particularly true of up and coming artists. It’s yet another avenue of Afro-Brazilians “returning to the source”, in the words of Amilcar Cabral, the intellectual revolutionary of Guinea-Bissau. 

Tiganá Santana is another such artist, returning to the source via his immersion in African rhythms and languages. When I first experienced Santana’s voice, I noted how it beared a striking resemblance to MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) singer/musician Dori Caymmi. Caymmi is one of the children of the musical dynasty created by the famous Bahian singer/songwriter Dorival Caymmi. Santana’s work adds to the musical legacy of the state of Bahia, the most African of all Brazilian states.

The artist goes beyond re-connecting with African ancestry via the strong influence of Africa in Bahia by not only digging into the history, but studying the works of a Congolese intellectual, singing and composing in African languages. Like other black Brazilians in the midst of a rising re-connection with a blackness/Africanity that Brazil has long attempted to stomp out, Tiganá connects with an ancestry that must be revived if Africans in the Diaspora are to break the chains of a mentality and psychological slavery that has gripped our people for five centuries. 

Musically, Santana’s relaxing voice, mid-tempo and acoustic guitar strumming is not for partying, but put on his music when you are in the mood for reflection, meditation, a sunset drive or even some sound sleep. 

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Meet Tiganá Santana, the first Brazilian to compose in African languages

Singer and philosopher, Tiganá is the first Brazilian composer to present authorial songs in African languages

By Hellen Leite

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“Precisely because we live in a racist state, it is necessary to retake African languages, bring these thoughts and reaffirm that we are people and have a soul”, Tiganá Santana

Singer, composer, philosopher, researcher. At 36, the Bahian Tiganá Santana divides his time between Salvador, Brasília, São Paulo and international trips to promote his music and academic research. The musician composes and sings in Kikongo, Kimbundu (languages of Angola and lower Congo), Portuguese, English, Spanish and French, and was the first Brazilian composer to record songs in African languages.

Tiganá’s history with philosophy, music and ancestry begins very early. At the age of 9, he dreamed of becoming a writer and even won a literary contest at school with a poem of a social nature. “I still remember the title, it was a Perverso sistema (wicked system)”, he recalls. “I was in the habit of making stapled manual books. I was always curious about the world, I was interested in many subjects, it was even difficult to choose a favorite subject at school,” he says.

At 11, he recalls, he was impacted by the image of Bossa Nova legend João Gilberto playing the guitar. That was how he became interested in music as well. The instrument was one of the few requests he made to parents in childhood. He was a child of few requests. Even though I was from a family with good financial conditions, I didn’t feel the need for material things. “I was already in the habit of writing, but, gradually after contact with music, texts became songs. For me, there was no longer any point in writing without music.”

Tiganá Santana

Even if his mother wanted a career as a diplomat for her son – “she had the desire to break the Eurocentric hegemony of the Itamaraty (Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs)” – Tiganá took another path. He graduated in philosophy from the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) and is currently a doctoral student in the Postgraduate Program in Translation Studies (Department of Modern Languages) at the University of São Paulo (USP), with research on Bantu-Kongo proverbial sentences of the Congolese thinker Bunseki Fu-Kiau.

Music took an intimate and central place. The social and political dimensions that cross his experience as an individual and a member of communities were the fuel for his works with cut and depth. He debuted with the album Maçalê (2009), the first Brazilian phonographic record of authorial compositions in African languages. Four years later, the work The invention of color (2013) was born, recorded in Sweden and favored by critics. The English specialized magazine Songlines, for example, gave 5 stars to Tiganá’s work and classified it among the 10 best records in the world in 2013.

Soon after, he released the double album Tempo & Magma (2015) recorded in Senegal after an artistic residency promoted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). The most recent works are the singles “Vida Códig”/”Meios”, in which he re-recorded the theme of the famed bloco afro Ilê Aiyê in a duet with his mother, Arany Santana, and revamped music from the first album. The fourth album is scheduled to be released in 2020.

African philosophy

If Nietzsche sought inspiration in the classic European figures of Apollo and Dionysus for his propositions about art, Tiganá uses figures like the orixás and contemporary African philosophers to think about Afro-Brazilian culture.

The composition of the song, in French, “Le mali chez la carte invisible” (O Mali no mapa invisível in Portuguese, Mali on the invisible map in English) brings a counter-colonial narrative. Tiganá destructs the French language, he explains, in response to the violence suffered by African peoples colonized by the French. There is a rhythm in Tiganá’s speech, he talks slowly, almost solemnly, thinks about the right words before each answer. The speech almost reveres affectionately to its African foundations, to his relatives and ancestors.

“We can learn a world from the diverse African philosophies. They are based on thinking that includes practice and behavior. In many of these ways, there is a sense of community that is absolutely fundamental,”he details. “For them, it is impossible to exist if it is not in the community. Thinking in this way already puts us in another place, above all, when talking about issues of society.”

Among other variables, even more violent and serious, for Tiganá, Brazilian society loses by breaking with historical references. “It is part of a State policy to weaken, in memory and conscience, certain references and belongings, references of language, spirituality and philosophies. This is what made the colonial project successful. There are other insurgencies, also important, but, in general, this is what structures us,” he explains. “Let us remember that we have only 131 years of abolition. We had three times more time in slavery,” he emphasizes.

For Tiganá, this is what makes the issue of racism profound in Brazil. “Brazilian slavery is the first in human history based on scientific racism and phenotype. It is from this that the other questions in Brazil arise, for example, the fact that there is not even a black epistemological presence in artistic expressions is proof that racism is something much deeper,” he says.

Transgressor of the monochromatic musical chain, Tiganá redraws the bridges between Brazil and the African continent with a sweet and serious voice and wagers on singing the other possibilities of being in the world: “It is precisely because we experience up close a racist state that we have to take up African languages, bring back those thoughts and reaffirm that we are people and have a soul.”

Source: Correio Braziliense

About Marques Travae 3472 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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