Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Gagá Pa'l Pueblo: A Critical Afro Dominican Celebration in New York City

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Gagá Pa'l Pueblo: A Critical Afro Dominican Celebration in New York City

Article excerpt

Gagá Pa'l Pueblo (GPP) is an Afro Dominican group that hosts a recurring summer religious musical event that takes place every Sunday afternoon at Manhattan's Anne Loftus Playground in Washington Heights, a haven for Dominican immigrants in the US. The summer event consists of performing gagá music and hosting weekly ceremonies in honor of a Dominican Vudú loa or deity. Throughout this essay I will differentiate through spelling Dominican Vudú from Haitian Vodoun and from Hollywood Voodoo, where the latter stereotypes and maligns the West African religion aptly called Vodun. Martha Ellen Davis writes, "vodu (or vudu) is the Dominican counterpart of Haitian vodoun (or vodun). It is similar to the Haitian, indeed influenced by it, yet different, with regional differences as well" (75). The last day of the GPP summer event is the largest of performances, attracting more people, lasting longer, and where music and dancing are performed more aggressively than usual.

Gagá Pa'l Pueblo emerged in 2011 priding itself in using gagá to, as they state in their newly launched website, "redefin[e] Dominican identity through music and dance in a time of globalization," essentially challenging the Dominican national identity constructed by the Dominican Right (Gagá Pa'l Puebo website). The GPP website displays pictorial images and videos of their events. Through the use of direct observation and interviews of specific members of GPP, this paper explores the reasons for which the participants infuse racial themes that center on praising blackness and African heritage, into their musical religious sessions. Ultimately, I argue that Gaga Pa'l Pueblo is a radical celebration of Dominican blackness, evidenced through the primary participants/interviewees' discourse on race, nation, and identity that departs from and ruptures traditional definitions of Dominicanness. In the summer of 2015 the Dominican government stripped thousands of Dominicans of Haitian ancestry of their citizenship and impeded others from obtaining it. As a result, the Dominican Republic gained bad international press, emphasizing Dominicans' reluctance to embrace their blackness while citing historical events of anti-Haitian wars and one genocide in 1937. These gagueros break this narrative, embracing Dominican gaga and Vudú while identifying as Pan African in identity and spiritual and artistic intent.

I first came to know these gagueros through social media, meeting them at Hostos College in New York City where they performed gagá. I later spent additional time with them at Philadelphia's 2011 Odunde festival. Odunde, as the festival is often informally called, pays homage to the African Yoruba deity Oshun. For this paper, I interviewed them sporadically throughout 2014-2015.

Isabel Brown defines gagá as "the Dominican version of Haitian Vodou[n], which assimilated the vestiges of the Taino belief system in addition to the mythology imported from Africa" (74). Gagá, emanating from Haitian rara, a religious music to the tune of Haitian Vodoun, consists of musical instruments harking back to ancient African traditions, songs, dances, and religious rituals. It was in the early 20th century, with the US occupation of the entire island that Haitians began entering Dominican territory as exploited sugarcane workers that imported rara. As a result, Haitian cane workers' intermingled with Dominicans in Dominican sugarcane fields, which eventually led to the creation of gagá. Many Dominicans, whether in the Dominican Republic or New York City, celebrate gagá, with its visibility especially salient in the Dominican Republic during Carnival in the month of February.

Celebrating AfroDominican life, gagá is an African derived cultural practice that unfortunately is not accompanied by Dominicans' national identity. Historically, the conservative Dominican elite defined Dominican national identity as white, Catholic, culturally Hispani, in opposition to Haiti. The elites base their ideas on the fear that foreign entities, consisting of the Haitian government, France, and Canada, are plotting to politically merge both the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and thereby "reduce" the former country to the poverty level of the latter. …

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