The Cuban band leader Miguel Cruz promised me a group of rumba dancers for a show long ago in Los Angeles. Coming on a bus. From Las Vegas. A Rumba Bus. For that alone I booked his band. But alas, the bus never materialized. Miguel gave a great show, but still, I could only imagine what it might have been if that bus full of rumba dancers had made its way to L.A. from Sin City.
Was it only a myth? Was there that bus, wandering the highways and byways of America, ready to burst forth with its performers at the right time with the rich music and dance of Cuba? The Rumba — party time!
I need to step off the bus I never actually stepped on because the real thing will be at Meany Hall Sunday night (April 3) at 8 pm. Direct from Matanzas, a city on the northern coast of Cuba that is an historic hotbed of rumba music and dance, will appear Los Munequitos de Matanzas, a celebrated folkloric group of musicians and dancers who have been operating since 1952 performing the rich performance styles of Cuba that merge African and Spanish influences.
Matanzas was rich in African-influenced culture from its large number of slaves, and rumba is said to be derived from Congolese rhythms. Not only does the group perform different styles of rumba, some older, some newer, but also other forms of Cuban music, heavy on percussion. It would be difficult to overestimate the influence that Cuban folk and popular music has had on that of our own country.
As the United States creeps ever so slowly but surely towards more normal relations with Cuba, it is a good time to experience some of their spectacular performing arts from a group that has authentic roots in the culture and has not appeared in the United States in a decade.
The ensemble has been touted for its intergenerational structure and its closeness to the traditional sources, and one wonders what has changed over the years as rumba has become more and more a popular form integrating many new pieces of cultural information including hip-hop and other contemporary sounds. I’m looking forward to what the masters of Los Munequitos might have to say in their play about that.
If you go: Los Munequitos de Matanzas, 8 p.m. Sunday (April 3), UW’s Meany Hall, near the intersection of 15th Ave. N.E. and N.E. 40th St. (directions here). Tickets cost $30 and are available at the box office, 3901 University Way N.E., Seattle; by phone, 206-543-4880; or online.