Connect with us

Featured

Elio Villafranca: Revealing the Secrets of Slavery

Published

on

Elio Villafranca: Revealing the Secrets of Slavery
Elio Villafranca: Revealing the Secrets of Slavery

Elio Villafranca: Revealing the Secrets of Slavery

In the newly-crowded world of Afro-Caribbean music, where instrumentalists have always reigned supreme, the singularity of the composer is suddenly in the limelight. We are not talking short works here, but long ones; suites and other long-form – especially narrative – pieces from artists who have found an enduring way of telling epic stories that more often than not revisit historic episodes and slices of life which have come to define the vibrant tradition. There are, however, other, infinitely darker stories that have begged to be told. The Cuban pianist (now based in the USA) Elio Villafranca has now told two of them.

The first of these was Cinque. This five-movement work is inspired by the life of Joseph Cinque, a slave born in Sierra Leone who, while on the way to being illegally sold in Cuba, revolted aboard the ship La Amistad and gained his freedom. Interestingly, Mr Villafranca used a wider lens to tell this story of colonial subjugation by uniting Cinque’s story into the wider Afro-Caribbean tradition that flowered secretly under the European colonists. In Cinque Mr Villafranca focused on the influences of the Congolese traditions of rhythms, melodies, and dances–through the music of Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba. Mr Villafranca brilliantly showcased the unifying elements of the islands, which share similar cultures despite their diverse histories.

Florentina Zulueta

Florentina Zulueta

In 2019 Mr Villafranca presented another epic story. Don’t Change My Name is that work. Its English title comes from Fon language one, which is Man Dio Nukocheo. It is the compelling story of a girl named Florentina Zulueta, who was born in Dahomey (now Benin) in West Africa, during the 17th century. At just 15, she was one of many who were captured and transported to Cuba to be sold as a slave. Her original name was Tolo-Ño, which was given to her while she lived in a Lucumí region (now Nigeria) as a young girl. However, at the time of her capture in Dahomey, her name was later changed to Na-Tegué. She was sold to Julián de Zulueta y Amondo, a notorious slave owner in the Perico region of Matanzas, Cuba. After branding her flesh with a hot metal iron, Julián then claimed her as his property and forever changed the name of the young Na-Tegué to Florentina Zulueta.

Florentina Zulueta became a legendary figure in the Afro-Cuban society in which she lived. Her story also became inspirational as African worship became syncretized into the Catholic faith of the colonists. Yet she and the religion into which she was drawn remained unique among her Arará people. The African Society of Perico was organised toward the end of the nineteenth century by Florentina Zulueta, who was said to be a Dahomean princess. It had a great reputation throughout central Cuba. The society held some social events, with music very similar to that which can still be heard in tumba francesa (French tumba) societies in the eastern part of the country, in cities such as Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo. But these were not part of the Arará rites that were zealously kept within the family.

“When Florentina dies, an adoptive daughter, the venerable Victoria Zulueta replaced her. I knew her closely in the last decade of her life. Thanks to her, an Arará musical and dance group was formed in Perico called Conjunto Arará Dahomey de Perico. Another family member, Emiliano Zulueta, was also well versed in the ceremonies and music of the house temple. More than 1200 Arará songs and rhythms have been rescued thanks to him.” (pp 71 and 72, The Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions: Volume 1, A – L; Volume 2: M-Z, University of Illinois Press, 2013 Patrick Taylor & Frederick L. Case* Eds; Jean Heighoo, Assoc. Ed; Joyce Leung, Ed. Co-ordinator)

Pages: 1 2

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tribute to the Masters

Tribute to the Masters: Mario Rivera

Published

on

Mario Rivera "El Comandante"

Mario Rivera was a gifted musician, composer and arranger that played more than 15 instruments, which included piano, vibraphone, drums, trumpet, timbales, congas, flute, and piccolo. But Rivera was known for how he kissed and caressed the tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. He could play all of the family of saxophones on a virtuosic level as a soloist and section player and was one of the very few saxophonists who also mastered of the flute in the Cuban charanga style. Unlike most musicians, Rivera played all these instruments at an exceedingly high level of musicianship. Rivera dominated the “straight- ahead” jazz and Latin Jazz, Salsa and many other genres.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante"
Mario Rivera “El Comandante”

Mario was born July 22, 1939 in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. After he arrived in NYC in 1961, he worked with Puerto Rican vocalist Joe Valle. His most significant musical associations through the years include Tito Rodríguez (1963-65), The Machito Orchestra, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Típica 73, The George Coleman Octet, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, Slide Hampton’s Jazz Masters, the Afro Blue Band, Giovanni Hidalgo, Chico O’Farrill’s Orchestra and especially Tito Puente’s Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble with whom he worked for on and off for decades.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" the merengue-jazz - Guest: George Coleman - Groovin High
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” the merengue-jazz – Guest: George Coleman – Groovin High

Even though Rivera was one of the hardest working sidemen in the jazz and Latin music business he also led two groups of his own Salsa Refugees and The Mario Rivera Sextet. Although having appeared on virtually hundreds of recording, Mario recorded only one disc as a leader named after his sobriquet, “El Comandante.” It has fine examples of combinations of the native rhythm of his homeland, merengue from the Dominican Republic and jazz improvisation. Indeed it can be considered not only a tribute to his homeland and his mastery of jazz harmony but an homage also to one of his inspirations and yet another unsung hero, fellow Dominican saxophone master, Tavito Vásquez.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" and "The Salsa Refugees" - Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero - Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” and “The Salsa Refugees” – Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero – Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna

Rivera’s passing has been felt very hard in the Latin music and jazz community and he is sorely missed. But we have his stories, music recordings, photos, and videos to remember this grand musician because what he left us makes him truly immortal.


We leave the readers with these final thoughts from Mario himself: “In my case, the day becomes the night and the night becomes the day. There are no vehicles on the street; there are no sirens at night. There is nothing that could block the inspiration. My home is like a musical laboratory because I have to accomplish so many things, I have to learn to play so many instruments. I spend all of my free time at home, practicing like a maniac, refining my chops. This is why I play 24 instruments. When it comes to music, one must be actively militant. Music demands your entire attention and dedication. If a musician is not willing to make that commitment, he will end up floating on a sea of turds, along with the other idle and mediocre characters.”

Mario Rivera passed in August, 2007, may he play on.

Content source: James Nadal

Photos from the Facebook Tribute Page: Mario Rivera “el Comandante”

Continue Reading

Most Read in 2022