Things That Matter

Find Out Why One West African Country Adopted Mexican Telenovelas As One Of Their Own

Picture this: A muscular man and an attractive woman are in the middle of a passionate love scene in a horse stable on a pristine Mexican hacienda. They’re both kissing, sweating, and, as the scene progresses, wearing less and less clothing.

In a matter of moments, a jealous ex-lover rides up to the hacienda on a beautiful white horse, walks into the horse stable, and fires a gun, immediately killing one of the lovers.

Though this scene is completely fabricated, it’s a sequence of events that tends to be used repeatedly in Mexican telenovelas and could easily have been played by someone like Cuban-born actor, William Levy, or Mexican singer actress, Thalia.

Credit: Facebook

Telenovelas have grown to be a important part of Mexican culture since they first appeared as radio programs in the 1930s, which were later transformed into television series throughout the United States and Latin America. Each has its own story line but they tend to follow themes related to love, family, murder, and crime.

But the popularity of Mexican telenovelas, which some estimates show, attract more than 40 million viewers on any given night, have also spread to countries outside of Mexico and Latin America.

The West African country of Ghana is home to over 27 million residents and is considered to hold one of the largest Mexican telenovela viewerships outside of Latin America. Mexican telenovelas like “Esmeralda,” “Rosalinda,” and “La Ursupadora” have become so popular in Ghana that they have been consistently translated and dubbed, forcing television companies to create shows dedicated to offering commentary and analysis on Mexican telenovelas.

The world is becoming increasingly smaller and interconnected, today, through digital platforms like Facebook and other forms of social media, but Mexican telenovelas in were introduced to Ghana long before the internet frenzy.

Ghanaian cultural critic, Ameyaw Debrah, remembers the moment Mexican telenovela “Acapulco Bay” was first introduced to Ghana in 1997 by TV3, a Ghanaian television company.

Credit: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Getty Images

“TV3 first introduced ‘Acapulco Bay’ and it became a smash hit because aside from the love story there was a lot of suspense and crime,” explained Debrah, who has amassed an enormous social media following for his analysis on Ghanaian pop culture. “This made it interesting for both male and female audiences, and then, seeing the success of telenovelas, also introduced ‘Cuando Seas Mias.'”

Like “Acapulco Bay,” “Cuando Seas Mias” featured two prominent Mexican actors, Silvia Navarro and Sergio Basañez, who played the leading protagonists.

In a country where women have had a large role in the country’s informal and formal market growth in the past ten years, they often, according to Debrah, often leave work early or close their businesses to rush home and watch the shows.

“Telenovelas have been disruptive to the normal TV viewing culture of Ghanaians,” described Debrah. “It has been known to affect productivity, especially with working females and even housewives. So market women close early to catch their favorite show.”

Ghanaian women also viewed telenovelas as a way to learn about concepts of love and romance.

“In a country where women have had a large role in the country’s informal and formal market growth in the past ten years, they often, according to Debra, leave work early or close their businesses to rush home and watch the shows.”

“My entire life revolved around telenovelas,” explains Delali Quarshie. “They were such beautiful stories and were my first introduction to what ‘true love’ seems to be about. As a girl growing up in my society, I was swept away by prince charming and fighting against the love triangle.”

“Even if it doesn’t end with love, there’s always that note of a positive light ahead for them, and that’s something that I think makes a telenovela the beautiful genre that it is.”

It’s not the first time, however, that Mexican telenovelas have become extremely popular in a country outside of Latin America.

Both China and Russia had their own telenovela craze in the early 1990s and have since created their own adaptations based on their cultural customs and language.

Ghanaian television companies have yet to follow China and Russia’s model. But a new generation of filmmakers and creatives throughout the country are realizing that creating authentic Ghanaian-based films requires depicting the impact that Mexican telenovelas have had on one of Africa’s most diverse nations.

Popular musician and filmmaker, Blitz the Ambassador, born Samuel Bazawule, whose upcoming film, “The Burial of Kojo,” depicts the life experiences of two Ghanaian brothers, understands the impact of cross-cultural storytelling in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected.

Credit: Blitz The Ambassador

“The film is about two brothers who deal with tragic consequences,” the filmmaker described over the phone from his home in Accra, Ghana. “The brothers are miners and engaged in illegal mining with gold and diamonds, which is a trend that continues to grow with Chinese investors.”

The prominent musician and emerging filmmaker is part of a growing group of Ghanaian creatives who grew up with telenovelas as part of their cultural experience.

“Telenovela culture is huge here and we’re very attracted to the melodrama and its very African when it comes to the very dramatic nature of things, it’s pretty much up our alley,” he described.

Credit: Blitz The Ambassador

Because Bazawule wanted to portray an authentic Ghanaian experience, he and Mexican-American cinematographer, Michael Fernandez, felt like it was important to create a storyline for their film where they could reflect the influence of Mexican telenovelas in Ghana. 

But affording the licensing fees required to purchase the rights for an established telenovela was outside of their budget, forcing them to find creative alternatives like to creating and shooting their own telenovela, which they titled “Puebla Mi Amor.”

“When I was making this film we couldn’t afford the telenovela license,” he explained. “We had to find a way and we had to be clever. So in the telenovela that we create for the film, there’s similar circumstances and there’s a parallel to what’s happening in the film.”

Filming the “Puebla Mi Amor” was initially supposed to take place in Miami, but Bazawule — who self-funded most of the film — was forced to shoot in Ghana.

Credit: Blitz The Ambassador

“We were planning to shoot in Miami but we didn’t have enough money, so we had to recreate scenes that looked like Miami using Puerto Rican and Spanish actors.”

Finding ways to work around budget concerns was a common occurrence during the film’s production, but including a telenovela scene in the film’s production was a way to show Ghanaians, like anyone else, live in an interconnected world.

“Nobody is on an island and as much as we may not recognize, our ideas about love, relationships, and family are often borrowed and it’s huge.”

Still, he hopes that one day Ghanaian culture and media can have the same impact that Mexican telenovelas have had in his own country.

“Nobody is on an island and as much as we may not recognize, our ideas about love, relationships, and family are often borrowed and it’s huge.”

“What’s not happening is the reverse, as much as we know about the world, you rarely go to Latin America and people know about Fela Kuti and other African musicians.”

“The influence has not been an exchange.”

As the Ghanaian filmmaking community continues to grow and consistent collaborations between Bazawule and Fernandez continue, perhaps Bazawule’s wishes might come true.

Credit: Blitz The Ambassador

“Michael is Latino and understands the importance of black and brown media images. The work that we continue do has to be global and has to leave a footprint.”

At that rate, what’s to say that Latinos in the U.S. and Latin America won’t be glued to their television screens while watching Ghanaian telenovelas in twenty years?

READ: 11 Crucial Life Lessons I Learned, Not From My Parents, But From Telenovelas

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Exclusive: Luis Fonsi Talks Working with Rauw Alejandro, Christina Aguilera, and Demi Lovato

Entertainment

Exclusive: Luis Fonsi Talks Working with Rauw Alejandro, Christina Aguilera, and Demi Lovato

Luis Fonsi is kicking off 2021 with a new single. The Puerto Rican superstar premiered the music video for “Vacío” on Feb. 18 featuring rising Boricua singer Rauw Alejandro. The guys put a new spin on the classic “A Puro Dolor” by Son By Four.

Luis Fonsi throws it back to his románticas.

“I called Omar Alfanno, the writer of ‘A Puro Dolo,’ who is a dear friend,” Fonsi tells Latido Music. “I told him what my idea was [with ‘Vacío’] and he loved it. He gave me his blessing, so I wrote a new song around a few of those lines from ‘A Puro Dolor’ to bring back that nostalgia of those old romantic tunes that have been a part of my career as well. It’s a fresh production. It sounds like today, but it has that DNA of a true, old-school ballad.”

The world got to know Fonsi through his global smash hit “Despacito” with Daddy Yankee in 2017. The remix with Canadian pop star Justin Bieber took the song to new heights. That was a big moment in Fonsi’s music career that spans over 20 years.

There’s more to Fonsi than “Despacito.”

Fonsi released his first album, the fittingly-titled Comenzaré, in 1998. While he was on the come-up, he got the opportunity of a lifetime to feature on Christina Aguilera’s debut Latin album Mi Reflejo in 2000. The two collaborated on “Si No Te Hubiera Conocido.” Fonsi scored multiple Billboard Hot Latin Songs No. 1s in the years that followed and one of the biggest hits was “No Me Doy Por Vencido” in 2008. That was his career-defining romantic ballad.

“Despacito” remains the second most-viewed music video on YouTube with over 7.2 billion views. The hits did not stop there. Later in 2017, he teamed up with Demi Lovato for “Échame La Culpa,” which sits impressively with over 2 billion views.

He’s also appearing on The Voice next month.

Not only is Fonsi working on his new album, but also he’s giving advice to music hopefuls for the new season of The Voice that’s premiering on March 1. Kelly Clarkson tapped him as her Battle Advisor. In an exclusive interview, Fonsi talked with us about “Vacío,” The Voice, and a few of his greatest hits.

What was the experience like to work with Rauw Alejandro for “Vacío”?

Rauw is cool. He’s got that fresh sound. Great artist. Very talented. Amazing onstage. He’s got that great tone and delivery. I thought he had the perfect voice to fit with my voice in this song. We had talked about working together for awhile and I thought that this was the perfect song. He really is such a star. What he’s done in the last couple of years has been amazing. I love what he brought to the table on this song.

Now I want to go through some of your greatest hits. Do you remember working with Christina Aguilera for her Spanish album?

How could you not remember working with her? She’s amazing. That was awhile back. That was like 1999 or something like that. We were both starting out and she was putting out her first Spanish album. I got to sing a beautiful ballad called “Si No Te Hubiera Conocido.” I got to work with her in the studio and see her sing in front of the mic, which was awesome. She’s great. One of the best voices out there still to this day.

What’s one of your favorite memories of “No Me Doy Por Vencido”?

“No Me Doy Por Vencido” is one of the biggest songs in my career. I think it’s tough to narrow it down just to one memory. I think in general the message of the song is what sticks with me. The song started out as a love song, but it turned into an anthem of hope. We’ve used the song for different important events and campaigns. To me, that song has such a powerful message. It’s bigger than just a love song. It’s bringing hope to people. It’s about not giving up. To be able to kind of give [people] hope through a song is a lot more powerful than I would’ve ever imagined. It’s a very special song.

I feel the message is very relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living through.

Oh yeah! I wrote that song a long time ago with Claudia Brant, and during the first or second month of the lockdown when we were all stuck at home, we did a virtual writing session and we rewrote “No Me Doy Por Vencido.” Changing the lyrics, kind of adjusting them to this situation that we’re living now. I haven’t recorded it. I’ll do something with it eventually. It’s really cool. It still talks about love. It talks about reuniting. Like the light at the end of the tunnel. It has the hope and love backbone, but it has to do a lot with what we’re going through now.

What do you think of the impact “Despacito” made on the industry?

It’s a blessing to be a part of something so big. Again, it’s just another song. We write these songs and the moment you write them, you don’t really know what’s going to happen with them. Or sometimes you run into these surprises like “Despacito” where it becomes a global phenomenon. It goes No. 1 in places where Spanish songs had never been played. I’m proud. I’m blessed. I’m grateful to have worked with amazing people like Daddy Yankee. Like Justin Bieber for the remix and everyone else involved in the song. My co-writer Erika Ender. The producers Mauricio Rengifo and Andrés Torres. It was really a team effort and it’s a song that obviously changed my career forever.

What was the experience like to work with Demi Lovato on “Echáme La Culpa”?

She’s awesome! One of the coolest recording sessions I’ve ever been a part of. She really wanted to sing in Spanish and she was so excited. We did the song in Spanish and English, but it was like she was more excited about the Spanish version. And she nailed it! She nailed it from the beginning. There was really not much for me to say to her. I probably corrected her once or twice in the pronunciation, but she came prepared and she brought it. She’s an amazing, amazing, amazing vocalist.

You’re going to be a battle advisor on The Voice. What was the experience like to work with Kelly Clarkson?

She’s awesome. What you see is what you get. She’s honest. She’s funny. She’s talented. She’s humble and she’s been very supportive of my career. She invited me to her show and it speaks a lot that she wanted me to be a part of her team as a Battle Advisor for the new season. She supports Latin music and I’m grateful for that. She’s everything you hope she would be. She’s the real deal, a true star, and just one of the coolest people on this planet.

What can we expect from you in 2021?

A lot of new music. Obviously, everything starts today with “Vacío.” This is literally the beginning of what this new album will be. I’ve done nothing but write and record during the last 10 months, so I have a bunch of songs. Great collaborations coming up. I really think the album will be out probably [in the] third or fourth quarter this year. The songs are there and I’m really eager for everybody to hear them.

Read: We Finally Have A Spanish-Language Song As The Most Streamed Song Of All Time

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Lifestyles Of The Rich And Dangerous: Cartels Are Using TikTok To Lure Young People

Things That Matter

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Dangerous: Cartels Are Using TikTok To Lure Young People

If you’ve ever wondered what someone with a bulletproof vest and an AR-15 would look like flossing — the dance, not the method of dental hygiene — apparently the answer to that question can be found on TikTok.

Unfortunately, it’s not as a part of some absurdist sketch comedy or surreal video art installation. Instead, it’s part of a growing trend of drug cartels in Mexico using TikTok as a marketing tool. Nevermind the fact that Mexico broke grim records last year for the number of homicides and cartel violence, the cartels have found an audience on TikTok and that’s a serious cause for concern.

Mexican cartels are using TikTok to gain power and new recruits.

Just a couple of months ago, a TikTok video showing a legit high-speed chase between police and drug traffickers went viral. Although it looked like a scene from Netflix’s Narcos series, this was a very real chase in the drug cartel wars and it was viewed by more than a million people.

Typing #CartelTikTok in the social media search bar brings up thousands of videos, most of them from people promoting a “cartel culture” – videos with narcocorridos, and presumed members bragging about money, fancy cars and a luxury lifestyle.

Viewers no longer see bodies hanging from bridges, disembodied heads on display, or highly produced videos with messages to their enemies. At least not on TikTok. The platform is being used mainly to promote a lifestyle and to generate a picture of luxury and glamour, to show the ‘benefits’ of joining the criminal activities.

According to security officials, the promotion of these videos is to entice young men who might be interested in joining the cartel with images of endless cash, parties, military-grade weapons and exotic pets like tiger cubs.

Cartels have long used social media to shock and intimidate their enemies.

And using social media to promote themselves has long been an effective strategy. But with Mexico yet again shattering murder records, experts on organized crime say Cartel TikTok is just the latest propaganda campaign designed to mask the blood bath and use the promise of infinite wealth to attract expendable young recruits.

“It’s narco-marketing,” said Alejandra León Olvera, an anthropologist at Spain’s University of Murcia, in a statement to the New York Times. The cartels “use these kinds of platforms for publicity, but of course it’s hedonistic publicity.”

Mexico used to be ground zero for this kind of activity, where researchers created a new discipline out of studying these narco posts. Now, gangs in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, and the United States are also involved.

A search of the #CartelTikTok community and its related accounts shows people are responding. Public comments from users such as “Y’all hiring?” “Yall let gringos join?” “I need an application,” or “can I be a mule? My kids need Christmas presents,” are on some of the videos.

One of the accounts related to this cartel community publicly answered: “Of course, hay trabajo para todos,” “I’ll send the application ASAP.” “How much is the pound in your city?” “Follow me on Instagram to talk.” The post, showing two men with $100 bills and alcohol, had more than a hundred comments.

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