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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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America Ferrera Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Working On ‘Gotta Kick It Up’ With Sweet IG Post

Entertainment

America Ferrera Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Working On ‘Gotta Kick It Up’ With Sweet IG Post

It has been 20 years since America Ferrera’s dream of becoming an actor back true. She took to Instagram to reflect on the moment that her dream started to come true and it is a sweet reminder that anyone can chase their dreams.

America Ferrera shared a sweet post reflecting on the 20th anniversary of working on “Gotta Kick It Up!”

“Gotta Kick It Up!” was one of the earliest examples of Latino representation so many of us remember. The movie follows a school dance team trying to be the very best they could possibly be. The team was down on their luck but a new teacher introduces them to a different kind of music to get them going again.

After being introduced to Latin beats, the dance team is renewed. It taps into a cultural moment for the Latinas on the team and the authenticity of the music makes their performances some of the best.

While the movie meant so much to Latino children seeing their culture represented for the first time, the work was a major moment for Ferrera. In the Instagram post, she gushes over the celebrities she saw on the lot she was working on. Of course, anyone would be excited to see Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt hanging out. Yet, what stands out the most is Ferrera’s own excitement to realize that she can make money doing what she loves most.

“I wish I could go back and tell this little baby America that the next 20 years of her life will be filled with unbelievable opportunity to express her talent and plenty of challenges that will allow her to grow into a person, actress, producer, director, activist that she is very proud and grateful to be. We did it baby girl. I’m proud of us,” Ferrera reflects.

Watch the trailer for “Gotta Kick It Up!” here.

READ: America Ferrera’s “Superstore” Is Going To Get A Spanish-Language Adaptation In A Win For Inclusion

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This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

Entertainment

This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

On a recent episode of ABC’s game show To Tell The Truth, three celebrity panelists were tasked to uncover the identity of a real mariachi singer.

Each contender embodied “non-traditional” attributes of mariachi culture either through physical appearance or language barriers, leaving the panelists stumped.

When it came time for the big reveal, with a humble smile 53-year-old Timoteo “El Charro Negro” stood up wowing everyone. Marveled by his talents, Timoteo was asked to perform unveiling his smooth baritone voice.

While not a household name in the U.S., his career spans over 25 years thriving on the catharsis of music.

Timoteo “El Charro Negro” performing “Chiquilla Linda” on Dante Night Show in 2017.

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Timoteo, born Timothy Pollard, moved to Long Beach, California with his family when he was eight years old. The move to California exposed Pollard to Latin culture, as the only Black family in a Mexican neighborhood.

As a child, he recalled watching Cantinflas because he reminded him of comedian Jerry Lewis, but musically he “got exposed to the legends by chance.”

“I was bombarded by all the 1960s, ’70s, and ’50s ranchera music,” Timoteo recalls to mitú.

The unequivocal passion mariachi artists like Javier Solis and Vicente Fernandez possessed heavily resonated with him.

“[The neighbors] always played nostalgic music, oldies but goodies, and that’s one thing I noticed about Mexicans,” Timoteo says. “They can be in their 20s but because they’ve grown up listening to the oldies it’s still very dear to them. That’s how they party.”

For as long as he can remember, Pollard “was born with the genetic disposition to love music,” knowing that his future would align with the arts.

After hearing Vicente Fernandez sing “Lástima Que Seas Ajena,” an awakening occurred in Pollard. While genres like hip-hop and rap were on the rise, Pollard’s passion for ranchera music grew. It was a moment when he realized that this genre best suited his big voice.

Enamored, Pollard began to pursue a career as a Spanish-language vocalist.

El Charro Negro
Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

At 28, Timoteo began learning Spanish by listening and singing along to those artists he adored in his youth.

“When I decided that I wanted to be a mariachi, I didn’t think it was fair to exploit the culture and not understand the language,” he says. “If I’m going to sing, I need to be able to communicate with my audience and engage with them. I need to understand what I’m saying because it was about honor and respect.”

Pollard began performing local gigs after picking up the language in a matter of months. He soon attracted the attention of “Big Boy” Radio that adorned him the name Timoteo “El Charro Negro.”

Embellishing his sound to highlight his Black heritage, Pollard included African instruments like congas and bongos in his orchestra. Faintly putting his own spin on a niche genre, Pollard avoided over-saturating the genre’s sound early in his career.

Embraced by his community as a beloved mariachi, “El Charro Negro” still encountered race-related obstacles as a Black man in the genre.

“There are those [in the industry] who are not in the least bit thrilled to this day. They won’t answer my phone calls, my emails, my text messages I’ve sent,” he says. “The public at large hasn’t a problem with it, but a lot of the time it’s those at the helm of decision making who want to keep [the genre] exclusively Mexican.”

“El Charro Negro” persisted, slowly attracting fans worldwide while promoting a message of harmony through his music.

In 2007, 12 years into his career, Pollard received a golden ticket opportunity.

El Charro Negro
Pollard (left) seen with legendary Mexican artist Vicente Fernandez (right) in 2007. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In a by-chance encounter with a stagehand working on Fernandez’s tour, Pollard was offered the chance to perform onstage. The singer was skeptical that the offer was legit. After all, what are the chances?

The next day Pollard went to his day job at the time and said, “a voice in my head, which I believe was God said, ‘wear your blue velvet traje tonight.'”

That evening Pollard went to a sold-out Stockton Area where he met his idol. As he walked on the stage, Pollard recalls Fernandez insisting that he use his personal mic and band to perform “De Que Manera Te Olvido.”

“[Fernandez] said he did not even want to join me,” he recollects about the show. “He just was kind and generous enough to let me sing that song on his stage with his audience.”

The crowd applauded thunderously, which for Pollard was a sign of good things to come.

El Charro Negro
Timoteo “El Charro Negro” with Don Francisco on Don Francisco Presenta in 2011. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In 2010, he released his debut album “Me Regalo Contigo.” In perfect Spanish, Pollard sings with great conviction replicating the soft tones of old-school boleros.

Unraveling the rollercoaster of relationships, heart-wrenchingly beautiful ballads like “Me Regalo Contigo” and “Celos” are his most streamed songs. One hidden gem that has caught the listener’s attention is “El Medio Morir.”

As soon as the track begins it is unlike the others. Timoteo delivers a ’90s R&B love ballad in Spanish, singing with gumption as his riffs and belts encapsulate his unique sound and story.

Having appeared on shows like Sabado Gigante, Don Francisco Presenta, and Caso Cerrado in 2011, Timoteo’s career prospered.

Timoteo hasn’t released an album since 2010 but he keeps his passion alive. The singer has continued to perform, even during the Covid pandemic. He has high hopes for future success and original releases, choosing to not slow down from his destined musical journey.

“If God is with me, who can be against me? It may not happen in a quick period of time, but God will make my enemies my footstool,” he said.

“I’ve continued to be successful and do some of the things I want to do; maybe not in a particular way or in particular events, but I live in a very happy and fulfilled existence.”

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