On a typical Saturday afternoon in the Havana courtyard of El Palenque, drummers coax conga rumba rhythms into the air above the crowd. A thousand miles away, Sundays in Central Park also mean rumba. For decades, Cubans in New York City, like their counterparts in Havana, have gathered to honor the clave, the spirits, and the island of their birth through a centuries-old stretch of song and dance.
Cuban rumba is part of the earth beneath the foundation atop which its most eloquent musical houses are built. In all ways African, syncretic, and unyielding, it’s a disciplined system of celebration, reverence, and aesthetic that is as sacred as it as profane. And in Miami, New Orleans, D.C., or anywhere a handful of Afro-Cubans form community, rumba is usually only a heartbeat away.
To pay homage to those who’ve cut the path of rumba from African continent to Caribbean island and on to the States, this Thursday, Ariel Fernandez, known as DJ Asho, brings his project Afrocuba! to the East Bay. According to Fernandez, who moved to New York from Havana in 2005 at the tail end of a leading role in the island’s hip-hop scene, discussions about Cuban culture too frequently avoid central issues of race, a disservice to African-descendant Cubans whose West African cultural retention laid the foundation for musical styles among many of Cuba’s most significant exports. Making this discussion public, from Cuba to the world, is part of the goal behind Afrocuba! “It’s a gathering of Cuban people and people who love Cuban music and culture,” says Fernandez, who describes starting the project in February of 2010 from the desire to create a bridge between Afro-Cubans and African Americans.
Since then, his insistence on honoring the Africa in Cuba continues to take him coast-to-coast. This Thursday marks the second visit of Afrocuba! to the Bay, “always,” as Fernandez notes, “as a celebration of Black History Month.”
Marvel at the synchronicity of hip and shoulder, have your swing at the opposing shifts of lean and step that make for corporal backbeat and rhythmic counterpoint, and catch a free screening of documentary, Rumba Clave Blen Blen Blen (dir. Aristides Falcon Paradi, 2013), followed by sets to fuel your inner rumbero courtesy of DJ Leydis and DJ Asho, this Thursday at Guerilla Cafe.