Gurumbe: Afro-Andalusian Memories Review

AKA: Gurumbe: Canciones de tu Memoria Negra, Gurumbe: Songs of Your Black Memory
Genre: Historical Documentary/Music Documentary
Year Released: 2016
Distributor: ArtMattan
Origin: Spain/Mexico/Portugal/Senegal
Running Time: 72 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Black Mozart of Cuba, Tango Negro, The Last Rumba of Papa Montero, Only When I Dance, Making It Happen: Masters of Invention, Flamenco Revolution
-Gurumbe is the first film featured in ArtMattan’s 2 disc set called “Blacks In Europe: 15th to 18th Centuries” which also features The Black Mozart in Cuba. They are unrelated films.
Fun Facts:
-This is the full-length debut of Spanish director Miguel Angel Rosale. He was actually a graduate of the Grenada Conservatory as well as the International Film and Television School of Cuba where he studies music and video production respectively. Rosale is originally from Jerez which is known for being a key city in the flamenco scene.

-Andalusia refers to the autonomous part of Southern Spain. The capital and largest city of that region is Seville. The name actually doesn’t come from Spanish origin, but rather Arabic. The name of the land came from “Al-Andalus” when Spain and Portugal were under control of the Moors. The name’s origin has been disputed to be a variation of either “Vandal” (as in the Germanic people) or “Atlantis”.

There is so much history out there, but not all of it is being taught. It’s even more infuriating when originators of art, music, and dancing never got the credit they deserved. Like so many other facets of history over multiple centuries comes from those enslaved. In this case, the dark history of Spain and Portugal has come to light when there was a denial that slavery ever happened even though those countries were the first in Europe to do anything with the Transatlantic slave trade since the 15th century. These African influences affected multiple forms of music in the Iberian peninsula such as flamenco and fandango among other genres in that part of Europe. Fortunately, there are historians, educators, and musicologists have dug up so much buried history which shows the real origin of these beloved forms of music and dancing while also revealing the ugly side of Spain and Portugal’s past.

It didn’t take until 2016 when there was some kind of traction about the African influence that’s been around for over half a millennium.

Gurumbe: Afro-Andalusian Memories deals with the history of various music and dances while also shedding a light on the earlier parts of Europe’s involvement in the slave trade. As the Spanish and Portuguese colonizers brought the Africans over to the continent as well as countries that were taken over by them at the time (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, etc., respectively), they were very abusive towards them in so many ways. At the same time, the Black population skyrocketed in Spain and Portugal with slaves taking up a significant percentage of the various town and city’s population. Despite being stripped of their original languages and cultures, they invented new forms of music and dances such as the Flamenco and Fandango among other genres that would eventually be co-opted by their European slavers in that part of the world. The thing is that there was a giant denial of all this happening where even Spanish and Portuguese people didn’t even believe that their respective homelands had hundreds of thousands of slaves centuries ago to the point where those countries had the highest Black populations in Europe back then. Fortunately, there were archaeologists, musicians, and historians who have been uncovering the un-credited African origins of these popular folk songs and dances as they pinpoint things such as the names, rhythms, art pieces, and even receipts from the slave trade dating back all the way to the 15th century in hidden archives.

I knew that there’s been African influence in genres such as rock music, jazz, or even metal, but I would’ve never guessed flamenco would be a major one as well. Partially this may have been because I haven’t listened to much of that music besides the occasional traditional guitar piece here and there, but this was certainly eye-opening to me. Hearing about the connections between the early parts of the Transatlantic slave trade between Spain and Portugal as well as the correlation with the forms of music, dances, and art was both informative as well as chilling in this knowledge. The fact that there was this historical amnesia in those cultures about there being a noticeable Black population as well as the mass dehumanization of the Africans living there was sobering to say the least. Even countries like England, the Netherlands, and France at least talk about their involvement with the slave trade and colonization in their history books, but the denial from Spain and Portugal in modern times spoke volumes. One example of the music being presented was the Fandango. Ethnomusicologist Raul Rodriguez mentioned that the word came for the Kikongo term for festivities (fanda) and engo/ango was a suffix used in different African languages from the Congo. Yes, the same word associated with a musical genre that would also be used for a certain movie ticketing company a well as a WWE wrestler with a ballroom dancing gimmick are named after something of African origin. The music presented was very good with these virtuoso musicians as well as folk artists from around the world. Some of them played genres I wasn’t used to hearing, but it still sounded great. The visuals were well-done with crisp camera work as well as graphics detailing maps or historical facts. Same with the end credits being very creative in it’s own right, too. There were so many strong arguments and evidence for the African influence with the various songs and art forms that was tough to argue against. Some of the uncomfortable parts of history were mentioned without pulling any punches like how it was legal for the Spanish and Portuguese to rape and abuse the Africans since they didn’t count as people in those societies. There were even several biracial babies born out of sexual exploitation and some of them were aborted en masse which was very disturbing. What really caught my eye was even though the slave trade was technically illegal in Spain in the 1830s, they still smuggled the Africans without getting caught and the money from the slave trade literally fueled their industrial revolution with cotton and textiles as well as the funds being used to build or renovate the different cities. Here’s a truth bomb for you even though it’s not limited to the Iberian Peninsula: The money from slavery LITERALLY built all those cities. Think about that next time you vacation there. The different academic and musical figures did an amazing job by putting the dots together while also condemning the practice of the slave trade especially since Spain and Portugal did it first when it came to Europe.

Gurumbe does make a few missteps here and there though. I noticed a few subtitle errors in the DVD I bought to watch this. There were some typos, some delays in dialogue, and some parts of the songs had omitted subtitles even though they were singing in Spanish or Portuguese especially since those were the two main languages spoken in the film. While there were great interviewees that brought undeniable evidence and had very insightful comments about the history of these musical art forms, there was an imbalance between the white subjects compared to Black ones. Much like some of my issues with the Namibian Genocide & The 2nd Reich documentary, there could’ve been more Black representation when it comes to interviewees, so some parts felt like unintentional whitesplaining to me despite the good intentions. One major flaw was the presentation of one of the religious ceremonies in Andalusia (I believe they were still in Seville when this happened). I understand it was a parade about Jesus and it looked like a traditional ceremony in the Catholic tradition which makes sense since Roman Catholicism is the most practiced or at least most self-identified religion in Spain, but please excuse me for feeling uncomfortable when I saw people with POINTY WHITE HOODS walking around the city! It was crazy seeing some Black Spaniards within proximity to them. I know they weren’t burning crosses or lynching people, but that really turned me off in some of those brief scenes. It’s sad because the rest of the content was on point and educational, but I’d be lying if I said those brief ceremony scenes didn’t give me douche chills. If those brief scenes didn’t happen, Gurumbe would’ve easily gotten a soft 10/10 from me.

This was a very unique documentary and the stories here should be more known to everyone. I certainly learned a lot watching Gurumbe. The music was wonderful and the visual production certainly worked. The level of historical detail between the different cultures was fantastic. However, the low Black representation of interviewees as well as the very uncomfortable Jesus ceremony scenes did dock some points off from me. Gurumbe is something I would still recommend to anyone who likes art music or willing to learn about historical aspects that aren’t taught in school.

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like Spanish or Portuguese folk music or art.
Subtract 1-3 points if you’re not a fan of high art in documentaries.
Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like uncomfortable forms of history.

-Very good camera work and graphics
-Wonderful musical segments
-Pulls no punches about forgotten African influences or facts about the slave trade

-Not enough Black interviewees to give their side of the story
-Some subtitle errors
-Those brief Jesus festivity scenes with the hoods [facepalm]

Final Score: 8/10 Points

Content Warning: Gurumbe: Afro-Andalusian Memories would probably get a hard PG if this got an official rating. There are some graphic descriptions of what happened to the enslaved Africans such as rape, abuse, abortions, and killing them with impunity (How was this different than America?). There are some scary paintings briefly shown in one of the museums. The conversations get quite adult as topics of cultural appropriation, race buffering with the Romani community when it comes to crediting music, gentrification, migration, and the denial of slavery in Spain and Portugal.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Gurumbe: Afro-Andalusian Memories is property of ArtMattan. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of ArtMattan.

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