Our history, stories and ancestral knowledge have been protected and preserved through a variety of artistic and creative methods of expression. These methods of preserving all that is divine, enchanting and spellbindingly wonderful are increasingly relied on in times of trouble. Throughout human history, there have been countless tragedies, wars, famines and plagues, along with those gloomy joy-stealing days.
As a collective — as one big human family — most of us have found ways to keep ourselves entertained amidst a pandemic that has made a comfortable home for fear, hostility and gloominess to thrive in. I can’t begin to tell you how many hours I have invested in watching shows, virtually travelling the world, watching movies and memorizing my favorite lines and songs in Disney movies in an attempt to elude reality.
While I ran away unsuccessfully from this seemingly empty-feeling world, I realized that when the world had lost itself in darkness and was in desperate need of being enchanted once again, it found the magic it was missing in artists and, specifically, their art.
It is still believed by the old winds that govern this world that being an artist is not a real job. The artist cannot make a living and will end up broke and unfulfilled. What the hell is a real job? Who actually has access to attaining that real job? And if a real job entails wasting my life for 20-plus years helping someone else create massive amounts of wealth while people starve all over the world, count me out.
Working until you’re wrinkly, gray and sad is so last century, and, as a matter of fact, it was never in fashion, so feel free to watch me waltz outside the bounds of traditional methods of stability in my candy-apple-red hat and coat. We live in a world where if we are not profitable, we are not valuable.
Even I, a collector and redistributor of valuable things, have learned that the people who make these valuable things are so much more precious than can possibly be imagined. A boring job that doesn’t inspire love, kindness or anything with substance is just that: a boring job and a waste of precious time.
Back to the artist: an essential soul worker. The artist is the most powerful and influential person in the room. They carry on our stories, history, memories and visions of the future. They remind us that life is so much more than what we have made it out to be. I have always found it interesting that the art world seemed to only appreciate artists in their death. As if the sudden interest in the artwork and fancy exhibitions would somehow correct the ways in which they were underappreciated, neglected and unnecessarily ridiculed in their lifetime.
I will say, not every artist is underappreciated, neglected or ridiculed in their lifetime; some of them are appreciated, loved and celebrated. I am specifically talking about the communities of artists that inspire so many and, yet, are robbed of so many things they rightfully deserve, recognition just being one of many things.
As I watch the world from dark corners, dressed in red, I want to take the opportunity to appreciate several artists, genres, styles and all things artsy and fun, while we have the privilege to enjoy them in life. Let us to take a trip to Puerto Rico, home of reggaeton, salsa, mofongo and a picturesque tropical scenery.
Puerto Rico’s political history isn’t unique, but the Puerto Rican culture is one of a kind. I like to think of it as a complicated marriage between African, Taino and Spanish cultural elements. Puerto Rico was actually called “Boriken” or “Borinquen” by the Taino people who referred to themselves as Boricuas.
The island of Boriken and its people are one of the oldest colonies and perpetual colonial subjects in the world. Like any nation that has endured colonial trauma, it has had to find creative methods to preserve themselves, their culture and their nationhood, while confronting the ongoing effects of colonialism.
The island of Boriken and the Boricuas are more than their political situation and so much more than just a tropical vacation destination for your next trip when the world opens its doors once again.
The music, dance and cuisine found on the island and embodied passionately by its people are just as enthralling and worthy of admiration. Many are familiar with Puerto Rican artists like Daddy Yankee, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. Yes, I love salseros, reggaetoneros and pop artists from Boriken just as much as the next person, but these are not the only forms of musical expression that exist. Bomba y Plena is unique to the island of Boriken and is a language of resistance.
This music was, and is, a source of political and spiritual expression, often used as a means to record the stories of Africans that were trafficked by European colonizers and labeled as slaves during the European colonial period. If you travel to towns like Loiza, Bomberos and Pleneros/as can be seen and heard throughout the city. According to the 2010 Census, a little over 30,000 people live in the municipality of Loiza, and just under 20,000 people identify as racially Black/Afro-Puerto Rican, which is 64.3 percent of the entire population.
The styles and rhythms of Bomba and Plena are not just inherited and taught to Boricuas, but it is a sacred rhythmic language that is to be experienced with the soul. When I listen to the music of my people and the stories of my ancestors in these songs, the cracks in my heart are healed and my soul is lifted.
Don’t rob yourself of the opportunity to experience one of the many beautiful faces of the world found in the Boricua nation. Check out these Bomba and Plena collectives via Instagram: @bombapalpueblo, @bombaconbuya, @elbatey_ , @ivelisse_diaz_ and @segundaquimbara. There are so many more organizations and collectives. Google or YouTube search “Bomba and Plena” to discover something truly divine. As a collector of the finer things, one must always have an exquisite collection of music. Until next time,
Carmen Rosa San Diego