Monday, March 10, 2014

observations en el barrio

The zinc wall behind the musicians has a painted  clock mural that reads
Camaradas el Barrio.

When you hear the raindrops fall on the zinc roof in Puerto Rico, it’s time for un asopao de camarones-- shrimp stew.

The brick wall on the side reminds me that I’m in New York City.  East Harlem.

Long dark haired women can’t resist to sway their hips when the three tambores begin to play. And neither can the men. A slim guy with glasses and a long sleeve black shirt begins to move his shoulders and arms rapidly. Two of the drums follow his move.

Puku tá puku tá Puku tá tá tá

The other drum keeps a steady rhythm.  One of the drummers is wearing a black shirt with various symbols, one the taino symbol for sun and Yankees flat brim.  Nüyorican.  The main difference between this band and one that plays in Puerto Rico is that most of them are wearing beanies and scarves.

A woman says, “That’s my brother!” as she takes pictures of the lead singer of Yerbabuena Tato Torres. She dances side-to-side as she takes the pictures.


The tune of el jíbaro puertorriqueño.  The country farmers sang the chant at dawn as they went to work.

There are about 8-10 musicians. They alternate their roles.  One of the back-up singers wearing a red beanie and sweater took the mic. Her voice raspy and powerful. She also played the drum set. The only members who are fixed in an instrument are the guitarists, the cuatro player and the bassist.

Drink break. It seems that everyone in the crowd knows someone in the band or at least it feels that way. Pitchers of sangria are passed along.

The same man that was dancing with the drums takes the stage. Before he begins to sing he says, “Don’t let anymore white people in.” He begins to improvise. Trovador. He resembles Marc Anthony; but his style is much more traditional and his message much more nationalistic. Puerto Rican folk music.

side- to- side
The whole crowd is dancing.

The bass produces a smooth melody which compliments the high-pitched cuatro perfectly. I’ve never seen a bass and a cuatro together. If it wasn’t for the 10 string Puerto Rican guitar, one could think this band is  Afro-Cuban or from another part of the Caribbean. El cuatro is the sound of Puerto Rico- our national instrument. All across the United States, Puerto Ricans have preserved the tradition of playing it.

This cuatro is either painted red or made out dark red wood. It’s thinner than a traditional acoustic cuatro. The player closes his eyes and clenches his lips as he plays complicated, fast melodies that make the crowd cheer.

¡Que viva Puerto Rico!

It’s amazing how proud a nation can be without sovereignty.

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