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THEME Lecture: Juan Diego Diaz, University of California, Davis 

Friday, November 3, 2023 - 4:30pm
Juan Diego Diaz, University of California, Davis
Juan Diego Diaz, University of California, Davis

Juan Diego Diaz, Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis, presents “Our Ṣàngó is from Brazil: Religious and Musical Resonances of Brazil’s Diaspora in Ghana” in the School of Music's 2023 THEME lecture series.


Sàngó, the god of lightning and fire, is one the most popular Òrìṣàs (Yoruba deities) of African origin in the Americas. As a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, cults for this Òrìṣà spread throughout the African diaspora, helping people cope with the hardships of slavery and providing a sense of connection with their ancestral land. But as it often happens in diasporas, Sàngó and its worshipers eventually returned to the African continent, complicating the ways in which this deity is worshipped, seen, heard, and understood. In this presentation, I discuss the Sàngó cult among the Tabom people from Ghana, a community formed by descendants of former African slaves who resettled from Bahia (Brazil) to the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) in the nineteenth century. Among the features that make the Tabom Sàngó unique in comparison with other Black Atlantic Sàngós are its ritual representation as a snake, its association with the colors of the Brazilian flag (rather than the customary red and white), and its perceived Brazilian origin. Focusing on agbe, the musical genre that this community uses to worship Sàngó, and the initiation of a Tabom Sàngó priestess in 2012, I show how this deity has served as an symbol of Brazilianness, and a source of spiritual strength and cultural resistance for the Tabom. This discussion is contextualized with an overview of traditional religious practices among the Ga people in Accra, the Sàngó cult among Brazilian returnees in Ouidah (Benin), and the Sàngó cult in Bahian Candomblé. I then zoom out to locate the Tabom Sàngó cult into the Black Atlantic religious complex theorized by Lorand Matory (2005). 


Juan Diego Díaz 

Juan Diego Díaz is an ethnomusicologist with a geographic research interest in Africa and its diaspora, particularly Brazil and West Africa. He explores how African diasporic musics circulate and transform across the Atlantic and how they serve individuals and communities in identity formation. His book Africanness in Action (Oxford University Press, 2021) focuses on how musicians from Bahia, Brazil understand and negotiate essentialist notions about African music and culture. He is also a long-term Capoeira Angola practitioner and has led capoeira, berimbau, and samba ensembles.

Previous to teaching at UC Davis, Juan Diego held posts as a lecturer at the University of Ghana and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Essex, the latter funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The funded research investigates the music of the descendants of freed enslaved Africans who resettled from Brazil to Ghana, Togo, and Benin during the nineteenth century. This research has produced a book titled Tabom Voices: A History of the Ghanaian Afro- Brazilian Community in Their Own Words (2016) and the documentary film Tabom in Bahia  (co-directed with Nilton Pereira, 2017), documenting the visit of a Ghanaian master drummer to Bahia, Brazil.

His articles have appeared in journals such as Ethnomusicology, Ethnomusicology Forum, Analytical Approaches to World Music, and Latin American Music Review.

Series Background

THEME, an annual colloquium of UW faculty and students of Theory, History, Ethnomusicology, and Music Education, is held on select Friday afternoons during Autumn Quarter.  All talks are at 4:30 p.m in the School of Music Fishbowl unless otherwise noted. Admission is free.