Public is Invited to “Gathering on Sacred Ground: A Celebration of Afro-Cuban Culture in Old Lyme”

The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme (FCCOL) announced today that, in honor of Juneteenth, it would hold a public screening of Tierra Sagrada (Sacred Ground – or, perhaps, Holy Land), a film directed by author, musician and producer Ned Sublette, immediately followed by a performance from Roman Diaz’s Afro-Cuban Ensemble, on Saturday, Jun. 18, at 5:00 p.m., in its Meetinghouse.  The event, which is free and open to the public, is entitled “Gathering on Sacred Ground: A Celebration of Afro-Cuban Culture in Old Lyme.”

The film Tierra Sagrada was shot in January 2020 at a series of bembés (spiritual fiestas) and rumbas in west-central Cuba. The movie features powerfully charismatic singers, percussionists and dancers of Cuba’s profound, African-descended religious traditions.  The film’s 11 episodes transport viewers to sacred groves and elaborate altars in Black cultural centers seldom if ever seen on film, in the former sugar-plantation heartland that received massive numbers of captive Africans in the 19th century. Sites include Matanzas’s Barrio La Marina, Sagua La Grande’s Barrio de San Juan, and Jovellanos, Colón, Corralillo, Carlos Rojas and the sugar-mill barrio of Sitiecito.

Immediately following the film, Roman Diaz and his Afro-Cuban Ensemble will perform.  Diaz is a master percussionist, particularly of the sacred Bata drums, and a living repository of Afro-Cuban culture. He is a noted scholar of Cuban religious and folkloric music, as well as a composer and performer of contemporary Afro-Cuban and Jazz music.  Diaz has said, “I walk the path of the poet, musician, teacher and student. Our ancestors are with us today and I stand on their shoulders.”  He has performed around the world and, in the United States, has appeared at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Museum, among other institutions.

In announcing the event, Senior Minister Rev. Steve Jungkeit said, “The month of June has been an opportunity to explore the many ways that New England was forged in the crucible of the transatlantic slave trade.  The settlement that became Old Lyme came to prominence through trade with the Caribbean, where practices related to those documented in Tierra Sagrada, and those that continue to be embodied in the music of Roman Diaz, would have been found.  Through trade and trafficked human beings, those ritual perspectives would also have been found throughout New England.  Though the traces have grown faint, New England and the Caribbean are intimate partners in a shared and troubled history.  Now is the time to acknowledge that history, even as we seek to discover, and thereafter to celebrate, the healing and reconciling arts of Cuba’s African-descended religious traditions.”

Roman Diaz and his Afro-Cuban Ensemble will also play on Sunday morning at FCCOL’s 10:00 a.m. worship service.  The guest preacher for that service will be Kevin Booker, Jr.