Synopsis: Bigger Than Africa documents the journey of enslaved Africans through the lens of these surviving West African cultures. This historical documentary takes you through six countries: Brazil, Cuba, Nigeria, Trinidad & Tobago, The United States, and back to where it all began in West Africa. The well-researched documentary will expose international audiences to how Yoruba culture transcends continents and connects the Black diaspora.
How far does the influence of Yoruba culture go? Well, the documentary Bigger Than Africa gives some examples of what areas are influenced by (and still practice) the culture of Yoruba. Director Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye put together interviews and video clips of people from around the world delving into the history of Yoruba. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the director.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How did you come up with this project?
Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye (TIA): The idea came to me through research. I started in my final year of film school and I was supposed to do a thesis film before graduating that year. I wanted to do something that reflected my culture and, so, during my research, I came across a village in South Carolina, a Yoruba village in the South.
I assembled my crew and we went to South Carolina. What I found there was really overwhelming for me. Before colonization in West Africa, the Oyo empire was one of the largest empires in West Africa. To now be discovering a village in South Carolina named after Oyo…that just set up something bigger in my head for this project.
I told my crew that we have to go back to LA and they thought I was crazy, but I knew this project was going to be more than a 15-minute short film.
So I left it alone and I ended up doing something else that year, but I continued my research because I was curious to find out what other places and things I could find out about Yoruba culture, my culture, where I came from.
So the research extended into all those countries you see in Bigger Than Africa. It was shot in Brazil, the United States, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and then West Africa. Maybe four or five years later was when I revisited the Oyo village. By that time I was ready to move forward with the film.
DDF: What was your experience like when you traveled to these different locations?
TIA: It was eye-opening. It’s not like I didn’t have an idea of how far my culture reached growing up in Africa. I had an idea, but it was vague. Like, I’m interviewing people who have a Yuroba name and they’re Brazilian or they’re from Trinidad or Cuba. Now I’m interviewing people who still worship Orishas (gods). Then I’m in Brazil where I bought an Akara (pancake) at a food truck. In Yoruba culture, they call it Akaraj. I made sure I bought that and ate it.
DDF: What was the most shocking place that you visited during filming?
TAI: Brazil has the largest population of Blacks outside of Africa, so that’s a huge population. In every part of Brazil, you will see imprints of your culture everywhere. As for the music, all over the world they’re singing songs from Yoruba. And no matter where they are from, I can understand what they’re saying. Watching people just dancing and clapping, I was in awe of this beautiful moment.
DDF: The musical influence Yoruba has on the world is very interesting, like the invention of the steel pan drum. How did you react to that discovery?
TIA: Yeah. That was very interesting. The colonizers took away their skin drums and used them for worship, so the people came up with an alternative which was the steel pan drum. You can’t tell Yoruba history without talking about spirituality. And in Yoruba, the drums are the music, the dance, and the dress. It’s a combination. You can’t take just one, you can’t detach one from the other. So the drum is always there. Maybe that’s why you see the drums in music in a lot of all these countries. That’s why it has been a huge part of music so far for years and years.
DDF: What was it like to screen the film at the United Nations?
TIA: It was very, very good. It was a very good experience. The film premiered at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles to a sold-out audience. From there we got invitations to festivals around the world. Some people who saw the film said it was the perfect film for the United Nations and invited us to come to the UN. So we went to screen our film at the United Nations this past February. It was a great turnout.
DDF: Are you working on something new?
TIA: Yeah. I have a few things that I’m finalizing. One is a documentary and I have two narrative things that we’re almost finalizing. Plus we’ve been getting so many requests for more coverage for Bigger Than Africa. At almost every festival we go to, there’s always someone in the audience who would say we should cover Jamaica or Colombia or other parts of the world. People are saying I need to do a sequel. Hopefully, we’ll get enough support. And if people are pushing for a sequel, I’m open to it as well.
I truly enjoyed Bigger Than Africa and learned so much about the Yoruba culture and how much it has impacted the world. I highly recommend you stream the documentary on Netflix and see what the buzz is about and why the film was such a hit. Let’s hope to see a part two of this film and see what other parts of the globe have Yoruba roots still intact.