Afro-Cuban Drumming Ensemble Show

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Review By Vivian Ponte-Fritz

Jesus Lorenzo Peñalver ‘Cusito’ is a guest director or this group of drummers, young and old. Cusito took control of the audience and his group of drummer with a nasally, booming voice. He described each song, giving it context and it’s place of origin before beginning. His interludes were, however, in Spanish. I am lucky enough to be a bilingual individual, so I caught his descriptions and was able to understand the context. Each song consisted of one of three basic Afro-Cuban beats using the conga drums, voice and wooden sticks called claves. The show’s song selection was dedicated to a series of spirits pertaining to the Santeria religions of Afro-Caribbean nations. These spirits are called Orishas. Using mostly call and response, Cusito directed the ensemble in impassioned displays of vocal and drumming power. The compiled voices of their chorus behind his finely tuned shouts caused for a very engaging sound. Everyone in the audience, whether they had heard this type of music before or not, was moving their heads to beat and many clapped along, unable to suppress the rhythm that was seeping into them too.

This performance, put on by the Pomona Music Department was in Lyman Hall, right here in the Thatcher Music Building at Pomona College. The basement of the building is where KSPC resides. It was amazing to be in the very same building as I am on a nearly daily basis, but feel transported to a hot climate, where people wear sunglasses and a hat on stage and shout their hearts out. The sounds were foreign to many, but I could easily see that no one who attended this amazing free show was unsatisfied with their experience. I anything there should be more performances of this type. I am so glad that Cusito did not translate his explanations, or try to americanize his performance. I think that in seeing something unusual, from a different place in it’s unchanged state, untranslated and raw, is the only way to truly learn about the beautiful and varied things that other nations have to offer in the way of culture and music.

After seeing this show I really wanted to learn more about the spirit Orishas that the songs were about. I did some research and discovered the intricate descriptions of the special powers and symbolic significance of such deities. The altars and celebratory dress that accompany the music dedicated to these orishas is astonishing. I was very inspired especially after seeing this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjoRl7EqILQ

where the amazing dance is showcased that should accompany the songs I heard.

It is evident that the performers in the ensemble and the audience only got a tiny taste of the rich flavor and potential of Cusito and his fellow Rumberos.

For further information about this style of music go to:

http://www.ife-ile.org/traditions/rumba.htm

and for more information on further performances put on by the Pomona College Department of Music visit:

http://www.pomona.edu/academics/departments/music/concert-calendar/index.aspx

 

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