I was riveted last week by a performance of Bamboula, by the Bronx's Bombazo Dance Co., which fused two traditions sharing a common root: Afro Puerto Rican bomba and bamboula from New Orleans. A corps of drummers electrified the air, kicking the production off with a syncopated overture that incorporated bomba "barril" drums, African skins and conga. The energy kept escalating until the dancers appeared, embodying the spiritual connection between the drum and the human heart and soul -- what remains of our ancestors within us.
Choreographer and dancer Milteri Tucker's newest evening-length work was inspired by her family roots in the Caribbean and New Orleans and traces Afro Puerto Rican bomba drum, chant and dance back to its Congolese origins, where bamboula also begins. The performance was part of the Pepatian/Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance's (BAAD!) Open Call, supported by the Jerome Foundation in conjunction with the Bronx Council on the Arts.
This world premiere of hybridized drum and dance was performed in collaboration with Baba L. Grey, of New Orleans' Bamboula 2000, and was inspired by Tucker's travels to New Orleans, home of her late father, with her company, which performed in legendary Congo Square in It was there that locals informed her that the Puerto Rican bomba performance they brought from the Boogie Down Bronx resonated with a local tradition in The Big Easy.
Charlie Vázquez: What gave you the idea to connect Puerto Rico and New Orleans via Congolese drum and dance form?
Milteri Tucker: My family roots! Bamboula from New Orleans and bomba from Puerto Rico have their roots in the Congo. Bomba dance stemmed from the African slaves that were brought to Puerto Rico. It has been molded to its current form of execution through the influences of "criollos" and from neighboring Caribbean Islands. Bamboula dance (from the Kikongo language, which means "to remember and honor our ancestors") still preserves much of its Congolese movement, as compared to Puerto Rico's modernized style. Having the same root musically, Bamboula can be described as a faster sicá in Puerto Rico's bomba rhythm, with a distinct sound and flavor. While these cultures are different, a connection exists between both.
"Bailes de bomba" for example, were originally group dances celebrated by a community in Puerto Rico, unlike today where the presentational stage form of one dancer advancing to the drummers at a time seems to be the norm. It is known that in these "bailes de bomba", the lead drummer would pick up on the accents of various dancers dancing in unison. Just as in New Orleans, bamboula was danced in much the same way, with the exception of the "calinda", another dance and rhythm found in both cultures. There exist threads of connectivity between the two styles and reunifying them to showcase their shared African root was very successful.
CV: What unique challenges did this unprecedented and experimental work pose for you?
MT: From a production point-of-view, the biggest challenge was orchestrating everyone's schedule. Involving eighteen people in the production was no easy feat to coordinate. We had three separate rehearsals: my finding the basic movements, demonstrating and setting choreography to my dancers and incorporating the drummers and musicians. A second challenge was going back to the beauty of simple steps, stripping away all the European technique and relaxing with the natural and simple, yet intricate, dance steps.
CV: What are Bombazo Dance Co.'s future plans for staging Bamboula?
MT: This is in the works. We will definitely present it again! Let's Make That Drum Talk!®
Milteri Tucker Concepción is a Bronx choreographer born and raised in Puerto Rico. She holds degrees in Dance, Biology and Chemistry and a Masters in Dance from NYU. She's the founder and artistic director of Bombazo Dance Co. and has worked for distinguished dance companies and choreographers in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and the United States, having performed in all of those places and beyond.
Learn more: bombazodanceco.com