It’s been a long time coming. However, at long last, Cuba was in the house. And the house was packed on Friday, May 6 (the second of three evenings) when everybody came to celebrate Los Munequitos de Matanzas, Cuba’s foremost ambassadors of culture. Their last appearance in America was in 2002, so New York made it a top priority to be at the Peter Norton Symphony Space at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The fans came from everywhere: the Lower East and West sides, El Barrio, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. People came from New Jersey and Philadelphia, while others traveled from Connecticut and Boston. Talk about diversity! And celebrity, like the distinguished Mr. Harry Belafonte! He was in the house for the culturally enriching evening presented by the World Music Institute and produced by Mapp International Productions.
Symbolically titled “Tambor de Fuego en Homenaje a los Ancestros” (“Drum of Fire in Tribute to the Ancestors”), the showstopping, two-hour concert was spellbinding. Part one of the evening focused on the rit- ual rhythms, songs and dances of the Afro-Cuban folkloric heritage, such as Yoruba, Brikamo, Kongo, Arara and Iyesa. Part
Los Munequitos de Matanzas two highlighted the inimitable “Cuban Rumba” that included the Yambu, Guaguanco and Columbia. The exhilarating fte closed with Carnival rhythm Conga Matancera.
Helmed by the acclaimed director-dancer Diosdado Ra- mos, the phenomenal Los Munequitos de Matanzas included Barbaro Ramos, dancer; Luis Cancino, singer; Agustin Diaz, salidor (conga); Eddy Espinosa, tumbadora, quinto and cajon; Israel Barriel Gonzalez, singer; Reyniel Lopez Gonzalez, singer; Freddy Jesus and Alfonso Borges, tumbadora-quinto; Jose Andro Mella Bosch, singer; Rafael Navarro “El Nino” Pujada, singer; Ana Perez, singer-dancer; Luis Deyvis Ramos, dancer; Dios- dado Enier Ramos “Figurin,” singer-dancer; Vivian Ramos, dancer; and Esther Yamilet Ramos, dancer.
The entertainment aspect of the concert was of the highest caliber. Individually, the musicians, singers and dancers are a strong class apart, crossing effortlessly from the traditional to the modern aesthetics of their craft. As a group, they shine beautifully and are a moving, sensuous force that reflect Cuba’s trademark artis- tic brilliance and excellence.
At the same time, the ritualistic components were totally intriguing. From the outset, the sacred flavor of the evening was reflected on the stage, where a small table stood alongside various instruments. On the table was a photograph of a young man, with various home-fashioned dolls around the picture. These images were symbolic of the ancestors who had left this realm for the spiritual one. Guiding the audience through the ceremony, the notes for part one of the program read: “The energy of our ancestors populates the soil of this fertile land. The strength of the offerings bless- es their children.”
Through spirited dance and song, devotion was lavished on many of the African Orishas. Among them, Olokun, Yemaya, Oshun, Babalu, Chango, Oya, Oggun, Elegua, Osain, Ochosi, Obbatala and the Eggun. The program’s invocation implored: “Pray, pray, pray. Pray. Pray, pray, my brethren, pray, pray for this to be…”
The program further expounded on the rites of the invocation: “It is the dance of the ancestors, the passion for life
even from the bowels of death. It is the passion which leads us back to the spirit of the dead fused with the Orishas, summoned by the drums and bells to join us all in procession. We remember to give homage through the moyuba, to the eternal dances of rumba.”
One of three griots wearing white, rubber-soled shoes who opened the show told the audience: “I’ve been chasing that rhythm from my father.”
Another shared: “The drums will possess you and make you possessed.” And that they did.
As Los Munequitos de Matanzas’ “Drum of Fire” took over Symphony Space, audience members released all inhibition and rushed for the stage, where they were trans- ported to a higher sphere. Here, in this powerful world of the ancestors, the conga is the heartbeat, and the soul runs free.
Next week in Part 2 of this article, Caribbean Lingo looks at the history of Los Munequitos de Matanzas and the Cuban Rumba.
Caribbean Lingo pays tribute to Caribbean Diaspora artists and art forms of the high- est caliber. To contact us, please email icadRSVP@aol.com.