Afrocuba de Matanzas
AfroCuba de Matanzas is one of Cuba's top folkloric group, with an impressive knowledge of many of the African traditions. A lot of the members are Villamil, a family that counts both Yoruba and Congo ancestors. On the Yoruba side, they are descended from two Oyo musicians kidnapped in the 1880's and brought to Matanzas. One of them was a babalawo, an Omo Oggun.
Lisa Salb has written an excellent piece on the group, available below.
In their 1998 US tour, AfroCuba members were introduced to the Asipade of Oggun from Oyo and conversed with him in Yoruba. We see a group member, Pello Tapanez - also a Villamil - with the Asipade on the right. See the Villamil for more on that family.
Afrocuba, one of Cuba's most acclaimed folklore groups, performs the traditional African dances, percussion, and songs which still flourish as an integral part of the island's living legacy. The company was founded in 1957 in the city of Matanzas, known as one of the cradles of Afrocuban folklore. There, many of the centuries-old African based traditions have been maintained in their purest form, some existing presently only in Matanzas.
Afrocuba is widely recognized in Cuba and worldwide for their mastery of the full spectrum of Afrocuban folklore, including presentation of certain genres performed only by them. The group members are not only top-notch professional artists, but also practitioners of the religions whose music and dance they perform. Their instruments have been painstakingly hand crafted using centuries-old methods and original materials, making for an incomparable richness and authenticity of sound.
"The group's repertoire contains a wide and complete panorama of the traditions brought to Cuba by the African slaves, and the results of their evolution and integration into modern Cuban society", says director Francisco Zamorra Chirino. Their shows include music and dance of Lucumi (Yoruba), Arara (Dahomey), Bantu (Congo), Calabari, and other African origins, as well as the more Spanish and Caribbean influenced traditions. "Our goal is to keep the legacy of our ancestors alive, while enriching it with our creative interpretation", Mr. Zamorra explains.
A typical show opens with Eleggua, the Yoruba "trickster" deity of the crossroads, accompanied by the ceremonial hourglass shaped Bata drums. Next, the shekeres (beaded gourds) call in Oshun, the sweet goddess of love who dramatizes her ability to dance through provocative gestures. Finally Oggun enters, the warrior god of iron who moves with frightening power, machete in hand. Here the dancers are accompanied by the complex and uniquely Matanzan Iyessa rhythm, played on several bells and the special Iyessa drums.
Closely related to the Yoruban deities, those of the Arara pantheon dance to their own distinct rhythms, distinguished by a strong yet fluid movement of the shoulders. Afrekete is the ocean goddess whose majestic, maternal presence is marked by her whirling blue and white skirts. Jebiosso is the god of fire, lightning, and virility, sexy and boastful, whose mastery of dance is apparent in his forceful yet supple movements. Alu, the god of sickness and healing, makes a dramatic entrance crawling and trembling before he slowly transforms from a cripple into an upright warrior in the presence of his circle of devotees.
The Bricamo (another Matanzas tradition) is a ritual dance where participants cleanse themselves and their surroundings with branches of green leaves. The powerful presentation of the Abakwa, an all-male religious society, opens with a magnificent acapella section. Slowly the drums begin, and a dancer leads in the Ireme, the impressive masked dancers who represent the guardian ancestral spirits of the cult.
The group's riveting depiction of the Congolese-based Palo alternates between hand-clapping acapella invocation of the spirit of the nganga (magic pot) and lightning speed drumming with martial-like dances, climaxing in a frenzy of movement and sound.
Influenced by Spanish flamenco, the secular Rumba also draws heavily on African roots, but is unique to Cuba. Afrocuba presents the three variations of Rumba. The Yambu is played on wooden box drums known as cajones, highlighted by the elegantly sensual movements of the dancing couple.
The Guaguanco, a flirtatious parody of the mating ritual, is a wonderful interaction between the competitive spirits of two dancers. The woman, prancing seductively, must deflect the "vacunao", the symbolic gesture of sexual possession. The Columbia, a competitive solo dance for men, is a raw display of masculine prowess characterized by sharp athletic movements and precise interplay between the dancer and lead drummer.
The rousing, musically spectacular finale is their famous "BataRumba", something of the group's own creation. Here the rich polyrhythms of the Bata drums, which generally serve a strictly sacred function, are incorporated into the traditional Rumba, with a bit of the Comparsa (or Carnaval) rhythms thrown in.
Afrocuba has performed extensively to great acclaim throughout Cuba and worldwide, including Angola, Zaire, Finland, Italy, Brazil, England, and the United States. In 1989 they mesmerized audiences at the Smithsonian Institute's Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C.. In Cuba in 1991 they wowed the public with their theatrical "Bata opera" based on the legends of Oya, Yoruba warrior goddess of the winds. They have been featured in several films and videos, and have made numerous radio and television appearances. They have several recordings, most recently "Rituales Afrocubanas"(1993 EGREM, Cuba), and "Oyelos de Nuevo"(1994 QbaDisc, recorded in 1968 under the group name "Folklore Matancero"). [to order from QbaDisc, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Members of the group also offer lectures, classes, and workshops on Afro-Cuban culture, music, and dance. The touring group consists of 20 dancers and musicians, including Dolores Perez, Paula Perez, Zulima Echeverria, Mima Zamorra, Luis Cancino, Pedro Aballix, and many others.
"A folkloric ensemble in the best sense of the word, Grupo Afrocuba de Matanzas is a sprawling Cuban troupe in the midst of a rare American tour.... The group, best known simply as Afrocuba, performs ritual dance-music pieces based on ideas that predate the arrival of West African slaves in Cuba several centuries ago...
The call-and-response chants with which Zamorra and three female singers accompanied the stage action and the intricate rhythmic backbeats that a quintet of percussionists played on facsimiles of ancient instruments clearly suggested some of the earliest known forms of non-Western music.
Similarly, the ensemble of costumed dancers, which drew on the symbols of ancient African gods, evoked another, earlier age in world culture. The gently undulating motions of three women who personified Afrekete (the ocean goddess), the pranksterish fellow who taunted the audience as the "trickster" deity Elegua and the male dancers who brandished machetes as the warrior god Oggun all offered a beguiling glimpse at the origins of African ritual.
The concert at the DuSable, with a large crowd in attendance, hardly could have been
more striking, with the performers using not only the stage but every inch of a long
walkway that thrust into the audience. The theatricality of this staging, as well as the
opulence of the costumes and the folk-like unpretentiousness of the choreography, made
this a performance as believable as it was effective." -- Howard Reich, Aug 14, 1996
Raices Africanas (African
|List Price: $16.97
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Audio CD (August 18, 1998)
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|Francisco Zamora - Director
Sara "Mima" Gobel - singer
Dolores Perez - singer
Paula Perez - dancer
Yeniel "El Chini" Perez Domenech - dancer
Zulima Echeveria - dancer
|Luis Cancino -
singer, percussionist, dancer
Reynaldo "Naldo" Gobel - percussionist
Pedro "Pello" Tapanez - percussionist
Pedro "Regalao" Aballi Torriente - percussionist
|Danilito Perez, dancer||Teresita Perez Dome, dancer|
|Lilian Oviedo Aldama, dancer||Ramon "Sandy" Garcia - percussionist|
|Reynaldo "Rey" Gonzalez Fernandez - dancer and percussionist|
The collaboration between the Cepeda Family, one of the top roots groups in PR, and AfroCuba has more steps already planned, according to Jesus Cepedas:
Apr 2001 - Afrocuba does a 1 month residency in PR
Oct 2001 - La Familia Cepeda visits Cuba!!!!!
For more info call the Fundacion Cepeda at 1-787-757-1672 in Puerto Rico. The Cepedas and Afrocuba toured the US together on several occasions, in 1998 and 1999, thereby setting the stage for this close collaboration. See the Dos Alas Tour for information on the tour and on the Cepedas.
Puerto Rico: April '99
|Afrocuba de Matanzas visitan a Puerto Rico invitado por los Hermanos
Cepedas y el Fundacion Rafael Cepeda, Inc.
Tienen la planificacion siguiente:
Para informarse, favor de llamar a Luis Alberto Ramirez, 797 776-3386, al Fundacion Cepeda
|Afrocuba de Matanzas visits Puerto Rico
as guests of the Hermanos Cepedas and the Fundacion Rafael Cepeda, Inc.
For information, call Luis Alberto Ramirez, 797 776-3386, at the Fundacion Cepeda
Israel “Toto” Berriel, at Los Van Van – Nov 27 1/25/2016 Voice
Observer: "Toto is a percussionist & singer in the AfroCuban tradition. A native
of the city of Matanzas, Cuba he began his professional music career at 16 in
“Los Yaruminos” a group formed by children and close family members of
recognized AfroCuban and traditional musicians like “Los Muñequitos de Matanzas”
and “AfroCuba de Matanzas“. In 1985 he was invited to form part of the Group
AfroCuba de Matanzas. Six years later he left this group to become a part of the
world famous “Los Muñequitos de Matanzas”, unexpectedly following in his
Timbalaye 2015 recorre Cuba de Occidente a Oriente 8/18/2015 AIN: "A las cinco de la tarde en la ciudad de Matanzas, el día 24, se realizará un tambor a la ancestralidad con Afrocuba de Matanzas, en la playa Los Pinitos"
Steve Coleman - The Sign and The Seal 6/1/2015 M-Base: "In January of 1996 I went to the town of Matanzas to study the Cuban folkloric musical traditions, contact AfroCuba de Matanzas and arrange a meeting with the leader of this group, Francisco Zamora Chirino (otherwise known as Minini). Minini was excited about the idea of bringing together The Mystic Rhythm Society and AfroCuba. We talked further and made arrangements for a musical collaboration that would take place in February during the time of the Havana Jazz Festival, in order to give this special group a chance to perform before the Cuban public. In February I rented a large house in Havana and set up shop with the Mystic Rhythm Society (a group of eleven musicians and dancers), a three person film crew and the group AfroCuba de Matanzas (ten of whom had been bused in from their home town of Matanzas). The project had begun. For 12 days the two groups hung out, worked, conceptualized and practiced together to achieve a cohesive sound. After our performance at the Havana Jazz Festival, the musicians went into Egrem Studios in Havana and recorded the music. The results of this effort are preserved on this recording and on a documentary film shot by Eve-Marie Breglia based on my music and the theme of cultural transference."
Cumple Afrocuba de Matanzas cita en DF 4/3/2015 NTR: "Francisco Zamora “Minini” presidía en el escenario, con su voz llena, y mientras sonaban los toques del batá de la santería, con los cantos y bailes para los orishas. Y entre el público también había santeros, reconocibles por sus sombreros y turbantes blancos. Y cumplieron con lo prometido, ofrecieron las tres variantes de la rumba: guaguancó, yambú y columbia e hicieron aquello de lo que son inventores, la batarumba, una invención suya que une los toques del batá con las tumbadoras de la rumba para el final de la fiesta, en que convidaron el escenario a los aficionados que por la mañana habían asistido al taller de percusiones y baile con los Afrocuba de Matanzas."
Afrocuba de Matanzas. Entre la rumba y los ritmos yorubas 4/2/2015 Cronicas de Asfaltos: "Fue el 2 de abril del 2015 en el Teatro de la Ciudad Esperanza Iris cuando Francisco Zamora Chirino “Minini” hizo su debut en la Ciudad de México. Para este músico fundador y director de Afrocuba de Matanzas “la rumba significa todo”. Y eso fue lo que mostró con su grupo."
AFROCUBA DE MATANZAS: rumberos de nacimiento 4/2/2015 Corason: "Los integrantes de Afrocuba –todos devotos de distintas religiones afrocubanas, como son la santería, la arará, el bantú y la tierra yesa, entre otras– siguen siendo músicos, bailarines y cantantes natos, pero con reconocida preparación. Ensayan con mucho rigor y tocan —como todos las agrupaciones tradicionales en Cuba— en foros sociales como escuelas, hospitales, centros de trabajo, y más recientemente, frente a públicos de turistas en eventos culturales. El lugar natural de su expresión, sin embargo, son las casas particulares y los focos culturales del barrio en donde practican las religiones."
Afrocuba de Matanzas une tradición con nuevas generaciones 4/1/2015 La Republica: "“En Matanzas han sido muy fieles cultivadores, muy fieles cuidadores del legado aquel que nos entregaron nuestros ancestros y nosotros siempre vamos al pueblo investigamos, hacemos trabajo de mesa y rescatamos esas raíces fielmente y las llevamos al escenario sin mistificaciones ningunas”, dijo el miembro fundador Francisco Zamora “Minini” al anunciar los detalles de sus próximos conciertos en la Ciudad de México."
Música tradicional y nueva llegan al Festival Centro Histórico 4/1/2015 Notimex: "La gala musical arranca mañana en el Teatro de la Ciudad "Esperanza Iris" con la presentación y debut en México de Afrocuba de Matanzas, cuyos 13 integrantes ofrecerán toques dedicados a Yemaya, Ochún, Elegua de la santería y a otros orishas de las regiones bantú y arará. De acuerdo con su director y fundador Francisco Zamora "Minini", la rumba que presentarán mañana y de la cual dieron una pequeña probadita a los medios de comunicación, bastante rítmica, jocosa y contagiosa, "no habrá ni terciopelo ni lentejuelas"."
AfroCuba de Matanzas difunde ritos ancestrales 3/29/2015 Milenio: "¿Han tocado en África? Sí, nos hemos presentado en Congo, Mozambique y Angola. En todos estos sitios se quedaron muy asombrados al ver que sus toques, sus cantos y sus bailes tradicionales nosotros los manteníamos fielmente, o más fielmente, que ellos mismos. Hay una gran similitud en lo que ellos hacen y lo que nosotros tocamos, cantamos y bailamos, sobre todo en la cuestión rítmica. ¿En América Latina hay similitudes? Hemos tocado en Puerto Rico y hemos visto similitudes en ritmos como la bomba, porque ahí entraron muchos africanos. Lo mismo sucede en Brasil y Uruguay, con el candombe. Igualmente Colombia tiene muchos antecedentes africanos."
Steve Coleman, a made-in-Chicago jazz master, wins a MacArthur 9/16/2014 Chicago Tribune: "The Sign and the Seal" marked a notable collaboration in Havana for Coleman and the Mystic Rhythm Society with AfroCuba de Matanzas."
Afrocuba de Matanzas - Moquekeré Okagua, Atencion Cubanos (2CD+DVD 2013) 4/5/2014 YouTube
AfroCuba de Matanzas Rumba 6/15/2013 YouTube
UI Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble performs Dec. 9 12/5/2012 Iowa Now: "In March of 2003 with support from the UI Division of Performing Arts, International Programs, and the Department of Dance, Cunliffe and Dreier organized a study abroad trip for UI dance and music students. The group traveled to Matanzas, Cuba to study Afro-Cuban folkloric dance, drumming and songs with the world renowned folkloric ensembles Los Munequitos and Afrocuba de Matanzas. On returning, the UI Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble was formed by Cunliffe, Dreier, and former UI Department of Dance visiting professor Daniel Stark."
Afrocuba de Matanzas: 50 Years On, and: Afrocuba de Matanzas: Live at El Palenque—Havana 2005 (review) 9/1/2009 Latin American Music Review: "La Timbala Music and Dance, a performing arts company based in the UK, has recently produced and released two DVDs documenting the repertoire and performance traditions of one of Cuba's seminal folkloric groups, Afrocuba de Matanzas. The release of the DVDs was meant to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Matanzas-based group, which was founded in 1957 under the original name Guaguancó Neopoblano."
Afrocuba de Matanzas: 12 Rarities 11/3/2006 ¡Vamos a guarachar!: "Here is a set of tunes by ACdM you may have missed, as they were only released on various compilations here and there. I think some of their finest work is here though: Many feature the legendary Virulilla and Saldiguera on vocals, and Dolores Pérez's singing on "Palo Yaya" is not to be missed. I especially like "La viola de Homero," "Las Leyendas de Grecia" and "Tristes Lamentos." I also believe this yambú to be the slowest ever recorded."
Rogelio Scull: founding member of Afrocuba de Matanzas dies in Texas jail after kangaroo court gives him life 6/1/2004 AfroCubaWeb: "Rogelio Scull was a talented percussionist who was among the founding members of Afrocuba de Matanzas, along with Francisco Zamora, Dolores Perez, Pedro "Pello" Tapanes, Regino, and the other greats of that group. He is remembered fondly by the members of the group. He died on Saturday, June 12, 2004. Rogelio left Cuba in the 1980 Mariel event and played for some time in NY. He spent over 10 years in jail on a life sentence for being an accessory to a murder. I obtained a copy of the court transcript and was not too surprised to see that the case against Scull was unsupported by physical evidence and relied only on the testimony of one Ana, who fingered him as a participant after being squeezed by the cops on a bad check charge. It turns out from the transcript itself that Ana was the wife of the murderer and there were high heel marks at the site where the body was found. Ana has since been jailed for her participation in 3 other murders. Hardly a reliable witness."
GRUPO AFROCUBA DE MATANZAS 11/13/1998 WaPo: "When Dizzy Gillespie brought Afro-Cuban jazz to North America in the late '40s, he was drawing on master Cuban drummers who had emigrated to the United States. Those congueros were drawing on Havana's popular dance bands, and those bands were drawing on religious groups out in Cuba's provinces, whose use of chanting and drumming was little changed from the music brought from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. Seldom have those fundamentals of Afro-Cuban music been documented as usefully as they are on "Raices Africanas" ("African Roots") by Grupo AfroCuba de Matanzas. "
Their rep, Ileana Hernandez, can be reached via her phone, 011.53.52.35.91
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