Claremont and the Caribbean are separated by more than 2,500 miles, but music brought the two a bit closer this week.
Musical groups Los Planeros de la 21 and Ojos de Sofia visited the Claremont Colleges, where they taught a workshop Sept. 22 and performed together in a free concert Sept. 23. The festivities were part of Caribbean Musics en Vivo, a cultural celebration organized by the Department of Chicana-o/Latina-o Studies at Scripps College.
Twelve students attended the workshop at Pomona College’s Doms Lounge, which focused on Décima, a tradition of sung poetry, and Bomba, a drum-based Puerto Rican genre and dance. Although lessons were extremely detailed, the troupes managed to maintain engagement and energy throughout the 2.5 hours.
“I walked into the workshop not knowing anything about what was going to happen or even what to expect, for that matter,” Prisca Diala PO ’18 said. “I found it fascinating how captivating the music was, despite not understanding the meaning of the lyrics.”
Popular in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Décima consists of 10-line poems with a specific rhyme structure. Though it has Iberian origins dating back to the middle ages, the genre remains among the world’s most practiced song forms and influences a number of other musical genres, including blues and folk music. Such widespread modern adaptions make Décima easy for artists to use and play off of.
“What I love the most about Décimas is that professional musicians as well as people can add their own styles and utilize Décimas in a similar fashion to Plana and Bomba,” said Raquel Z. Rivera, director of Ojos de Sofia. “Décimas gives people the freedom to explore and express themselves.”
The individuality and self-expression encouraged by Décima won the genre a number of fans at the 5Cs.
“It was very interesting as to how the genre of the music could be completely changed with the same instruments,” Claudia Sandell PO ’18 said. “In fact the difference that arises between the genres Plana and Bomba is due to different drum sizes.”
The concert, held at Scripps’ Balch Auditorium, touched on many of the aspects addressed in the previous day’s workshops. While the troupes’ costumes were eye-catchingly vibrant, it was their music, dance and coordination that brought the stage to life. Clapping along to the music, the audience seemed to feed off the energy on the stage.
“The concert was really entertaining, and all of the artists were very talented,” Cherish Molezion SC ’17 said. “It was similar to the workshop in that it was participatory music, and they had call-and-response throughout it, so the audience was able to engage.”
In addition to entertainment, both groups are dedicated to spreading knowledge about this unique musical form. Los Planeros de la 21, which is a community-based nonprofit, works to promote appreciation of Puerto Rican artistic traditions. Likewise, Rivera spends a large part of her time working to spread Caribbean music throughout the United States.
“I love the collective music-making, as all of this music involves a lot of call and response in terms of the vocals and a lot of communication between the dancer and the drummer as well as amongst the drummers,” she said. “When we merge the singer singing in Plana, the drums, the people singing the chorus and the people dancing, the energy level skyrockets.”
“I fell in love with constant rising energy,” Rivera added. “It made me feel happy and driven.”
Such passion did not go unnoticed by students, evoking curiosity and intrigue in turn. While some sought more information on Caribbean culture, many attendees were surprised by how much they were able to understand.
“It showed me how universal emotions are for me to be able to imagine the pain or happiness behind the words,” Diala said.