Local cultural center hosts Cumbia workshops

Along Shattuck Avenue, near the Berkeley-Oakland border, one can see a colorful mural honoring the resilience of folk singers, activists and allies who endured the 1973 Chilean military coup.

The mural – titled “Song of Unity” – was painted three years after the La Peña Cultural Center was established in 1975. The center has since served as a base for community meetings, artistic expressions, activism and multicultural solidarity in the anti-Pinochet dictatorship. movement.

Nearly half a decade later, La Peña Cultural Center continues to serve as a multicultural center for diasporic communities to uplift artists and promote social justice.

The “La Peña family”: return from the closure of the COVID-19 pandemic

When COVID-19 hit the Bay Area in March 2020, the La Peña Cultural Center temporarily closed, but still worked to advocate and obtain government and institutional funding for the center and local artists, according to the executive director of La Peña, Natalia Neira-Retamal.

“Without La Peña, people would perform on the street or in a pub,” Breeanna Doan, an Oakland resident and longtime La Peña member, said at the event.. “I’m really happy that they were able to survive the pandemic and really support artists through artist grants.”

The center reopened in December 2021 after months of fundraising strategies, according to Consuelo Tupper Hernandéz, head of programming and marketing at La Peña. She added that over the past eight months, La Peña has worked to rebuild relationships and regain community confidence in her organization.

In partnership with Rebolu, a New York-based Afro-Colombian musical ensemble, the La Peña Cultural Center hosted a series of Afro-Colombian music workshops on Wednesday evening.

“(La Peña) is one of those places that supports cultures…we want to be part of places like this,” said Johanna Castañeda, lead singer and manager of Rebolu. “Because of these places, the music continues.”

In the workshop, four members of Rebolu – who play traditional Afro-Colombian instruments including the tambora, tambor alegre, gaita and flauta de millo – demonstrated how their instruments are made and played. They also taught and performed the cumbia rhythm, one of the most important rhythms that originated on the northern coast of Colombia in the 17th century.

About 40 participants attended the workshops where they learned to play Cumbia rhythms on traditional percussion, including local Colombian musicians who joined in for impromptu concerts throughout the workshop.

While the name Rebolu has different meanings, for Castañeda’s band the word translates to “a fun time coming together to dance and sing”. She and the band’s singer and songwriter, Ronald Polo, noted that bringing people’s energy into every performance is one of their core values.

Jose Rivera, Oakland resident and member of a local Colombian band, Los Bahianatos, said at the event that he had been coming to La Peña music events for 30 years. He added that he had played center in the past.

“It’s nice to attend this event because it’s very close to the music that I’m learning to play,” Rivera said at the event. “I also made connections…connecting to what I play.”

“A pivotal moment today”: La Peña as a community space for dialogue around current events

Word Penota refers to Chilean community gatherings centered on music, food, drink and culture, as well as dialogue on current issues, according to La Peña’s website.

In addition to special workshops, the La Peña Cultural Center hosts regular classes with the help of local cultural carriers, an open mic series that empowers women of color, and a monthly dance party called “BAILA!” to celebrate Latin American dances and educate people about indigenous communities in Mexico through a community partner, according to Neira-Retamal and Tupper.

Neira-Retamal said La Peña has strived to be inclusive and advance Latin American culture by building authentic relationships with its community, artists, activists and allies.

Born and raised in Chile, Tupper came to the Bay Area to pursue postgraduate studies in 2019. She said she was isolated at first, but was grateful to find a community in La Peña, where she participated in fundraising activities, community councils and other types of cultural gatherings in support of Chilean communities who were demonstrating in the streets during a social movement at the time.

La Peña also hosts an annual 9/11 memorial service for the Chilean community in exile and their allies to remember the day of the 1973 Chilean military coup through music and poetry.

“We’re in a pivotal moment today,” Tupper said. “We need to (keep doing this event) for the younger generations and think about how we keep this relevant with what’s happening in the world today.”

Chileans will vote on September 4 to determine whether they will adopt a new constitution that would replace the 1980 document drawn up by the Pinochet dictatorship, according to Neira-Retamal. She added that she hopes it will be passed in order to establish a more democratic constitution.

If the vote swings in favor of the replacement, La Peña will hold a celebratory rally at the upcoming 9/11 memorial, which will commemorate 49 years since the 1973 military coup and, for many, a new sense of healing.

“I feel more connected to learn more about Cumbia in Chile,” said workshop participant Xavier Andrade, a Chilean American whose parents fled to the UK in 1976 after the military coup. “It’s nice to have something related to my roots.”

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected]and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.

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