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Raul Canizares, Walking in the Night Book
John Amira & Steve Cornelius, The Music of Santería Book

Review: Two Books On Santeria

by Diane Gordon

The recent controversy over the Supreme Court's announcement that the First Amendment protects ritual animal slaughter in Santería reveals both the widespread ignorance of, and interest in, the Afro-Cuban based religion. Together, two recent publications, Walking With The Night by Raul Canizares and The Music of Santería by John Amira and Steven Cornelius are a musical and sociological crash course in a religion that is far beyond its geographic and ethnic roots.

It wasn't long ago that drummers outside the tradition were sworn to secrecy about the various rhythms of the batá drums. The combination of a growing interest in Afro-Cuban music and the arrival of myriad batá drummers via the Mariel boatlift to the New York area has changed all that. The heart of The Music of Santería is the transcription of salute rhythms associated with 22 of the Yoruba-Cuban orichas. The book includes historical background and information about musical ceremonies and technique. White Cliffs Media also sells a CD of the transcriptions separately.

Cuban born Raul Canizares was initiated into the Santería priesthood at the age of seven, and is now a teacher of religion at the University of South Florida. Walking With The Night is both a scholarly outline of the practices of Santería and an engrossing insiders view of the tradition. His talent for story telling via anecdotal details of his family's involvement with Santería for generations hints that Mr. Canizares might have a dual career as a novelist and anthropologist. Currently at work on a doctoral dissertation in anthropology, one hopes he will continue to produce books about this fascinating subject.

Concerning the current controversy in the United States about ritual slaughter in Santería, Canizares writes, "Santeros think a society that condones the mass slaughter of animals, often under appalling conditions, to simply eat their flesh has no right to criticize the ritual slaughter of animals for religious reasons".

Though Santería is widely considered to be "syncretic," a synthesis of African and European religion, Canizares shows how the taking on of Catholic saints by the Afro-Cubans was a brilliant and conscious strategy to preserve their religious practices despite the hostile and intolerant attitudes of their enslavers.

By shedding light on the ancient oral traditions in book form, John Amira, Steven Cornelius and Raul Canizares have made profound contributions to the preservation, against all odds, of a culture that African art historian Robert Farris Thompson calls "One of the great migration styles in the history of the planet".

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