Conga Series - Anatomy of the Parade

The Chakras of the Conga

The conga is divided into three main parts: the front, the center and the rear where one finds the ingeniously creative new chants. The front of the parade is led by the banner flags of the conga. In the front you have people cooling it drinking with just the waft of the sound of the drums, kids running round, babies with their mothers, older folks, and in the last ten years or so, in the big Invasion Parade, Santeria dancers and drummers honoring their Orisha gods and goddesses. There’s lots of space far up there and you can’t hardly see the drummers and only just about hear them when the wind blows right but though the thunk of conga drummers is thin in the air you can still feel it pierce the skin. Groups of practitioners and players of folk music and Afro-Cuban religions, from the Conga neighborhoods singing and dancing from the beginning to the end of the parade opening doorways and clearing the spiritual path for all always spearhead the procession for the entirety of the parade. 
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In the middle of the parade you have the Conga band and it is here in the center where the parade is thickest with a tight throng of folks shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, belly to backs. The Congeros or drummers are protected or surrounded by a moving ring of uniformed police who with Billy clubs, try to keep all others away from the drumming engine of the parade.

This area is the most lively, intense and violent during the dancing march. Paraders fighting to get as close as they can drawn to the deepest sounds of the drums being beaten back with Billy clubs with hundreds of others chanting in unison following the direction of the calling Corneta China. Near the drums you’ll find one of the most striking power dynamics in motion as several phenomena of anthropology, ethnography and sociology flow together in the same volatile space. Gender relations and power, swirling round the immediate vicinity of the police where women dance seductively within steps of this constant violence unleashed by the police (always men) as the women oppose or reward the police with sexual provocation or seduction.

In the middle of the parade, close to the band, you find body, dance, gestures, songs and violence come together in a unique public sexual ritual. Also, in this potent space, closest to the mesmerizing sounds of the big drums, right on the perimeter of fire set up by the police, it is common to find gay (usually male) and young of both sexes, where partying and violence are more tied to the passion level of the rotating musicians playing in that portion of the parade in that time. Different drummers call out different spirits, for the rhythms too are telling stories of space and time.  As the band plays on you can see the waves and reverberations of the different rhythms echo through the spirit of the crowd.

In the very back of the parade, far away from the drums you have different kinds of sounds than the front. For here, in the back, you find the vocal dynamic which grew out of those seeking calmer waters and a different kind of rhythm and sound where they can hear the vocal call and vent and voice focusing on the songs and choruses led by the Grios rapping on current history and the histories from times long, long ago. Also, way in the back you’ll find more space with different singing groups with Grios, women with their children, friends laughing, talking and walking slowly drinking black market rum, (photo )older folks enjoying the call and response of the chants, those that have come late to the moving fete, and those who can no longer keep up with the pace of the 8 hour ordeal being left on the tail of what looks like a human train.

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anatomy4
Where does the rhythm come from?
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What’s the green leaf in people’s hair?
anatomy1
What is the Invasion Parade?
anatomy2
What are the Visitations?
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The Chants of the Conga
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The Chakras of the Conga