Fernando González on Yoruba Andabo
Translating popular dance and music traditions to the stage is
an art in itself. Yoruba Andabo—the 15-piece company from Cuba that
comprises singers, musicians, and dancers—has a long and
distinguished practice of turning theaters into a Havana backyard
and then filling them with the sounds of a rumba, a conga, or a
bembé (a party dedicated to the Orishas, the deities
of the syncretic, West-African-rooted religion known in the New
World as Santería or La Regla de
"It's a show that has the feel of a great party, a celebration of
Cuban culture and African roots," explains Matías Geovani del Pino,
director, founder, and one of the group's performers. The program
by Yoruba Andabo (the name loosely translates to mean "friends of
the Yoruba") includes musical invocations from ancient Yoruba and
Abakuá religious traditions, corresponding to different African
nations and passed on from generation to generation over centuries,
as well as traditional rumba and a closing conga habanera.
The performance "includes music from those liturgies. However, it's
not religious music, but artistic representations of that music,"
explained del Pino. As for the rumba, an Afro-Cuban style with
African and Spanish roots, it's featured in three traditional
styles—yambú, guaguancó and columbia—each with its own distinct
sound, pace, and choreography.
"We have our own way of playing [rumba]," explains del Pino. "We
call it guarapachangueo. We utilize the same principles,
but with different sonorities. And within that framework, the
improvisation is constant. The drummers "speak" to one another, but
also the dancers "dialogue" with the quinto [the highest
pitched and most improvising drum in the ensemble]. The dancers cue
the quinto, but the quinto paces the
steps—they follow each other."
Both main musical sources of the performance—religious
Afro-Cuban music and rumba—are not cultural artifacts, but very
much living traditions in Cuba. In fact, some instruments, such as
the hourglass-shaped, double-headed batá drum, and many of
their rhythms have been long incorporated into many popular styles,
from rock and salsa to hip-hop and jazz. Conversely, rumba groups
have created fusions that draw elements from popular music.
In Yoruba Andabo's work, the aim is to "always stay close to the
tradition while showing its evolution," says del Pino. "After all,
a genre like the rumba is a living thing. Rumba is not the absolute
root of all Cuban dance music, but it is implicit in all of it. And
because of it, it lives within every Cuban. Rumba is an expression
—Fernando González is an independent music writer and critic whose
work appears regularly in The Miami Herald, JazzTimes, and The
International Review of Music.