On April 24th Daniel Haaksman releases his first official compilation, Black Atlantica Edits, a ten-track album full of vintage and current tracks that he has reworked for the dancefloor. Haaksman’s concept was to explore the Afro-Latin diaspora from across Africa and the Americas. It is a nod to Paul Gilroy’s seminal work “The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness.” In it Gilroy argues that lacking a nation, Black people have instead created a nationalism through the shared culture of the Black Atlantic. Gilroy posits that Black people have created a shared regional culture that transcends borders and language. Whether they live in Africa, the Caribbean or the UK, Black people have constructed a shared culture shaped by art, literature and importantly, music. Haaksman added the “a” to Atlantic to include the non-English speaking peoples of Angola, Brazil and the rest of South America, all who have been touched by the diaspora.
On its surface, the album is pretty great. The opening track “Me Gritaron Negra!”, originally by Victoria Santa Cruz (Peru), is not quite as hard-hitting and “club-ready” as the others, and to be honest, I found it boring initially. But that was my own unwillingness to actually hear it. Once I really sat with it I found the song to be immensely important. Santa Cruz is singing about the hardship of being Black. The song is a poem she wrote to call out the colourism and prejudice within the Latino community against Afro Latinos. In the poem Santa Cruz owns Blackness. She is holding up a mirror to the rest of us, challenging our assumptions and prejudice. The song is important and the perfect opener to an album about Black creation of culture. It sets the stage well.
“Sunny Crypt” by Francis Bebey (Cameroon) is my favourite, the flute starts off quiet and a bit melancholy. Quickly, it gets faster and more excited, almost happier, but maintains that quiet melancholic layer underneath. It feels like Haaksman accidentally made the perfect theme song for self-isolation. As the sun gets brighter and we open our windows hoping to catch that sense of freedom from the birds and flowers, we are stuck. Sure we are home, and yes we have all the entertainment options we ever did, some of us have even discovered new ones, but the fact remains that we are stuck. Our homes have become that sunny crypt, beautiful and sad in equal measure.
“Vamos Farrear” by Pinduca (Brazil) is another favourite. The original was vintage gold. It was already a joyful celebration song, after all, “farrear” means party. Haaksman, however, has created a much more fast-paced and updated song. Haaksman sped up the vocals and made it into something full of urgency and excitement. It’s really a lovely homage that can remind us of who we’ve been and the potential we have to create what we become next.
Objectively Black Atlantica Edits is a great album, Haaksman managed to create something easy and exciting to listen to. It’s an album that celebrates Black creation, but I couldn’t help wondering why? Music is universal and people are allowed to make whatever kind of music they choose, but why would a white man make what is essentially a Black power album? Black Atlantica Edits beautifully celebrates Black creation and imagination and I love that, but it doesn’t sit well with me. I run up against this dilemma a lot. In the search for new music for my shows, I often find great music by white musicians and I struggle with whether or not to play it. My main goal is always to expose people to new sounds while uplifting and highlighting Latinx culture. Where do white creators fall in that? Haaksman credits himself as bringing Baile Funk, a sound created in the favelas of Brazil derived from Miami Bass and Gangsta Rap, to the masses. And while that may be fair to say, it feels like Erasure, feels like Elvis. It feels like a musical White Savior. Yes, the album feels empowering but why does that come from a white man? Why, does a white man need to put himself so far upfront? The idea is great, but there are so many ways it could have been great while centering Black creators. He could have silently supported, produced or collaborated with any number of musicians and in the process really celebrated Black imagination. It feels like Haaksman set out to celebrate Black creativity, and was successful in that, but it’s bittersweet.