I just returned from a brief but productive week in Cuba studying Afro-Cuban dance traditions from the Yoruba, Arará, and Kongo traditions to Rumba and Son. The trip was organized by Danys "La Mora" Perez, Artistic Director of Oyu Oro: Afro-Cuban Folklore Experimental Dance Ensemble, originally from Santiago de Cuba currently based in Manhattan, and included over 20 students of dance (mostly professional) from the US. We traveled under a general license. The trip was dance-focused however in these Afro-Cuban forms the songs and rhythms are inextricably intertwined and you cannot understand one without the others. Our days consisted of percussion classes, song classes, warm ups in Afro-Cuban technique, and multiple dance classes. We had live batá and conga accompaniment for every class and an array of established professors and performers from both Havana and Matanzas.
In Havana: Yohani Ofarril, Yoruba and Rumba. Barbara, Afro-Cuban technique and Son. Natividad Shivas de la Cruz, Yoruba and Rumba songs.
In Matanzas: Members of Afro-Cuba de Matanzas Antonio Figueroa (33 years dancing with the company), Arará, Yoruba, Rumba, and Son. Menini and Mina, Yoruba cantos.
In the evenings we had some time to explore Havana. The first night we were able to find members of Yoruba Andabo leading a Rumba in someone's home after a Toque. The first song was the most energetic explosion of Rumba in a space I have ever experienced. After the first explosion, following a 10-minute break, the next songs were more relaxed. Saturday night I went to their formal/weekly performance at Cabaret Las Vegas and Genniselt Gallata performed the most brilliant Yemayá performance I have ever seen (including past performances of hers). I wish so much I had captured it on video but I selfishly did not want to place a device between myself and the magic she was creating. They also performed Eleguá, Ogún, and Shango. The second half was a short Rumba set consisting of audience dance participants. It was a much shorter show than the one I had seen five years ago.
Here is a YouTube video of Yoruba Andabo's produced performance video of Yemayá. Jennyselt Galata is performing Yemayá and it features the same female lead singer that performed this weekend in Havana. Unfortunately the video cuts out right at the beginning of el aro - the climactic ending to the dance where the ending prayer (rezo) is sung slowly over the quickening rhythm and circular movement of Yemayá.
In Matanzas we saw a performance by a children's company called Mordella de Raices. This name refers to the children of San Lazaro. This company is directed by Ana Pérez Herrera, a member of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. To see children as young as four years-old perform exquisite rumba and an older boy execute the most beautiful lines and grace in his modern solo, was a testament to the traditions ingrained from the womb and also the support of family and community in cultivating the performing arts. La Mora communicated her commitment to the children to support the company and audience members who were visibly touched/emotionally affected also expressed their gratitude for the performance and encouraged the children to continue dancing. The children seemed pleased but were also excited to the receive the cola and galletas that were being passed out during this exchange.