Grupo Afro Boricua


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William Cepeda directs this ensemble of singers and percussionists. Though he himself is known for playing trombone and conch shells, that part of his instrumental self is barely utilized. Instead, he, Antonio Martinez, Nellie Lebron, Roberto Cepeda, Hector Matos, and Hector Calderon sing while Calderon, Luis Cepeda, and Angel Mojica play up a storm on Puerto Rican percussion instruments like the bomba drum, maraca, guiro, and pandereta. There's also a large complement of additional singers, percussionists, and dancers who also sing, making for a huge sound. At the center of this folkloric Puerto Rican music are the bomba and plena rhythms, and the chanting of unison voices that have many stories to tell and rituals to demonstrate. There's the depiction of a cockfight, with roosters crowing and bettors arguing for "Meliton Tombe"; a black slave's story, forceful and angry in enunciation during "Majestad Negra" with the singers quoting "Peanut Vendor"; and the gleeful grand arrival of the people in Puerto Rico for "Afro Boricua." Too bad you can't also see the dancers, black men dressed in white suits as a protest on the ultra hot "El Conde de Loiza," or women displaying their colorful skirts during "Seshuque y Balance." Two themes concentrate on the mating ritual: the even-paced 6/8 "Amalia," where a woman spurns a potential lover, and "Rule Son Da," where the female seductress prowls. There's a dedication to the island of St. Thomas and a mermaid on "San Thomas," a hard repetitive chant; a hymn, "Lamento Borincano," which is far from solemn, and the pure plena power of "El Gallo Canta," with a little bata rhythm tossed in. There is no more joyous music found anywhere than here, and while American audiences may not know the words of the chants, the feeling is infectious and exciting, not to mention the overwhelming percussion work. Highly recommended for those interested in Afro-Puerto Rican and general Latin music traditions.

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