Denver Treated to A Contrast in Puerto Rican Musical Styles

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Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media (see photos gallery below)
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It was an awesome evening of two very distinct and contrasting styles of  Puerto Rican Music Friday night at the Su Teatro Performance Center in Denver. None of it had anything to do with the usual sounds of Salsa, Bachata or Reggaeton sounds most are familiar with.  Barrio E. presented their unique style of Bomba, one of the traditional musical styles of Puerto Rico and is the mixture of the three different cultures of the island, the African Spanish and Taino cultures. The base rhythm is played by two or more drums.

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While bomba can be used as the generic name for a number of rhythms, its real meaning is about the encounter and creative relationship between dancers, percussionists, and singers. Bomba is a communal activity that still thrives in its traditional centers of Loíza, Santurce, Mayagüez, Ponce, and New York City and now Boulder and Denver thanks to Barrio E’ under the leadership of the husband and wife team of Tamil Maldonado Vega and Jose  Beteta. Beteta also happens to be the president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce in Boulder.

Barrio E’ (“Neighborhood is”) whose mission according their website,  aims to create a diverse artistic community who develops and maintains a cultural and artistic space to expose, educate, preserve, and promote  Caribbean and Latin American music, dances, arts and cultures in Colorado.

Bomba is described as  to be a challenge/connection between the drummer and the dancer. The dancer produces a series of gestures to which the primo o subidor drummer provides a synchronized beat. Thus, it is the drummer who attempts to follow the dancer, and not the more traditional form of the dancer following the drummer. The dancer must be in great physical shape, and the challenge usually continues until either the dancer or the drummer discontinues.

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Bomba also is composed by three or more singers and a solo singer, the singing has a dynamic similar to those of “Son” where the lead singer sings a chorus and the other respond, and in between choruses the lead singer will improvise a verse. The theme of most bomba songs is everyday life and activity. In the case of a certain song called “Palo e Bandera”, the lyrics discuss a love triangle between a female dancer, a female singer and the singer’s husband, the primo player. The wife realizes her husband is cheating on her with the dancer and decides to teach her a lesson on the dance floor.

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Friday night’s performance had the audience at Su Teatro not just dancing in their seats but jumping onstage joining the performers in this celebration of dance. On the flip side the performer who followed, Desmar Guevara, had the audience in a subdued, meditative mood with his style of Caribbean  classical music.

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Grados Inefables (Ineffable Degrees)  Carribean influenced Composition for Piano & String Quartet by Desmar Guevara presented  his daring new work of contemporary classical music, Grados Inefables.  Desmar Guevara, virtuoso composer and performer live from New York City, presented his new work that draws from the rich musical traditions of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, its diasporas and the symbolic universe of Freemasonry.

Guevara’s latest musical piece inspired by Masonic concepts. Although Puerto Rican composer Desmar Guevara doesn’t give away ritualistic processes instilled in him by the St. Cecile Lodge #568 of Free and Accepted Masons, he acknowledges that Grados Inefables has roots in Masonic codes.

In fact, the title of Guevara’s new 50-minute work references specific degrees of the Masonic path. “I called it Grados Inefables because this is like the beginning of a journey,” Guevara explains. “It’s about my experience as a Freemason at my lodge. I wrote it and tried to put to music what I had lived as a Mason and as a Mason musician. It’s a very personal story. It’s about growth; it’s about growing spiritually.” Desmar Guevara has been a musician since childhood when he began playing piano and violin. This is his first written large work for both piano and strings.

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As part of that process he reconnected with his old piano teacher in Puerto Rico, Alfonso Fuentes, who helped him on his journey. Guevara’s use of the 12-tone rows technique opens creativity Inspired by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, Desmar uses a technique that gives each of the 12 notes in the chromatic scale equal importance. Although controversial, this expressionist look at music allows Guevara to be more creative because he can “fold in versions of the seed row—and experience the compositional process as one of ritual”.

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He found that as the creative process unfolded he mirrored his own ritual growth as a Mason. He also says that the number 3, highly important in Masonic symbolism and allegory, is embedded throughout the work. Desmar Guevara and Su Teatro – Our connection As a member of Pregones Theater for over 20 years and as their current Musical Director, Desmar Guevara has performed numerous times at Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center. As a composer, arranger and performer of many productions including La Rosa Roja, The Harlem Hellfighters on a Latin Beat, and I Like it Like That, Desmar and Su Teatro have traded musical inspirations.

Su Teatro Artistic Director, Anthony Garcia said, “we are proud of our connections with other Latino theatre companies across the country and world but the one we have with Pregones Theater and Puerto Rican Traveling Theater is special. As a young company, Su Teatro was invited numerous times tIMG_9212o perform in New York for Puerto Rican audiences eager to learn about their Chicano brothers and sisters. Similarly, whenever Pregones Theater travels to Denver, our audiences are thrilled to experience their work. More information about Guevara can be found at his website: www.desmarguevara.com Guevara’s life as a Free Mason Guevara notes that Grados Inefables has been a ritual and a learning process which continues today.

 

“Some people have thought this piece was about my childhood, because I say it’s about growing, growing up—it’s about life,” He goes on to say, “But Masons understand what I’m trying to say, although you don’t have to be a Mason to grow in life.” Guevara belongs to the Lodge of the Arts, a daytime lodge in Manhattan catering to artists, poets and musicians. The lodge has existed since the 1860s and understands how Masonic teachings can be of use to creative types. Former members include Al Jolson, Harry Houdini and Louis Armstrong. Desmar notes that being a Mason has inspired him to challenge himself and not be afraid of untraveled paths.

Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media