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  • Writer's pictureDr. Chi

Two Very Blonde Latinas, Black Artist Boycott, and Erasure of Blackness in the Super Bowl

Black musicians boycotted the Super Bowl. Hell, even Afro-Latinx and Afro-Caribbeans boycotted the Super Bowl. So, the NFL brought in two world-renowned Latinas to do their thang. And they did it so well!

Shakira knew her audience, so she didn’t do anything from her first or second albums. Most Americans don’t care about that hidden first album or the second with Donde Estás Corazon, or Piés Descalzos although I remember seeing the ads for it on 1990s Anglo television in Chicago. (I was mesmerized and soon became a fan. Years later, I introduced my Spanish host sister, Raquel to her before Donde Estan Los Ladrones elevated Shakira to international stardom in the Spanish-speaking world.) But the English-speaking world knows her for Wherever, Wheneve and Hips Don’t Lie.  As a grown ass woman, who knows, she may be embarrassed by her early work as an artist. Or not. But if she were, I would understand it. When I look at my early publications, I wince.

But she reminded us of her hits! And she had like four black girls dancing side by side with her! It was a reminder of her musical influences from Africans and Afro-descendants. But then she did Ojos Así with Middle Eastern instruments and even gave out a zahroota, which I’m sure people with origins throughout the so-called Middle East and Eastern Europe recognized. No, her hips did not lie and we were again impressed with her great belly-dancing skills. If you did not blink, you may have seen and heard some heavy Afro-style percussion before the end of her solo act and they cut to Jlo.

Then JLo comes out and crushes it! She reminded us of her hits and her 20-year career. Her dancing reminded you that she was a former Fly Girl who has come into her own. Her outfit was amazing. I had never thought of myself as a fan of hers, but I was bipping and bopping to all her songs like, “Damn, I forgot this lady is da bomb!”

One of the things that I adore about Puerto Ricans is that they are all US citizens from a tiny strategically-placed island in the Caribbean, but they will never, ever JLo did just that, singing Born in the USA with her baby girl, Emme, while she was draped in the US flag. I was like, “OK, JLo! Awesome boa-like flag.” But then when she revealed what was on the other side of it, a big ole Puerto Rican flag, I was ecstatic! That was the Boricua I recognized! With everything the island has been through, I shed a tear. YAAASSSSSS!

When Shaki did Waka Waka, I was so excited! I knew something was missing, but I didn’t know what, but I loved it. And then when she started dancing African style, I was like, “YASSSSSS!! Show them some Africa!” But then it was over too soon. JLo took it away, starting with some fast salsa “Suzy-Q” steps and turning upside down and salsa-ing her butt of on the 1, not the 2—Puerto Rican-style! They threw people in the air! She killed it!!

Then Shakira joined her and there were two salseras doing their thang! Then there was booty-shaking! Shaki and JLo shook their booties like ladies from countries with tons of Afrodescendants, whether Baranquilla, the Bronx, NY, or Borinquén. As an Igbo-American who speaks a lick of Igbo, the language of strategic booty-shaking was taught to me by my mom and aunties. So, I was excited because Africa was all over it!

After the visual and audio stimulation, I went to Twitter to see how much other people loved it. The first post was some guy saying home much he loved seeing Shakira dancing champeta. Excuse me! What the heck is champeta? And that was when I fell into a rabbit hole.

Apparently the music that I grew up listening to in our West African household and knew as soukous had its own life in coastal Colombia. First in Cartagena and later Baranquilla, African sailors in the 1970s brought Nigerian highlife and Cameroonian and Congolese soukous albums that Colombians loved. They recorded their own versions of soukous en español, even remaking a Fela Kuti song! I have no idea what African sailors were doing in the port cities of Colombia, but Colombians took that stuff and reinvented it, calling it terapía which evolved into champeta. It was the music of the marginalized, poor Afro-Colombians and evolved at the same time that hiphop was doing the same thing in the Bronx.

Meanwhile, soukous was very mainstream all over Africa with its danceable electric guitars and hot beats.

That was when I started to get a little uncomfortable. So Shakira, being from Baranquilla grew up listening to champeta, I’m sure. So she was doing the dances with black dancers and celebrating black culture. But she is white as hell! I know that back in the day she was labelled a Latin Alanis Morrisette when she was a brunette. But as a pale woman who plays with variations of blondes, lives in Barcelona, Miami, and the Caribbean with her Catalan husband in her multi-million dollar homes, she is the whitest of the white. But she’s dancing and celebrating black culture at the Super Bowl? Where Black artists refused to participate. 

So then, somebody made a reference to Waka Waka being stolen. I thought I knew a South African singer had done it, even appearing in Shaki’s video, but for World Cup in South Africa, they wanted a white face. Hence Shakira to the rescue! She turned Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) into a hit. But then I saw a post referencing how Africa was missing from the song. Yes! That part was when Shakira and JLo performed it. Africa had literally been erased from a song about Africa.

But then, someone said it’s even older than that. It turns out that a Latin music group sang the same song before Shakira did and sued her. Then it was revealed that actually it was an old Cameroonian song that both of them had imitated. Was that Cameroonian artist getting royalties?

I didn’t know but now I know.

I had initially been offended that these two Latinas would be the scabs of Black artists boycotting the NFL’s racism. Seeing two very blonde Latinas celebrating their cultures, which are heavily influenced by Afro-Latin Americans, was exciting. Someone on Twitter joked that they had hired every black dancer in Miami. But, the joy of their artistry reaches a certain point.

Many of us know that salsa has its origins in Afro-Cuban religious then popular music that made its way to NYC, and through the ida y vuelta of the Caribbean and NYC, went back to Cuba and Puerto Rico where it was stigmatized by paler elites because Afro-descendants crafted it, honed it, and reproduced it. Later, it became embraced by paler elites on the two islands, including becoming whitened by whiter musicians on the whitest country in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico). Why can’t Afro-Latin Americans reap the benefits of their culture? As people who seem to love their culture, why were they erasing Africans from their own music? And why did they have to become even whiter than before to do so?

White supremacy is a hell of a drug. It infiltrates the structure of who gets to perform, where, and how. It’s also why a very blonde Shaki can say she is proud of her culture yet say nothing about the Africans and Afro-descendants she has taken it from. It’s too complicated for a term like “cultural appropriation,” which assumes a segregation that is not common in Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet these are still societies where blacks are marginalized and becoming whiter– by making paler babies, dyeing your hair, avoiding black culture– is rewarded.

I suppose this is what happens when two blonde Latinas say yes to the Super Bowl in the middle of a Black boycott.

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