7:58 pm - Wednesday August 16, 2017

Hijos de Agüeybaná Release Agua del Sol

The group Hijos de Agueybana consists of eight artists, all committed to preserving their Afro-Caribbean roots. The group has over ten years experience both of performing and offering workshops and courses on the historical and cultural significance of the genre of bomba.

In this, their first musical production, director Otoqui Reyes, in collaboration with other great artists Cristi Mangual, Andy Montañez and Tony mapeyé create a flavour unique to Puerto Rico. 

Agua del Sol will be released in the U.S. on September 25th. 

A Free Heart:
Puerto Rico’s Hijos de Agüeybaná Let the Rootsy, Afro-Latin Spirit of Bomba Flow on Agua del Sol

A beat of the drum summons a dancer’s move, sparks a singer’s imagination. This is the heart of bomba, Puerto Rico’s vibrant Afro-Latin tradition. Based on the scintillating dialogue of booming barrel drum and dignified dance, on spontaneous but deep statements that go beyond language, bomba, created by African slaves centuries ago, lives on in community gatherings, on terraces and in backyards, and on stages.

 

Thanks in part to Hijos de Agüeybaná, deeply committed, creative practitioners of bomba’s broad rhythmic and expressive possibilities. The group presents the music’s rolling, graceful rhythms (“Bandido”), thoughtful lyrics (“Te Invito”), and contemporary potential (“Saludo al Sol”) on Agua del Sol (Tumi Music; U.S. release: September 25, 2012).

 

“Bomba is what you live, what you see, your actual life,” explains drummer, singer, dancer, and lyricist Otoqui Reyes. “It’s about what you feel at the moment.”

 

“Something happens, and you improvise,” adds drummer Ángel Luis Reyes, Otoqui’s father and first bomba mentor. “You find inspiration right then and there. You make it happen.”

 

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Bomba was born when a diverse group of Africans found themselves forced to work the sugar plantations of Puerto Rico. From different places, speaking different languages, they found a common means of expression and release in drumming, dancing, and singing together. This new musical lingua franca became bomba. It remained popular after Emancipation, when traveling groups would carry the big barrel drum, smaller secondary drum, and trunks with percussion and costumes from place to place, holding all-night, rum-fueled sessions on beaches or in yards.

 

Its origins in Africa and in the great movement of Africans throughout the Caribbean tie bombato other Afro-Latin traditions from Haiti to Cuba, sharing beats, instrumentation, and even terminology. But in Puerto Rico, bomba developed a wonderful local texture and character, and continues to be a moving and meaningful response to life on the island.

 

Two of Hijos de Agüeybaná’s members discovered its power and relevance, and have dug into its past. Drummer, multi-instrumentalist, and researcher Ángel Luis was raised in New York City in a musical family who played in a band together. Yet he first heard bomba at a photo shoot as a young man. He was immediately blown away.

 

“I thought it was African music. I was stunned to hear it was from my island, from my home,” he recalls. He soon found himself returning to Puerto Rico, winning over sometimes reticentbomba elders, interviewing dozens upon dozens of veteran musicians and dancers to learn more about how, when, and why the music was performed.

 

His son, Otoqui, grew up dancing bomba from the very start; his mother danced while pregnant with him. Gently introduced to the tradition and mentored by his father, Otoqui turned away frombomba as a teen and got into break dance. “I realized hip hop wasn’t my music, that break dancing wasn’t my culture,” Otoqui recalls. “I thought about it, and decided I wanted to change people’s minds. I wanted to teach my friends that they needed to learn our music.”

 

Though incorporating other Latin and international contemporary elements into their music and bringing a wide sonic palette to its pulse and feel, the Reyes and the other performers in Hijos de Agüeybaná have an uncanny ability to transmit the rootsy beauty, and the gracious culture ofbomba. At the core is the evolving interaction between drum and movement, a dialogue that the group captured on the album.

 

“To find that feeling, sometimes you bring the dancers to the studio. Sometimes you imagine the dancer in your mind,” Otoqui says. “Sometimes you just bring your feeling into the drum. The drum itself speaks; it talks to people.”

 

The inspiring gesture and potential of dance pervades the songs. Otoqui wrote “Te Invito” as a lovely, heartfelt explanation of bomba’s creative pleasures to his hesitant sweetheart, a visual artist. He urges her to feel the dance floor is a canvas and her feet are brushes (she was eventually won over and now dances bomba). “Ohami” was sparked by a friend’s evocative dancing, movements that sent Otoqui from behind his drum dashing for his notebook to jot the images down. “Agua del Sol” celebrates the role of homebrewed rum in bomba celebrations, how it warms the heart and moves shy participants from the sidelines to the dance floor.

 

But bomba is about more than good times; it’s about dignity. “Ask any elder and they will tell you:Bomba is respect. You have to have respect throughout, for the drums, for your partners,” Ángel Luis notes. Yet this respect doesn’t stymie creativity; it helps channel it, finding new ways to make old beats dance and sing.

 

“Bomba is your heart expressing itself freely,” Ángel Luis smiles. “It’s the letting go. Letting it flow freely and reach out to the world.”


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