There has been widespread conversation regarding the latest music video "Yes" by Fat Joe, Cardi B, & Anuel AA. The conversation is linked to a debate of the representation or misrepresentation of Orisha tradition Lukumi. For reference I have linked both the music video as well as the a video of Hector Lavoe singing his famous salsa song "Aguaile" which was sampled for the song "Yes".
The music video opens with a scene of Orisha practitioners, dressed in white, paying homage to Yemaya in her natural habitat. The background music was a sample of the drumming and chants that are commonly heard and sung within Orisha tradition. Following this scene comes a new shot of Fat Joe, Cardi B, & Anuel, accompanied by women who were positioned with their "ass up face down" (as sung by Fat Joe). During this moment and the entirety of the song you here a sample of Hector Lavoe "Aguanile".
This write up I must say is entirely my opinion, but I believe many will agree as well disagree. I ultimately desire is for people to come up with their own opinions. Watch the video first and reflect. With that being said, I will say that my thoughts on the matter is that the "Yes" video as a whole does not provide a proper representation of Orisha-Lukumi traditions or the community. If we examine the video as a whole, there were many poor choices made. This video is not a commentary on the traditions or community as a whole but more so a reflection of "ratchet" culture infiltration within the Orisha community that many people have an issue with.
First let us begin with the oxymoron presented; the opening scene in connection to the remaining video. There is an introduction of honoring the sacred feminine, in this case Yemaya an African goddess, and then a following of some will describe an "objectification" of women of color. What makes a woman of color "twerking" objectification? Well, Fat Joe rapping "ass up face down" doesn't help the argument against objectification. I had a discussion with my friend Yon on IG Live the other day (check out his blog brujotalks.wordpress.com) and he made a great point in saying how Western society objectification of women of color not only is common & known but that this video lends a hand furthering this mindset. One can debate that the intro was a form of honoring and everything after that was misrepresentation. Yes, but my response to that is you can not exclude one from the other because the video by itself is a piece of work. Part of that work includes the sampling of Hector Lavoe "Aguanile".
Hector Lavoe was a well known salsa singer who has left a lasting legacy. His involvement in Orisha was no questioned, especially after his song "Aguanile" was released in the 1970s. The term "Aguanile" is a mixture of Spanish word "Agua" and the Yoruba word "ile". Agua means water, and ile means house. Now at times the word is spelled with double "g" as "Agguanile". When spelled like this the breakdown is "Agguan" and "ile". Agguan" means cleaniness. The new meaning is "clean house". Within the lyrics we find the song is an overall praise and worship of Orisha. Lavoe sings "Santo dios, Santo fuerte, Santo Inmortal" that translates to "Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal".
Lavoe was not a perfect human, he was a known drug abuser with his own problems. But when it came to Orisha many can make a healthy analysis that he did not allow these flaws to taint or cross over into the honoring and giving thanks to the Orisha. So with that said, I ask this question: where do we draw a line between accepted & objectified societal behaviors with religion and sacred tradition? I say this because this goes into my next point on a issue of "ratchet" culture existence in Orisha community.
The term "ratchet" is slang used in hip hop and it denotes to mean "to be ghetto, real, or nasty". This term has been used in correlation to describing women of color. Ratchet is sometimes taken in a positive or negative connotation. From the understanding of the word we can reach my next point in the conversation. How has ratchet culture infiltrated Orisha? Note that I stated before Lavoe imperfections, but how these imperfections did not cross over to his revering of Orisha. The separation between character behavior and religion is a line that has become blurrier over the years. Many Orisha practitioners have witness numerous occasions of the abuse of drugs (smoking of marijuana), alcohol, and many other acts during religious functions. These behaviors have no place during religious functions be it ceremonies or festivities such as sacred drumming. To commit such things during serious occasion is blatant. What furthers the problem is when blatant acts become normalize, and the normalization of it mixes in with the culture of Orisha community and results in tainting tradition.
"Yes" music video contributes to the normalization of ratchet behavior as acceptable within Orisha culture, when it is absolutely never originally nor should be part of it. It subconsciously makes ratchet behavior acceptable. The showcase of honoring the sacred feminine mixed with a follow up of telling women to have their ass up and faced down is combining the existence of both separate things into one. The celebrity factor doesn't help because let us be honest, people do idolize celebrities. Even more so when they find a celebrity who acknowledges and practices the same religion they do. In this case this is Fat Joe, who possibly has been initiated as a priest of Yemaya. The Orisha tradition is a religion and people are forgetting this. In any religion the concept of Agguan (cleanliness) is important. Cleanliness in ceremony, in one's home, in a persons behavior, and even more so when you are in the middle of a religious function. How does smoking weed, shaking your ass at a sacred drumming, or abusing alcohol during ceremony a showcase of cleanliness? The answer is simple it is not cleanliness. The same question goes how does the music video mixing the honoring of Yemaya with sampling Lavoe song meanwhile telling women to have their "ass up face down" and showing this an example of cleanliness? When posed this way do you not see why there is such a uproar in the Orisha community why the "Yes" video is a misrepresentation? Here is another point: would anyone think any different if a person exhibited such behavior in a church? Absolutely not, and why because churches are sacred. Then why is Orisha any different? Because it is African? Because it is link to blackness? And I guess blackness is linked to ratchet?
The consequence of the normalizing ratchet behavior within Orisha is the loss of concepts of ethics, honor, and respect. As mentioned earlier the definition of ratchet includes "ghetto". To be from or live in the ghetto refers to living in a poor area. Let us note that Orisha-Lukumi which stems from Cuba, exist and thrived despite the impoverish conditions of the island. To be poor or low income does not mean you throw out the door ethics, honor, respect, and the values of preserving or performing religious function. To live in poverty doesn't mean you act a certain way, but if one did, then their must be a common sense to know that religious functions are separate. That is the issue, the separation is not being addressed or made and that is a further reflection on the individuals that join in the Orisha community that do not seek to change or adapt to the expectation of how one is to comport themselves.
The conformity of the Orisha tradition to the individual does not denote to spiritual progression. No one is saying you can not be a reflection of where you are from. For example: I was saying this to a friend of mine the difference between "swag" and "ratchet". You can have "swag" which is character or a certain way of being that is a reflection of where you are from (in this case my friend is a New Yorker) or who you are and the cool vibration you carry. His "swag" never crossed the line during religious functions or in representing his status as an initiated priest. He honors the fact that he grew up in the ghetto and reflects the culture of his upbringing, but in no way does that culture infiltrate Orisha because now we are going into religious territory. This is another example of how, like Lavoe, a person can have their character and yet still be respectful towards a religion and its traditions.
Responsibility further needs to fall on those who contributed to this as well. I personally find it poor taste for an initiate (in this case Fat Joe), to work with Cardi B on a music video that showcases Orisha when she has publicly disrespected Orisha, making statements that it is "black magic" (see video below). The idea that Orisha is linked to "black magic" or that its practitioners follow black magic is a misrepresentation that stems from colonize programming that anything which is African or Indigenous is linked to Dark Magic, the Devil, or just evil. What message does it send to work with someone who publicly disrespected the Orisha religion as a response to someone's hexing threat? Whether he was aware of this or not, I am not sure, but overall to people that are aware of this or become aware it doesn't help the image. Furthermore now the initiates that contributed to the video, their standing & iwa pele (good character) is questioned by the community. Was a music video worth all this trouble?
The honoring of Yemaya had no place in the video as well as the sampling of "Aguanile" within the song, it was a poor choice. Both could have been and should have been remove. If either or wasn't part of it, the song would have still stood alone and been just fine as in. Two pieces of reverence clashed with ratchet culture and it is for this that many within the Orisha community are at an uproar. There was clearly no thought or at least deep examination placed into this. Further note when this video circulates it will potentially only justify for people that "ratchet" and religion mix, but let us be frank it doesn't. We can not fault an entire community for speaking out in defense to their religious beliefs and criticize how it should properly be presented. As we see from Cardi B, her outburst is an example of a common thought on Orisha and ATR. This is the mindset that practitioners are battling to fight in society today. Knowing how we are drawing the lines and contributing (or not contributing) is very important. People forgot that what they do and not do is always taken account and measured, be it by the community or the Orisha themselves. The infiltration of ratchet does not help in that battle. I hope that this can be an opportunity for all of us to reflect, especially, as practitioners how we are going to represent and comport ourselves in society.