Okana - Afro-Radioactive ritual
A creation by José Ramón Hernández / Osikán - creation nursery / Souvenir
Okana is a gesture that speaks of racism in Cuba, sixty years after a social and political project that imagined a Cuba ‘with everyone, and for the good of everyone’ in which black bodies were included in this ‘everyone’. Okana is the contemporary re-imagining of an Afro- Cuban ritual, in which four black women play batá drums, lit by images recorded by the first Cuban woman to direct a feature film, the great Sara Gómez. Okana is the proclamation of four black women in today’s Cuba, who find, in the black feminism of Angela Davis, Shirley Campbell, Georgina Herrera and Sandra Abd’Allah-Alvarez Ramírez, a profound and critical form of inspiration. Okana revisits Yoruba religiosity, by means of the feminine and authentic body of the protagonists.
Okana is the Orun (the sacred sequence) which new man is lacking in his menstrual cycle. Okana is a forest made of plant fibre (the straw mats of Afro-Cuban Santería), where the microphones are like trees, or the branches of a great Cuban ceiba tree. Okana is body, voice, image and forest, rising up and inviting the spectators to move their bodies and shake off the dust.
Texts: the letters from our mothers, letter from José Martí to María Mantilla, letters from the performers to God, process interviews with Cuban women, ‘The Fugitive’ by Georgina Herrera, ‘Defiantly Black’ by Shirley Campbell, Jorge Mañach, diaries of the performers and José Ramón Hernández, and process writing by Yohayna Hernández.
Sources: the cinematographic work of Sara Gómez, the philosophy and activism of Angela Davis, the cyberfeminism of NegraCubanaTeníaqueSer, the music of Nina Simone and Las Krudas, the poetry of José Martí, Georgina Herrera and Shirley Campbell, the religious conversations with Amado Junque (Oriaté), Reinaldo Nápoles (Oriaté), Jorge Acosta Cuba (Babalocha) and Menelio Pérez (Babalocha).
Concept and direction: José Ramón Hernández
Dramaturgy: Yohayna Hernández / José Ramón Hernández
Performers / Life Experts: Geischar González Valiente / Celia B. Pérez Erraste / Lilian Chacón / Sahibel Fuentes Pérez
Original Music: Osikán / Souvenir
Audiovisual design: Gabriel Estrada / José Ramón Hernández
Teacher of Yoruba Technique and Percussion: Dáril Valeris
Production: Dianelis Diéguez / JHSProducciones
Production assistant: Alaín Cantillo Moreno
This work brings together the theatrical creation of José Ramón Hernández, in collaboration with Osikán - Experimental Theatre Platform, and with Celia B. Pérez Erraste, Lillian Chacón Benavides, Sahivel Fuentes Pérez and Geischar González Valiente, who we already know from their music in Souvenir, or their presence in La Manada. The creative team was made up of Dianelis Diéguez La O, Daril Valeris, Blain Cantillo, Yohayna Hernández and Gabriel Estrada Reyes, who also designed the programme. At the beginning of the performance, from an enclosure of upright microphone-skeletons – which we later see crashing to the ground, destroyed, defeated – we move on to the redeeming beat of this quartet of female musicians, breasts defiantly exposed, as their Yoruba chants resonate deep within us, echoing. Regarding the performance, Yohayna has also said: “it is a shout, a song of life by four black women today in Cuba. But they are not alone: among those who join them, you might have noticed that we are a choir of witches, of runaway slaves, of pigs, moving deeper into the forest to the sound of batá drums.”
Watching Okana, afroradioactive ritual, by the Osikán Experimental Theatre Platform, I thought about borders, about the self-declared states with no sovereignty. Watching Okana, I thought about my godfather, son of Eleggua. I thought about faith. Watching Okana, I thought about María Galindo, Paul B. Preciado, Pedro Lemebel, Lorenza Böttner, Lukas Avendaño... Belkis Ayón, Lydia Cabrera, Wilfredo Lam, Lázaro Ross, Natalia Bolívar, Sara Gómez... Watching Okana I thought about sacrifice. About privileges / the privileged. About reason. About madness. About racism. About freedom. About power. About fragility. About monsters. About the exertion of violence. About pharmacopornographic societies: clean, hygienic, perverse. About my mother, I thought about my mother and about the relations of death, of blood. Watching Okana, I thought about a truth that is still so hazy. A truth that I am yet to understand completely. I can say, finally, something which could also be said of Antonia Eiriz’s platform: Here, everything is slavery. Everything is domination. Domination murmurs on, beyond the subject, beyond time.
Another effective mix of languages was realised by José Ramón Hernández for his theatrical creation Okana AfroRadioactive Ritual, co-written by Yohayna Hernández, which proposes a staunch defence of raciality, feminism, the mythical-religious and integration. With regards to the final point, though now in the aesthetic sense, it is admirable to see how the young, black female musicians play their instruments live, most of which are relations of death, of blood. Watching Okana, I thought about a truth that is still so hazy. A pharmacopornographic societies: clean, hygienic, perverse. About my mother, I thought about my mother and about the truth that I am yet to understand completely. I can say, finally, something which could also be said ofpercussive, their music based on a score by Osikán in collaboration with Souvenir Performers, with guidance from the teacher Daril Valeris. They move and dance via peculiar choreographies, and, as Hernández states in the programme, they are “a choir of witches, of runaway slaves (...) moving deeper into the forest to the sound of batá drums”, alternating with excerpts from films by another pioneer of these issues in Cuban cinema: Sara Gómez, thanks to the sharp graphic and audiovisual design by Gabriel Estrada. Geischar González, Liliam Chacón, Celia B. Pérez and Sahivel Fuentes are the performers who, with such grace and knowledge, move around on the stage, they literally make music, and they fill the magical space of El Ciervo Encantado, where the performance took place.