Rumba, which was born long ago in slave barracks, cane field settlements and urban tenements, is heard today in the world's most prestigious venues, such as New York City's Carnegie Hall.
Rumba does not go out of style and the Cuban genre is now experiencing its greatest popularity, an explosion no less surprising than the group Yoruba Andabo.
Many of the group's tracks have made the hit parade charts of Cuban radio, not to mention Cuban stages, especially La gozadera, with the powerful earthy voice of lead singer, or akpwón, Ronald González, backed up in the choruses by Jorge Luis Hernández.
Yoruba Andabo holds a peña (a short, informal concert) every Sunday at the Galiano Casa de la Música, whiich is always filled to capacity, well before it begins at 5:00 pm. Group leader Geovani del Pino has attracted rumba as well as salsa lovers, and is now preparing a Saturday afternoon peña at the Las Vegas cabaret.
"It's like a fever," an international visitor tells me, "The fury for rumba in Cuba is amazing." A great number of tourists are intent upon seeing a performance of the genre, considering it a kind of musical reflection of the country.
Traditional or folkloric music has often been viewed as "museum" music, reserved for specific events, but visitors want to know Cuba's most authentic, original music.
Yoruba Andabo's producer tells me that the Cuban label Bis Music will release the groups new disc, Cántalo y báilalo como yo, while Del Pino recalls that the group made a huge splash at New York City's music mecca, Carnegie Hall, November 30, 2012.
Tickets were selling for $300, three months before the concert, which was the first by a Cuban rumba group at such a prestigious venue, and the spectacle was expected to be of the highest level.
“We performed Yoruba music and rumba. We prepared the “Orishas de la rumba” segment, in which we performed batá with Iyesá. We included Guaguancó, Columbia, Yambú and Conga. As a special we offered a rumba version of El necio by the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez who had sung this song at the Manhattan theater.”
Yoruba Andabo arrived at Carnegie Hall as part of the Festival of Latin American Voices, along with Cuban musicians Chucho Valdés, Aldo López Gavilán and Dayami González.
The group recently performed in London's Barbican Center, during the Nations Dance Festival, in which the renowned Cuban bands Orquestra Aragón and Los Van Van also participated.
Yoruba is the name of an extensive area in West Africa, and Andabo, in the Carabalí language means friend, follower or admirer, reflecting the rumberos aspiration to be something like the followers of Yoruba culture.
The group was born on the docks of Havana Bay in 1961, when a group of workers got together to create the Maritime Port Guaguancó. In 1985, they took the name Yoruba Andabo and began their professional work performing during the Peña del Ambia (Eloy Machado) at the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC).
Ten years later, during the height of the Cuban salsa boom, they became the
Yoruba Andabo Folkloric Company, composed of 17 singers, percussionists and dancers. They cultivated different genres of rumba, both secular and religious, with a rich, broad repertory including a Congo cycle, a broader Yoruba and Abakuá one, as well as rumba based on the most traditional rhythms such as Bambú, Guaguancó and Columbia.
Its music is enriched with carefully studied and executed choreographies, which incorporate Cuba’s longstanding Carnival conga tradition.
Yoruba Andabo has performed across the country and around the world, at renowned venues such as Colombia’s Teatro Colón; Harbourfront Centre in Toronto; and Aaron David Hall in New York; and has shared the stage with Tata Güines, Pablo Milanés, the Buena Vista Social Club, Chucho Valdés, Joe Arroyo, Lázaro Ross, Gonzalito Rubalcaba, Grupo Olodum, Niche, Diablos Danzantes de Oaxaca, Maracas, Celeste Mendoza and Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra.
Yoruba Andabo was featured as a special guest on the discs La rumba soy yo (2001 Latin Grammy) and Tremenda rumba, by Maracas y Nueva Visión, nominated for a Grammy in 2003.
In 2006, the group received two nominations from the Academy of Traditional Music, in the Best Album and Best Audiovisual categories, for its CD-DVD Rumba en La Habana… con Yoruba Andabo, which was also nominated for Cubadisco 2006 awards.
This year, the group is making plans to celebrate its 30th anniversary, September 24, looking to a bright future for rumba which was declared a component of Cuba’s Intangible National Heritage in 2012, and continues to influence a variety of other genres including salsa and timba.