Solidarity in Saya is a documentary that tells the inspiring story of how the Afro-Bolivian community uses music as a form of resistance and empowerment. This film explores the rarely told story of how Afro-Bolivians first arrived as slaves in the Spanish colonial region that would later become Bolivia. Afro-Bolivians have faced much racial oppression throughout their history, and today many still live in conditions that have barely improved.
Despite this, their community and culture remained resilient and vibrant. A few decades ago, Afro-Bolivians sparked a social movement by forming groups that publicly performed their traditional Saya music. The performances gave their culture a new venue to reach out to a world that barely acknowledged their existence. The Saya songs are exuberant expressions of the Afro-Bolivian voices as they share the stories of their ancestors, their culture, the struggles and the joys of their lives, through, drums, song and dance.
As the Afro-Bolivians built community and solidarity through Saya groups, their movement gained visibility. The Afro-Bolivian movement has grown far beyond what started as informal music groups performing in the streets. Although they have made many incredible social and political achievements, the Afro-Bolivian people continue to reinforce their cultural presence in the long struggle for equal rights in Bolivia and for recognition around the world.
Maya Tokunaga Jensen is a Chicago-area native and has a B.A. from Northwestern University in cultural anthropology. In 2006 she traveled to Bolivia for the first time in a six-week study abroad program. Initially going to do research for her undergraduate thesis, Maya sought an example of music as a form of resistance and empowerment. Bolivians soon directed her to Afro-Bolivian Saya music, and what began as an undergraduate paper turned into a long-term documentary film project. Maya currently lives in Chicago and enjoys playing upright bass and cello.