Passing the Baton of Culture
Are the Roots of Rumba Not in South America but in Africa?
“Congolese Rumba,” a representative of Latin dance, was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in December of last year. Generally, Rumba is danced by male-female couples at celebratory and mournful occasions.
While the word “Rumba” might evoke images of Latin American countries including Cuba, its roots are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and the Republic of Congo in Africa. In the past, people who were taken to Europe and the American continent through the transatlantic slave trade danced Rumba when they wanted to remember their history, origins, and memories.
However, until now, there has been limited mention of the African culture and people that are the roots of Rumba, despite discussions about its development in the countries and regions where it was transmitted. Catherine Kasang Fila, the Minister of Arts and Culture of Congo, says, “I want Rumba to be recognized as ours. It’s our identity.”
Today, Rumba has evolved into its own styles in countries like Cuba, the United States, and Spain. The registration with UNESCO proves that the roots of the globally renowned Rumba are in Congo, embodying the universality of its culture.
The Ever-Evolving Grand Paris
“Updating tradition.” It’s a phrase we often hear, but it’s easier said than done. If you’re too conservative, you risk being left behind by the times, and if you’re too drastic, you might compromise the essence.
Amidst this, the “City of Flowers,” Paris, which cherishes tradition, is undergoing a significant transformation. Leading this change is Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Since her election in 2014, she has been promoting green policies.
Her goal is to bring nature back into urban life. The key lies in the greening plan and the spread of micro-mobility.
According to her vision, by 2030, “50% of the city will be covered in green.” As part of this vision, more than 170,000 trees will be planted. Areas expected to undergo a significant transformation due to the planting include landmarks like Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde.
Another concept is the “15-minute city,” a model where all urban functions are accessible without a car. Approximately 900 miles of bicycle lanes have been built so far, and many streets and squares are starting to be car-free.
These initiatives also have aspects beyond environmental considerations. For example, Champs-Élysées, often hailed as the most beautiful avenue in the world, had been receiving negative feedback from Parisians due to overtourism and other issues. In order to keep Champs-Élysées as the “most beautiful avenue in the world,” change was necessary.
Blending new values (in Paris’s case, “friendly to both people and the Earth”) onto the accumulated traditions and gracefully adapting to change—this might be the true form of an update
A Cultural Gallery Called Instagram
As discussed in last week’s newsletter “#29 The Current State of the Creator Economy,” today is an era where anyone can become a creator. Online platforms, including social media, are filled with more content than ever before.
Amidst this, curators are using Instagram to post photos and articles focusing on the history and culture of Black culture. These pages provide glimpses into the lives of the African diaspora—people who were forcibly taken from their homelands in Africa due to reasons like the transatlantic slave trade.
One such account is “Culture Art Society (CAS),” where you can find photos from the 1900s, including snapshots of life and portrait photographs taken by photographers, as well as pictures from significant films in Black culture. These activities aim to preserve the history and culture of the African diaspora. In doing so, they leverage the platform “Instagram” for several benefits.
One benefit is making history more accessible to the masses. By presenting a gallery of photos rather than an academic approach, the content becomes accessible to many. Additionally, the “share” feature accelerates people’s participation.
Furthermore, there’s significant meaning in using “photos” as a means of cultural transmission. In the past, people of the African diaspora lacked means to trace their history, like marriage certificates or medical records. Thus, photos were one of the few ways they could preserve their history.
While there might be concerns about adopting new means to pass down traditional history, the fact that I, as someone from far away, can now engage with African history is significant. In order to pass down traditional history and culture, choosing suitable, even unconventional, means for the era is crucial.
"Sushi" Culture and the Continuation of Sushi Culture
Japanese cuisine is one of the cultures that Japan takes pride in sharing with the world. Since coming to Sweden, I’ve been acutely aware of the greatness of Japanese cuisine every day. While living abroad for nearly half a year can somewhat improve one’s cooking skills to surpass pseudo-Japanese food in a Japanese food-like manner, it’s still far from the taste of home. In the midst of this, a friend who studies media culture reached out to me at the end of the year, asking for assistance in creating a documentary about sushi. Not only was I naturally interested in Japanese food from a global perspective, but I was also thrilled that she had an interest in Japanese culture. I was invited to her place, and what awaited me there (though I was mentally prepared to some extent) was beyond words. “Uramaki tempura,” where nori rolls are fried on the reverse side and further deep-fried in oil, and California rolls, which are now a given. The table was adorned not only with soy sauce but also with chili sauce and mango sauce, presenting a colorful array. According to her, these sauces were homemade based on traditional Japanese recipes. While I was quite shocked by the disparity between the Japanese food I imagined and what the world perceives as Japanese food, I also witnessed the fact that new culture is being formed through the global expansion of Japanese cuisine.
Cultures and climates differ between Japan and other regions, and the ingredients available also change. In this context, sushi has evolved into California rolls and vegan sushi. However,
. The exquisite balance of preserving the essence of traditional Japanese aesthetics while making adjustments to be appreciated by the local population is truly remarkable. To share the same food culture despite cultural differences, a certain degree of flexibility is necessary. Merely imposing one’s orthodox traditions is unlikely to work well. Accepting cultural changes while preserving and inheriting the core of culture will be a significant challenge in cultural tradition.