Women drummed Bomba music and poets spoke out against prejudice and colonization at the Stage Garden Rumba at Brook Park on Sept. 17, part of a cultural events series to hit the city.
Female drummers are rare in Bomba music even today. Patriarchal ideology from colonization created a myth that women were not strong enough to play the large drums in Bomba music, said Manuela Arcinigas, who played the drums along with her daughter, Kiyala LaSalle.
A legacy of women drumming at the Stage Garden Rumba, included six women, Arcinigas and LaSalle who played Afro Puerto Rican Bomba music, and Afro Dominican Palo songs.
Arcinigas said she created her group to change the narrative and bring together women who love drumming.
“Our commitment is to bring joy, reflection, and empowerment, to anyone who’s a part of our species,’’ she said. “There really is a unique contribution of both the vocal tone and the energetic imprint that women put in music… we harness and we unleash everywhere…”
As the women sing and play the drums, spectators swayed to the beat. One woman was moved enough to dance in front of the stage. Another woman also passed out red and blue bandanas as a gift to attendees.
For two performers, music and poetry expresses Latin culture.
Chilo Cajigas is a poet and musician from Long Island. One of his poems, “They Came,” includes themes of colonization and slavery, but also the economic and pop culture contributions from Puerto Ricans. Cajigas originally wrote and performed the piece with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.
Outside of creating music, Chilo is also a high school history teacher. He started a class about hip-hop lyricism, where he uses the history of hip-hop to teach teenagers about American history, music, and language arts.
Espada De La Luz, a student at the School of Visual Arts and self-proclaimed clown, performed a song and poetry mix. Her first piece, “Sun Shower,” spoke out against Christopher Columbus and prejudice against Latin American people.
“Sometimes when you can’t talk to anybody to get that stuff out, you just like, gotta just get it out on paper or express it through a song. Sometimes people don’t listen until you scream.”
De La Luz is inspired from her vivid memories of visiting her hometown of Manati. De La Luz describes the island as an “emerald field” with greenery as far as the eye can see.
For attendees like Grace Onzalez, the performances help her feel close to her Puerto Rican ancestors.
“I feel my ancestors behind me, a sense of pride of coming together as a community, bringing back the cultural life that is being lost.”
Pregones Puerto Rican Travelling Theatre has two more upcoming Stage Garden Rumba festivals. Information about the events can be found on the website.