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Chronicles of New York City Rumba (I)

By Berta Jottar, greater Cuba, music, traditions and folklore Add comments

With this chronicle, EthnoCuba begins a new section, at the care of Berta Jottar, PhD

NYC: Sunday, February 13, 2011; 38 degrees, mostly cloudy.

Rumba is an Afro-Cuban performance culture characterized by its percussive music, dance and song; its main stylistic forms are the Columbia, the Yambú and the Guaguancó. Outside its native Cuba, New York City’s international metropolitan area is rumba’s second home with at least three rumbas open to the public every weekend.

This week, the rumba route begins on Friday, February 11th, at El Fogón Center for the Arts (point A on the map below); an alternative cultural center in the Bronx.

El Fogón’s rumba is ran by “Pupi” Felix Insua, former member of the mythical Cuban ensemble Yoruba Andabo, and current director of Oriki Omi Oddara. At El Fogón Victorian’ style room, the rumba has an international flair and is accompanied by good wine and friendly patrons. It is always a pleasure to see Pupi perform: he distills knowledge at both the kinesthetic and lyrical levels. El Fogón’s is not an open rumba, (a rumba where the amateur musician can seat and play the drum) but a rumba cerrá, a closed rumba where only those privileged musicians who know the rules of rumba and know that si no sabes, no te metas are allowed to participate. In Pupi’s rumba, you can hear the latest trends in rumba warapachanguera –the latest Havana style, both interpreted the Cuban way and recreated in pan Afro-Latino terms.

The Insua family, Pupi and his virtuoso songs (Stanley and Steve), share El Fogón’s stage mano a mano with local young New York City virtuosos, members of professional groups, like Caja Dura and Ilu Ayé, who are fluent not only in rumba, but in bomba and palo as well. Two new voices stand out: Yomara and Yadel; both young women who master the rumba columbia, the countryside style of Congo origin, rarely sung by women.

On Fridays, El Fogón becomes a rumba lab for hard-core rumber@s as well as for those wanting to learn. You know you are at a great rumba when you see Pupi tirar un pie… See the video below:

On Saturday, we continue our rumba journey to La Esquina Habanera in Union City, New Jersey (see point C on the map). Inaugurated by Tony Sequeira, a rafter who arrived to Union City with a vision and “plantó”; La Esquina is the corner where Afro-Cuban culture from both sides of the river meets. Recently, long after its closure in 2003, La Esquina has been hosting special events -like the religious celebrations for Shangó (Santa Barbara), Oshun (Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre), or secular events like yesterday’s Saint Valentines. Rumba at La Esquina is a more traditional rumba, more syncopated, more melodious. La Esquina is the representation of what is an “authentic” rumba (Pupi was one of the original performers at La Esquina); one may see a good example of a guaguancó danced by mature local dancers, as well as a variety of established rumba singers. Great shiny and glary outfits; satins and gold; the tastes of the Cuban ambiente in its most glamorous! La Esquina is the place to bring your best shoes. More remarkable: this rumba is where different Cuban generations of immigrants and Cuban Americans met; those from el Mariel and the Special Period exodus, the Marielitos and the balseros; the new comers, the old guard and Cuban-Americans: all at the rhythm of one rumba. These encounters can be heard between the performers’ different styles, such as those by the tumbador (base drum) drummers; or via the gallo (singer) repertoire, or can also be perceived by the way females dance guaguancó and cover themselves to the vacunao (a male gesture indicative of sexual possession).

In between shows (because La Esquina’s rumba is a show), there is good food, great dancers, and the latest music and video-clips to dance casino.

Today Sunday, Domingo de la rumba continues at the Brecht Forum, a cultural center committed to progressive politics located at NYC west side (point B on map). If you want to hang out with the members of Central Park’s rumba scene (el piquete del Central Park), go to the Brecht! This is a community, laid back, multicultural rumba; a place to rumbear (to party) where even those who can’t play clave (the two wood sticks and rhythm) are welcomed in the rumba circle, just mimic the chorus please! Nevertheless, an effervescent rumba can happen anytime when the rumberos/as synchronized in time and space. Even for the most rigorous, the Brecht passes the rumba test leaving you emotionally ready for the upcoming week!

But if this is not enough, in May, directly from Matanzas, Cuba, the Latin Grammy nominees “Los Muñequitos de Matanzas” will be performing in three different NYC venues. However, it won’t be rare to find Los Muñequitos hanging out at any of the rumba joints mentioned above!

10 Responses to “Chronicles of New York City Rumba (I)”

  1. Geordie Van Der Bosch Says:

    Very nice website. I’m going to link to it in my blog!

    I’ve enjoyed playing rumba with Felix here in San Francisco. A very nice guy and of course a fantastic dancer. Of course I have my tickets for the Muenquitos concert here in SF too!

    Of course I’m a fan of Berta Jottar’s work as well.

    Geordie Van Der Bosch

  2. Mabel LLevat Says:

    Good! I wish I were there to take some photos, but I have friends who do are like Juan Caballero who also has good photos of Rumba in New York, if you want to see on facebook is the Cuban Photographers Agency with some images. Good Luck and have fun!

  3. Berta Says:

    HI Mabel,
    I am waiting to get his pix, but he was too busy in the rumba! Maybe today.

  4. Berta Says:

    In fact, check out Juan Caballero’s pictures about rumba and other things here

  5. Delores Says:

    Thanks Berta for the link and the pictures, I was waiting for them too.Great stuff!

  6. ariana Says:

    Thank you to all, and specially to Berta!

    Geordie van der Bosch’s website is:

  7. Berta Says:

    This is the correct address for Juan Caballero’s pictures at Cubans Photographers Agency

  8. Elizabeth Fernandez O'Brien Says:

    Gracia’s Berta!

  9. Shaun Says:

    I liked the Rumba music. It has some great sounds, and a nice dance that I want to try now. I am near San Francisco as well. Keep the spirit alive!

  10. Ray Says:

    Wear is Cuban rumba spots in NY 2011 10-20-2011

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