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Community Artist Residency of Amarilys Ríos

University of Washington, Winter 2019

During Winter quarter of 2019 the UW Ethnomusicology program hosted drummer, dancer and singer Amarilys Ríos to teach Afro-Puerto Rican bomba. A graduate of Puerto Rico’s Conservatorio de Música, Ríos’ immersion in bomba began prior to her formal music studies. As the lead drummer for Nandí, Puerto Rico’s first all-women bomba group founded in 2007, Ríos pushed the gender boundaries of bomba, in which women were traditionally limited to dancing and singing. She has collaborated on recordings and performances with internationally celebrated Latin percussionists, including Paoli Mejías and Hector “Coco” Barez, serves as the musical director for reggaetón star Tego Calderón, and directs her own band, Emina.

During her residency at UW, Ríos taught Musap 389/589, including bi-weekly ensemble meetings as well as private instruction in drumming. She taught a workshop every Sunday at the Union Cultural Center in the International District, where UW students had the opportunity to learn alongside community participants. The UCC workshops were dynamic and well-attended, culminating in a participatory “bombazo” at the end of her residency that drew a diverse and enthusiastic crowd. She also gave presentations on bomba in numerous other classes in Music and Dance, led a workshop at the Northwest chapter meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, participated in a Women in Percussion event, and in the Women Who Rock unconference.

Through Ríos’ Community Artist Residency, the Ethnomusicology program collaborated with the Percussion program, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Dance, Gender Women and Sexuality Studies, and with our community partner, Union Cultural Center.

Teaching

UW Classes

Musap 389/589, “World Music,” is a hands-on music skills class offered by the visiting artists in ethnomusicology. Ríos taught 17 students, including both graduate students and undergrads, mostly (but not all) majors in ethnomusicology, percussion and music education. During the Tuesday and Thursday ensemble class she focused largely on dancing instruction, while dedicating more time to percussion in weekly individual and small-group classes with each student. Across the course of the quarter students learned five different bomba rhythms: sicá, cuembé, yubá, holandé and seis corrido. For each rhythm they learned to dance the basic step and play the supporting rhythms on the buleador drums, maraca and cuá (a pair of sticks struck on a barrel). They also learned a variety of dance moves called piquetes that they could combine creatively when it was their turn to enter the circle and dance alone in an improvised duet with the primo drum. Some of the more ambitious students also tried their hand at playing primo.

UW classes culminated in a March 14th performance in Brechemin Auditorium, in which the students took turns playing the percussion, singing coro and dancing solo. They were joined by six special guest artists from around the country: Ivelisse Díaz from Chicago, Otoquí Reyes from Puerto Rico (currently living in Seattle), Hector Luis Rivera from Santa Ana, CA, Jade Power Sotomayor and José Fusté from San Diego, and Denise Solis from Oakland.

Community Events

Ríos’ community engagement work was grounded in a weekly workshop, Sundays at noon at the Union Cultural Center, a capoeira studio and community space run by Silvio dos Reis and Leika Suzumura in the International District. The workshops drew a diverse group including people of Puerto Rican descent and other Latinos, with varying levels of experience in dancing and drumming. The Sunday workshops culminated in an open “bombazo” on Friday March 15 , in which all of Rios’ students participated alongside guest artists and community members.

In addition to her regular Sunday workshops, Ríos participated in several other community events. She played congas every first Saturday at Pam’s Kitchen with Prof. Shannon Dudley’s steel pan quartet, Dingolay. She was one of the featured artists in an event called “Women in Percussion: Bridging Campus and Community” at Meany Hall rm.268 on February 23 . And she was a featured artist in the annual Women Who Rock unconference at Centro de la Raza on March 16 .

Gallery

Student Experiences

Following are some excerpts from reports that Musap 389/589 students wrote about the community component of their learning experience:

“While the group weekly classes and private lessons allowed me to build up my drumming and dancing skills I quickly learned at [the community workshops and bombazo] that these are not the only things that make up bomba; a lot of it comes from the community and the people and the energy that comes alive during these events.” – Madeline Meek (Ethnomusicology major)

“At first, I was taking this class only for my music ensemble credit. Later on, I thought it is interesting and fun to learn some new instruments. Finally, I realized the importance of Bomba is about being together as a community, to enjoy music together, to dance and to learn together. It is really a wonderful experience for me to have such a happy and caring family.” – Ruiqi Xu (Voice/Music Education major)

“Though our UW class supported each other in learning, the spirit of support within a group of strangers at the community events was totally different from our classroom experience and felt closer to an authentic community experience than our time spent in the music building.... It was really heartwarming to see so many people from UW and the Seattle music community all in the same place.” – Mason Lynass (Percussion grad student)

“I found the atmosphere to be very welcoming and felt comfortable performing even as someone who is normally shy and self-conscious about dancing in front of others.... It was very inspiring to see so many people from different backgrounds celebrate together, cheer each other on as they danced, and enjoy themselves” – Sahara Naini (Ethnomusicology major)

“The experiences complemented the classes especially in terms of the movement: watching more experienced Bomba dancers in the batey expanded my movement vocabulary.” – Juliana Cantarelli Vita (Music Education grad student)

“I just can’t believe how much I’ve truly fallen in love with the genre and the music and the community in such a short amount of time. I remember thinking [at the bombazo] when one of the kids came out and hugged one of the women dancing, ‘Wow, in so many other contexts and genres, people would be up in arms like “Get that kid off-stage, he’s in the way of the dancer!”,’ but instead we were cheering and laughing. It’s all part of it.” – Andrew Ryan (Ethnomusicology major)

“Since I come from a background primarily in classical music and composition, this emphasis on participation, communication, dialogue and individual performer improvisation and expression is new and inspiring to me, especially seeing the vibrant Seattle Bomba community present at the workshops and the Bombazo, and makes me want to explore participation and dialogue between dancers and musicians more in my own work.” – Aidan Gold (Percussion major)

“The Bombazo was a really special experience and I am so glad I decided to bring my son with me. It was such a full family atmosphere with people of all ages dancing, eating, playing, laughing and generally just enjoying each other’s company.... In an age where we are all lost in electronic devices and rarely participate in community events, the Bombazo was such a welcome departure from the increasingly solitary existence we all live. I don’t think I saw anything but smiles and laughter throughout either [the workshop or the bombazo].” – Jay Gillespie (Music Education major)

“It felt more liberating to dance in the circle during the bombazo than at any other time. I felt stress free and all of the thoughts in my mind melted away as I stepped in. I felt the music and the energy of everyone else flow through me and my body was basically moving on its own.” -- Darra Bunkasem (Ethnomusicology major)

“The community Bombazo on Friday night was definitely one of those experiences that stay with you for a very long time. It felt like the perfect culmination of the ten weeks that we have spent learning and practicing bomba.” – Ethan Nowack (Ethnomusicology major)

“I know the skill I gained from this course was more than just rhythm. It was also the ability to use music to connect with people.” – Andi Bergeson (Physics major)

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