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Music and dance troupe to bring Afro-Cuban beat, culture to NMSU

This is not your standard ballroom rumba.

Woman in red dances with man in white with musicians in background.
The Rumberos de Cuba music and dance ensemble, joined by Changuito, will be in residence at NMSU Sept. 8-13 for a series of concerts and workshops. While some of the dancing is done solo, other dances include couples or larger groups. (Courtesy photo)
Dancing woman in yellow dress swings her skirt around as drummers dressed in white keep the rhythm.
The Rumberos de Cuba music and dance ensemble, joined by Changuito, will be in residence at NMSU Sept. 8-13 for a series of concerts and workshops. Colorful costumes and exuberant rumba rhythms characterize this Afro-Cuban dance tradition. (Courtesy photo)
Singers dressed in red, white and blue costumes sing into microphones next to a drummer in similar clothing.
The Rumberos de Cuba music and dance ensemble, joined by Changuito, will be in residence at NMSU Sept. 8-13 for a series of concerts and workshops. Vocalists join percussionists in some of the Rumberos compositions. (Courtesy photo)

This is real Afro-Cuban rumba, born in the poor sections of Cuban cities and carrying dance styles and rhythms that echo the African traditions of Cuban slaves. The dominant musical elements are singing and drumming; the dancing is energetic, sensual and colorful.

NMSU will get a big dose of this exuberant art form when the Afro-Cuban music and dance troupe Rumberos de Cuba hits campus for their opening concert on Saturday, Sept. 8. They will be joined by frequent collaborator and world-famous percussionist Jose Luis Quintana, better known as "Changuito."

The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Atkinson Recital Hall.

David Sanchez is Cuban, a recent graduate of NMSU's master's program in Spanish, creator of the Rumberos project and coordinator of the residency and related events.

"The Inaugural Concert will be divided into two parts," he said. "The first is devoted to Afro-Cuban deities called Orishas; the second is dedicated to the different varieties of rumba, with rhythms and dances that are done in many neighborhoods of Havana."

The concert marks the beginning of a six-day residency that will include additional performances, as well as dance and percussion workshops.

The week's programming includes cultural presentations and academic lectures by several NMSU faculty members exploring the African influence on the evolution of Cuban culture, blackness in 20th century Cuban poetry, the history of African influences in Latin America as a whole, and the relationship between music and place.

A dozen events open to the public are currently scheduled.

"The Rumberos de Cuba have created the perfect combination of a new generation of artists preserving Afro-Cuban tradition," Sanchez said. "The result is a revitalized and energetic presentation of the ancestral secrets of the various African tribal groups, like the Congos, Mandingas, and Carabalís, that came to Cuba as slaves."

According to Sanchez, Rumberos de Cuba are well known in the Afro-Cuban music world. They have made several albums and have performed in venues worldwide. They recently returned from a set of performances in France.

Changuito was best known for his percussion work with the group Los Van Van, one of the most famous Cuban dance bands, before beginning a solo career. He has participated in several Grammy-Award-winning recordings with various groups, conducted percussion workshops around the world, and taught other famous percussionists, including Karl Perazzo of Santana and Giovanni Hidalgo. He has linked up frequently with Rumberos over the years.

"We hope to encourage NMSU and the Las Cruces community to engage firsthand with one of the most original expressions of African roots in the Americas and to gain a better understanding of the cultural diversity in our hemisphere," Sanchez said.

The Rumberos activities fit nicely with several of the university's top priorities, such as broadening its international reach, expanding diversity and appreciation of cultural differences, and building a culture of pride.

"We are thrilled to be part of bringing the Rumberos de Cuba project to NMSU," said Cornell Menking, newly hired associate provost for international and border programs. "This is exactly the kind of creative internationalization activity that we hope to see more of. We anticipate it will be a wonderful combination of cultural and academic exchange and we encourage all members of the Las Cruces and NMSU community to come out for one of the many activities happening that week."

The farewell concert on Sept. 13 will incorporate participants from the dance and percussion workshops.

To purchase tickets for the opening concert, go to http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/0C0048FF9EEE66C5

For more information, including the most current schedule of public events, visit the workshop website at http://rumberos.nmsu.edu or contact Seth Wilson at the Center for Latin American and Border Programs, 575-646-6814, sewilson@nmsu.edu.