Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba…A New Genre of Street Music!!

Today, May 31, 2019, I had the enormous pleasure to view the new documentary Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba, by independent filmmaker, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. This documentary features DJ Jigüe (Isnay Rodriguez)  a Cuban musician who Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi (from Puerto Rico) met over 20 years ago.  Eli’s brother, Kahlil (based in New York City) is a co-producer along with Dj Jigüe. The Philadelphia Latino Film Festival presented the hour long documentary at the University of Arts, and afterwards there was a talk-back with Eli and DJ Jigüe. Kahlil, also present, offered support from the audience.

The film is making the rounds at different international festivals and has already premiered in California in the United States.

Bakosó follows the path of DJ Jigüe from Havana to Santiago de Cuba to the Afro-Latino Festival in NYC. Along the way he stops at Palma Soriano in Santiago, where he was born, to visit his grandmother. His grandmother is a santera, who practices the yoruba (lucumi) based religion, more popularly known outside of Cuba as santería. Although DJ Jigüe’s mother worked as a teacher in Angola, it is his grandmother, Cuca, who affirms that their African heritage, traditions and religion are of utmost importance in their lives.  These traditions and links have been passed down for generations in his family.

Throughout the fast paced documentary, we are introduced to these different neighborhoods in Cuba and the street music culture to trace the origins of Bakosó. DJ Jigüe meets up with various musicians doing this kind of music, who I, and I believe most people outside of Cuba, are not familiar with, such as: El Inka, Maikel el Padrino, Kiki Pro, and the singer Alva. The children’s dance group, “Sangre Nueva” is also featured.

The fusion of music, storytelling, performance and image is seamless and powerful in Bakosó, and make this documentary a joyous delight to experience. The crowds and unnamed people in the streets of Santiago, dance  expertly, yet naturally with abandon, and you can see how much they enjoy it. Their enthusiasm jumps out of the screen. But this is not just another movie about popular music or about Cuba. It delivers a glimpse into the heart and soul of people who were born to make music and dance in the steps of their ancestors. The connection with Africa is the focus of Bakosó, and the  dance of Eleggua, the orisha of roads/paths, begins and ends the film. Eleggua must open every santería ritual and he is also a messenger of Olofi, one of three manifestations of the Supreme god in the Yoruba religion.

While watching the documentary, I was reminded of rumba dances and chants to the orishas that I heard decades ago in Havana, and how music and dance have been cultivated in Cuba by way of the Afro-Cuban religions and by the government in the schools and conservatories. African rhythms and dances have existed in Cuba since Africans were brought to Cuba and enslaved in colonial times. Bakosó also mentions the 35,000 Cuban soldiers who fought in Angola, and the many Africans studying medicine in Cuba, as more contemporary connections to the mother continent. Bakosó is a mix of these many influences and rhythms. Some of the rhythms mentioned are: Kuduro, afrobeats, conga, rumba,  conguita and makuta.

The recital hall on the 17th floor of the University of the Arts building, where the film was screened, was nearly full to capacity. Many excited and happy audience members also stayed for the question and answer session afterwards with Eli and DJ Jigüe. At least 7 or 8 questions were answered in English and Spanish, and it could have gone on for another hour at least! To raise money, tee shirts and hats were sold at a table in the lobby. In answer to a question, DJ Jigüe said that each time he left the island, one of his most important goals was to show the world what Cuban artists were doing in Cuba, since Cuba has been in isolation due to politics for some 50 years. He did that and more with Bakosó. Overall, it was a rare opportunity to meet the director and producers of this documentary, to discover what new music is being developed in Cuba, and feel the alegría (joy) and spirit of the musicians and dancers of Santiago de Cuba.  I highly recommend this documentary–if it comes to your city, don’t hesitate, just GO see it!

For more information about this new Cuban genre and the producers, check out: https://jigue.bandcamp.com/track/bakoso

https://www.facebook.com/BakosoCuba/  

Eli’s films

@BAKOSÓ_CUBA
#BAKOSÓ

 

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Bilingual Comedy Well-Received in Philadelphia!

¿Qué te hace reir? (What makes you laugh?) ¡La Gringa!

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Teatro del Sol took down its sets on Sunday May 5, 2019 after 3 weeks of performances of La Gringa by Carmen Rivera. Several of my students (intermediate Spanish speakers) attended the show during its run at the Latvian Society in Philadelphia, and when asked the question what makes them laugh, they spontaneously replied “that play, La Gringa.” Others, who were second generation immigrants from non-hispanic countries, related to the main character and her struggles to fit into the United States and the culture of her parents and relatives. They too felt as if they belonged nowhere. Others simply were moved by the story and cried when Tío Manolo passed.

The immediacy of these reactions speak to the acting ability of Teatro del Sol’s ensemble, the universality of the script and the accessibility of a bilingual Spanish/English production. If La Gringa had been presented only in Spanish without some kind of simultaneous translation (such as titles on a screen), my students probably would not have understood much of it. Moreover, even if one does understand the language well, the cultural references and jokes are often lost on those not intimately familiar with the culture. If performed in Engilsh, it would be more accessible to a non-Spanish speaking audience, but the language puns and the jibes or references to Maria’s poor Spanish would not have been easy to render. IMG_0619

La Gringa was a low budget endeavor but this new company on the Philly theatre scene, made the most of what they had and then some. (Direction was by José Avilés, stage management, Tanaquil Márquez and lighting by Dalton Whiting).  For example, the sound design by Eliana Fabiyi, reproduced the chirps of the “coqui” (native to Puerto Rico), which are central to the play and its symbolism. The lighting as decoration for the holiday season, set the stage for Manolo’s burst of wellness, and subsequent over the top antics.  Props were few, but the rosary for her grandmother’s headstone, a jacket with the Puerto Rican flag on the back, luggage, Manolo’s wheelchair and a yucca root, were all significant to the plot, and provided just enough visual effect to stimulate my imagination.

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The minimal set on two planes, separated by a few steps, created a feeling of depth and distance that facilitated scenery changes, whether in the house, on a farm or in the Yunque forest.

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Each audience member’s image of the location was unique, especially if they had never visited Puerto Rico. But perhaps that is part of La Gringa’s strength. Since each of us had to recreate the set in our minds, the characters and the actions were more personalized,  and deeply felt and experienced.

The ensemble cast worked well together and the pace was steady and appropriately quick. As Tío Manolo, Víctor Rodríguez Jr. was hysterical. He and Iris, played by Diana Rodriguez, inspired the most laughter. As Maria’s aunt Norma, Yajaira Paredes, was somber and serious in contrast. Her husband, Victor, played by José Avilés, was an all around good guy, buffering his wife’s abrasive personality from other members of the family.  As Maria, Marisol Custodio is a wide eyed idealist. Her naivete was palpaple and naturally expressed. The character of Monchi, played by Daniel Melo, was a breath of fresh air. Monchi is an engineer turned farmer, and it was encouraging to see a college educated male in the play, instead of the stereotypical latino characters (janitors, gangsters or struggling immigrants) that still predominate in film and television.

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This compelling family dynamic and the identity issues faced by Maria, made for a heartfelt and fun theatrical experience on Saturday afternoon, May 4, 2019. Not surprisingly, at the end of La Gringa,  the audience stood up and applauded enthusiastically.

Teatro del Sol has big plans for the rest of the year! To keep abreast of their future productions and initiatives, please visit their website:  http://www.teatrodelsol.org/

 

Los alebrijes: From Dreams to the Big Screen!

There is no translation for this word, alebrijesAlebrijes are a folk art from Mexico, that depict imaginary creatures, made out of paper mache or wood. I bought one a few years ago in Oaxaca, and it was made out of wood.

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They are all over the city and a favorite souvenir for tourists to buy. They were brought to life in the recent movie, Coco, in which they act as spirit guides for the dead in the land of the dead.  img_20190505_124558

Today at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia there was a special event that feature alebrijes, sponsored by the Mexican Cultural Center for Mexican Week. This was also PECO First Sunday at the Barnes so there was free admission for everyone. Artist Cesar Viveros spoke about the history of alebrijes, there was a small exhibition and a contest, and children decorated some alibrijes by gluing on different fabrics (paints were not allowed in the museum).

Viveros explained that the alebrijes do not have anything to do with Day of the Dead, as they do in Coco. The alebrijes are a relatively new addition to Mexican folklore. Pedro Linares, a Mexican artisan born in 1906, first created alebrijes in the 1930s. He was ill and while unconscious dreamt of these marvelous beings, who called out “alebrijes”  in his dream. Once well he wanted to craft these creatures since he attributed his healing to them. From them on, important artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera began commissioning his alebrijes and the trend took off. Now these animals are recognized and treasured around the world as Mexican folk art.

 

“La Gringa:” What Does it Mean to Be Puerto Rican?

Teatro del Sol at the Latvian Society, presents its first full production with “La Gringa” by Carmen Rivera. This 2 act play, directed by José Aviles, promises an endearing and uplifiting bilingual theatrical experience.

The play takes place in Puerto Rico and focuses on María, a 22 year old Puerto Rican, born in New York. “Nuyorican” was used in the 20th century to describe such a person, but it is never used in this play. María sort of speaks Spanish, which she learned in school (and not from her parents), and is excited to bond with her family on the island and explore her heritage. Except for some people on the island, she is a “gringa,” an American. Nevertheless, she is torn and frustrated, since in New York she doesn’t fit in either. There she is too Puerto Rican and considered just as much an outsider. La Gringa chronicles María’s search for her identity in short vignettes which depict family struggles as well as local Puerto Rican culture.

The latinx cast includes actors familiar to the Philly theatre scene: Marisol Custodio (María), Yajaira Paredes (Norma), Victor Rodríguez Jr. (Manolo), and Diana Rodríguez (Iris). José Aviles also plays Victor, in addition to directing and Daniel Melo, a recent graduate of the University of the Arts plays Monchi. Rounding out the production crew are Tanaquil Márquez, Krystal Rosa, Dalton Whiting and Eliana Fabiyi.

I saw one of the previews on April 20, 2019. The show officially opens on Friday April 26. Even though it would be unfair to critique a play in previews, suffice to say that two thirds of the audience stood up and applauded at the end of this work in progress on Saturday afternoon.

The play has one intermission and is approximately 2 hours. Don’t miss this premiere in Philadelphia by Teatro del Sol.

La Gringa by Teatro del Sol plays from April 26 to May 4, 2019 at the Latvian Society, 531 N 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123. Purchase tickets online or at the door. Visit their Facebook page at: Teatro del SolLA GRINGA POSTER FINAL (1)

Teatro del Sol: Bilingual Theater in Philly

I’ve written before about La Fábrica and Teatro del Sol, and the works that they’ve produced, about Picasso, Operación Pedro Pan, and authoritarian regimes (inspired by Venezuela). These newly formed theater companies, both staged plays in Spanish and English in Philadelphia for the past few years. The last production I saw of Teatro del Sol was actually a reading of a play and I saw some of the same actors and directors in the audience and on stage  that I had seen at previous productions of La Fábrica.  I didn’t voice this to any of them at the time, but I felt that a merger would be a good idea. Joining forces would pool their creative energy, and they would not have to compete for audiences, talent and donors.

Philadelphia has a lively theater scene, with larger venues like the Walnut Street Theater and the Arden Theatre, and many smaller companies which do not have a permanent space. To be able to garner enough of an audience for theater in Spanish in a city as small as Philadelphia is a challenge enough for one company, but for even more than one?

Fortunately, the minds behind these two companies were thinking like me, and they decided to merge to form Teatro del Sol.  Spearheading this company are José Avilés, Tanaquil Márquez and Yajaira Paredes. For more information about Teatro del Sol, and what they have planned for bilingual theater,  visit their website.

Coming soon, in Abril, is the popular play, La Gringa.  Although it’s been running in New York City, I’ve never seen it. I’m looking forward to enjoying it in Philly in a few weeks.

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Out of the Mouths of Babes: Kid Quixote

Drexel University hosted a unique performance on February 19, 2019 at Van Rensselaer Hall on its campus. “The Traveling Serialized Aventures of Kid Quixote” is performed by immigrant children ranging in age from seven years old to fifteen. The group hails from Brooklyn, New York, and is led and taught by Steven Haff, in the afterschool program, Still Waters in a Storm. Dr. Rogelio Miñana, Head of the Global Studies & Modern Languages Department, was the Drexel connection. Co-sponsors included the College of Arts & Sciences, English & Philosophy, Sociology and History.

Here is a short clip from their performance at Hunter College:

On Tuesday, the students arrived by bus at around noon and first went to City Hall for lunch. Later, they squeezed in a tour of Philadelphia before arriving at Drexel to get ready for their 4:00 pm performance.  The hall, which had chairs on the ground floor and in the balconies, was packed with Drexel students. There is no stage in the space, but a small square of about 10×10 was the playing space. An electronic keyboard, guitar and ukelele accompanied. The Traveling Serialized Aventures of Kid Quixote is a musical (music composed by Kim Sherman) and it is a constant work in progress for five years. The group of 15 children and Haff are 2.5 years into the project. IMG_20190219_174237

The children, who are all bilingual in Spanish and English, have read Don Quixote and their musical play is an interpretation that relates to their own lives and current events. For those that don’t know, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in the early 1600s. It was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. This is a massive volume, and it is first and foremost impressive that children so young are reading it, and that they understand it enough to adapt it into a play.

According to Haff, the performance that they take on the road has been a collaboration. All of the decisions about what goes into the play are discussed with the youngsters and they reach a consensus. There are no auditions for this program. As they work through the script and music, they decide who should play which parts, and parts change periodically.

What makes this work so special is the fresh and natural approach to a very old classic. Don Quixote,  is the quintessential dreamer who just will not give up. The young cast revels in his heroism (actually played by a girl in this version) and is comfortable and at home with their creation.  They go back and forth between English and Spanish and it is obvious how much fun they are having. Their innocence is endearing and their passion, inspiring.  IMG_20190219_171949

Drexel’s venue was bigger than any that the group had performed in before. The audience watched as the group performed a “sound check” to see if their voices would project to the back of the hall. Once everything was deemed to be in order, the adventure began! After the show there was a short talk back and all of the children were enthusiastic to share their thoughts on the play and the process.

For more information, please visit the website: http://www.stillwatersinastorm.org/

Lens on Latin America: Photo Exhibition in Philadelphia!

 

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photo courtesy of David Acosta

Lens on Latin America

January 7 – March 22, 2019

open daily 8am – 10pm

Juror: David Acosta, Casa de Duende

Opening reception: Tuesday, January 8 at 6pm

An art exhibiton of innovative, experimental, and radical photography inspired by themes emerging from Latin America during the 60s and 70s – a time of profound cultural and political change.

www.ihousephilly.org/LoLAwww.ihousephilly.org/LoLA

East Alcove Gallery, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut Street

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DaVinci Artist Alliance: http://www.davinciartalliance.org/dvaa-at-ihp/