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Puerto Rican and Mexican Cultural Traditions Come Together for this Weekend's Bombazo Fandango!

Bombazo Fandango
Bombazo Fandango
Rudy Rude

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The worlds of Puerto Rican bomba and Mexican son jarocho will come together in mutual admiration this Saturday in SanTana for the third annual Bombazo Fandango. The free, two-day event highlights the living musical traditions while bringing their faithful practitioners from as far away Chicago and Veracruz. On Friday, the windy city's acclaimed bomba group Buya will headline alongside a performance by Mexican jaranero and versador Patricio Hidalgo. The event, which includes workshops and discussions, will also feature music from LA's Atabey as well as Proyecto Jarocho. Local SanTana faves Son del Centro are taking the occasion to release their second, self-titled album. Last but not least, the actual Bombazo Fandango itself ends it all on Saturday night.

Before all the Mexi-Rican music madness commences, the Weekly spoke with local bombero Hector Rivera and Son del Centro member Ana Urzua to learn more about both rich cultural traditions.

OC Weekly (Gabriel San Roman): What is bomba for people who may not be familiar with it?

Rivera: Bomba is the oldest living musical genre hundreds of years old from Puerto Rico.It is a series of more than ten different rhythms. It is our manifestation of African influence on our culture. It is call and response. It is percussion. It is dance. And in terms of the dance it is an expression of our dignity.

Ana, son jarocho has taken root in Santa Ana for years now. Tell us about Son del Centro's latest record and what it represents within the cultural tradition.

Urzua: This second album is really a continuation of our work. It is tied to the principles of how we are rooted in the music's origins, culture, traditions and people that we have learned it from. The foundation has been the music group at El Centro Cultural. In this new CD you will hear recordings from our kids workshop. There's also another track by our adult music class.

Both bomba and son jarocho are unique expressions, but what do you see as their overlapping commonalities?

Rivera: There's several. One is the dancer creates music in both. The dancer in bomba follows rhythm but improvises with his or her dance steps and a lead drummer has to mark and interpret those dance steps so the dancer is creating music. Likewise in son jarocho, the dancer zapateando, or kind of stomping, is also creating music following a rhythm being played. In addition, of course, both are manifestations of the legacy of Africa in the Americas.

Urzua: Their both cultural traditions of very local places. There was a festival that I just missed in Puerto Rico that is set around a saint in that town every year. That's the same tradition that we have in son jarocho in Veracruz where that's part of their annual festivities. Both genres have also gone through a period of not being learned and devalued by commercialization. In both cases, there's been efforts to go back and learn from the elders of the community so as to continue and share the tradition.  

What is the role of both of these musical traditions in local communities?

Rivera: Bomba started where Africans were enslaved in Puerto Rico. It was a way to unite the community, bring people together and to heal from it. There's a lot of different definitions of what the actual word 'bomba' means, but one of the words that we believe that was used for bomba was bambula from the Congo meaning 'a cooling' after a traumatic event. Bomba brought people together who were going through traumatic times. That comes through to this present day. Because of a lot of people's hard work, now there are groups in every town in Puerto Rico. Now there are also groups in the United States.

Urzua: Here in Santa Ana, the son jarocho program at the Centro has become self-sustaining. What I think is pretty significant about Son del Centro is that we've completed our purpose in a way. The son jarocho community has grown here and is as solid as I've ever seen it. We don't have to even promote our fandangos very much. It's going on its own now. Everybody is continuing in being rooted in the tradition and continuing it as a way to create community and as a way to confront the fucked up things people are going through with immigration in this country.

What can a person who has never been to a bombazo or fandango, much less a bombazo fandango, expect when they check out both of them together on Saturday?

Urzua: I don't know what to expect myself! Things kind of organically happen. That's what's possible with these two genres of music. It's not a fusion. Our intention is not a fusion and I don't think our people ought to expect that. It's sharing the two traditions in their complete whole and then you get this organic thing happening where a requinto player starts playing along with chorus of bomba. It happens on its own!

Rivera: Last year we had the magic of the two musical genres coming together in a song. It might happen, but it's not something we're going to force. But what people can expect is dozens of musicians from both genres coming together and giving their heart and soul to the community.

The 3rd annual Bombazo Fandango celebration takes place at El Centro Cultural de Mexico, 313 N. Birch Street, Santa Ana. Friday and Saturday 6-11 p.m. Free. All Ages.

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