The Miami Herald
September 19, 1999
Activities celebrate Afro-Cuban culture
Miami-Dade Community College’s Wolfson Campus, Artemis Performance Network and Ife-Ile will salute the Afro-Cuban heritage with the Ife-Ile Afro-Cuban Festival, a series of cultural events from Saturday to Oct. 2.
The activities will include dance and music performances, film screenings and panel discussions, culminating in a street fair on Oct. 2. They will be staged in Miami Beach and Coral Gables, with most taking place at the Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami.
Ife-Ile will open with the first-ever performance of Guaguanco Oyelo Bien, a Cuban dance and music performance tracing the development of the rumba. It will be choreographed by Cuban-born choreographer and artistic director Neri Torres and performed by the Ife-Ile Afro-Cuban Dance and Music Ensemble.
Other festival activities will include Words and Music, an evening of poetry readings and music by performance poets Adrian Castro and Lourdes Simon; master classes in dance taught by Neri Torres; dance and drum workshops; panel discussions addressing issues that have affected the evolution of Afro-Cuban culture; and an exhibition of the works of Cuban artists Leandro Soto, Felix Mas, Jesse Rios, Ezequiel Luis Torres, Xavier Cortada, Luis Molina and Santiago “Chago” Rodriguez.
The final day of the Ife-Ile Afro-Cuban Festival will include an all-day fair on and around the Wolfson Campus of Miami-Dade Community College, 300 NE Second Ave., when Afro-Cuban traditions and musical history will come alive.
Visitors can look forward to outdoor musical performances, Afro-Cuban cuisine and the sights and sounds of drum-making demonstrations and vendors specializing in traditional Afro-Cuban crafts.
Children will be entertained with storytelling, face painting, puppet shows and other fun activities in a designated kiddies area.
The highlight of the day will be a brightly costumed conga performance. It will feature traditional characters from the original comparsa — the ragged, the marquises, the zebra and others.
“Miami-Dade Community College welcomes this opportunity to share the rich Afro-Cuban history with the community. Learning about each other’s culture leads to a better understanding of the people we live and work with — especially important in a culturally diverse society such as South Florida’s,” said Eduardo Padron, community college president.
The festival schedule is:
- Sept. 25: World premiere of Guaguanco Oyelo Bien, The Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach, at 8 p.m. Repeat performance 7 p.m. Sept. 26. Tickets available at theater box office or Ticketmaster.
- Sept. 27: Screening of film De cierta Manera by Sara Gomez, 8 p.m., Wolfson Campus Auditorium. No charge.
- Sept. 28: Panel discussion on “Yoruba as a Way of Life,” 6 p.m., Wolfson Campus, Breezeway Room. Screening of Tropicola by Steve Fagin, with English subtitles, 8 p.m., Wolfson Campus Auditorium. No charge.
- Sept. 29: Panel discussion on “Oracle and Divination,” 6 p.m., Wolfson Campus, Breezeway Room. Screening of Oggun by Gloria Rolando, 8 p.m., Wolfson Campus Auditorium. No charge.
- Sept. 30: Panel discussion on “Yoruba Cuisine,” 6 p.m., Wolfson Campus, Breezeway Room. Screening of Si me comprendieras by Rolando Diaz, with English subtitles, 8 p.m., at the Wolfson Campus Auditorium. No charge.
- Oct. 1: “Words and Music” with performance poets Adrian Castro and Lourdes Simon and music by the Ife-Ile Afro-Cuban dance and Music Ensemble and the Bafoons; Ponce de Leon Circle Park, four blocks south of Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. Outdoor event is open to the public.
- Oct. 2: Street fair, Wolfson Campus.
- For more information on the Ife-Ile Afro-Cuban Festival, call Miami-Dade Community College at 305-237-3659.
The following article on the Ife-Ile Festival appeared in the Miami Herald’s Living Section:
Published Tuesday, September 21, 1999, in the Miami Herald
A feast for the spirits
AfroCuban culture takes center stage at the first festival to celebrate the traditions and lifestyles of blacks from the island
By FABIOLA SANTIAGO
Herald Staff Writer
When dancer-choreographer Neri Torres launched her Afro-Cuban dance troupe five years ago, she searched the tongue of her ancestors, the Yorubas of Africa, for a meaningful name.
She found it in ife ile, a phrase that means house of love, expanding lands.
”Ife is a kingdom in Nigeria where, the Yorubas believe, God created man,” Torres said. ”It’s the Olympus of the Yorubas.”
Torres is now taking the phrase and her love for her native culture another step in her adopted Miami as the energetic mastermind of a week-long festival, which starts Saturday and runs through Oct. 2, to celebrate the traditions and lifestyles of black Cubans.
The first AfroCuban Festival Ife-Ile promises to be anything but conventional.
Although the event features the traditional menu of music, dance, art, food, film and panel discussions, most of the content spotlights matters of the occult shrouded in mystery, and until now, seldom exhibited in such a public event.
A series of panel discussions, for example, features scholars of the AfroCuban santeria religion and people who have been initiated as spiritists and babalaos, santeria priests. Exhibitors at a street fair will include botanicas, the shops where people buy potions, herbs and other materials for santeria rituals. Art installations include altars to the goddesses Ochun and Chango, offerings and all.
Even ”tabaco para que la gente se despoje” — cigars to be used in cleansing ceremonies — will be available, Torres said.
Waving for thunder, lightning
And prepare to join a procession to celebrate Chango and to dance a spirited conga along the streets of downtown Miami waving a red handkerchief in salute to the goddess of thunder and lightning. (You can buy the hankie at the fair or bring your own).
”I want to bring the joy and spontaneity of this culture to everyone,” Torres said. ”The black class has always been mistreated and poor and seen as second-class. But despite all that, it has contributed a lot to universal culture, and this is the moment to come out and say that.”
The event comes at a time when AfroCuban culture is in vogue.
A staple of the new Cuban literature making its way around the world, AfroCuban culture, and especially the practice of santeria, has been recently the subject of art and photography shows in South Florida and nationwide. The religion also has found a worldwide audience on the Internet, where many santeros have set up several Web sites to promote the santeria and sell its wares.
”It has become popular because it is a very spiritual culture,” Torres said.
Most significantly, Torres’ idea to stage a large-scale festival that would open up the culture to others in South Florida has found support from mainstream institutions.
Among those who contributed some $25,000 in funds are the Florida Humanities Council, the Miami Beach Cultural Arts Council, the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council and the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.
Held at college downtown
The project is a collaborative effort of Miami-Dade Community College, where most activities are being held in its downtown Wolfson campus, the Artemis Performance Network, a service organization specializing in grant-writing, fund-raising and project management, and Torres’ dance troupe, Ife-Ile AfroCuban Dance and Music Ensemble.
”Neri approached the college to see if we were interested, and we jumped on the idea,” said MDCC professor Mercy Quiroga, interim director of cultural affairs. ”We thought it was something that had not been done, a unique event. Given the interest manifested in this one, we will probably work on making this an annual event.”
The response from the arts community also has been generous, organizers said. Most of the professionals involved in the festival — storytellers, musicians, dancers, scholars, artists — are donating their services.
”The AfroCuban culture is very under-represented in Miami,” said Susan Caraballo, executive director of Artemis. ”Elements of racism come into play but within the last few years, there has been a keen interest in developing the African traditions. The focus [of the festival] is to keep the authenticity of it.”
A panel on Yoruba cooking, for instance, will explore the relationship of food to worship.
”In the Yoruba culture, food has a dual role — as sustenance and as offerings to the gods,” said Natividad Torres, Neri’s sister and a Yoruba specialist, writer and poet. ”People cook both to eat and to make an offering.”
Among the tidbits to be learned: Chango’s favorite dish is quimbombo con harina, okra with cornmeal. Ochun, the goddess of love, prefers arroz con pollo, chicken with yellow rice.
‘Arroz con pollo’ feast
On the last day of the festival, a giant pot of arroz con pollo will be cooked and served to the street fairgoers.
Another highlight will be the premiere of the dance Guaguanco Oyelo Bien (Guaguanco, Hear It Well), directed and choreographed by Torres, a former dancer with the National Cuban Ballet, and performed by her multicultural dance troupe.
Torres, who came to Miami in 1991 after a spectacular defection in Italy that included press reports of attempts to kidnap her and take her back to Cuba, is dedicating the performance to her late mother, ”who taught me my first rumba steps.”
In the opening scene of Oyelo Bien, ”a futuristic” Yemaya, goddess of the sea, appears on stage as if in a silver dream.
”I wanted to present her in a modern form that would be accessible to people here, different from the way she has been seen up to now,” Torres said.
The choreography spotlights Cuban cultural idiosyncrasies.
A dancer, for example, will appear on stage carrying on his head a glass of water, the traditional offering to deities, which is often kept in Cuban homes as a way to ward off evil spirits.
And every rhythmic movement, every drumbeat weaves a story.
”This work presents the history of rumba from the time of slavery to the present,” Torres said. ”I want to take out of anonymity the people who have shaped this dance. The rumba was a way for black Cubans to deal with adversity. The rumbas told the stories of what was happening in the barrios, the solares — everything from love stories, to neighborhood chronicles, to odes to saints. The way of coping was to drink rum and dance.”
Here’s a schedule of events for the AfroCuban Festival Ife-Ile. Unless otherwise noted, all events are free, open to the public and at the Miami-Dade Community College (MDCC) Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave. in downtown Miami:
Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. — Premiere of the dance Guaguanco Oyelo Bien, choreographed and directed by Neri Torres with the Ife-Ile AfroCuban Dance and Music Ensemble. The Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd. in Miami Beach. Tickets available at the box office, 305-674-1026, and through Ticketmaster, 305-358-5885 in Miami-Dade and 954-523-3309 in Broward. Admission is $20, $16 for MDCC students and seniors over 65, $10 for groups larger than 10.
Monday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m. — Showing of the 1974 film De cierta manera (A Certain Way), directed by the late black filmmaker Sara Gomez. Through the love story between a teacher and an uneducated laborer, the film deals with the new social order imposed by the Cuban Revolution. MDCC Auditorium.
Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 6 p.m. — Panel discussion: Yoruba como forma de vida (Yoruba as a way of life). MDCC’s Breezeway Room. In Spanish.
At 8 p.m., the docudrama Tropicola, directed by Steve Fagin, will be shown. In Spanish with English subtitles. A look at the lives of various characters in today’s Cuba, including santeros. MDCC Auditorium.
Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m. — Panel discussion: Oraculo y Adivinacion (Oracle and Divination). Breezeway Room. In Spanish.
At 8 p.m., the docudrama Oggun (the name of the god of war), about the AfroCuban religion, directed by Gloria Rolando, will be shown. MDCC Auditorium.
Thursday, Sept. 30, at 6 p.m. — Panel discussion: Cocina Yoruba (Yoruba Cooking). Breezeway Room. In Spanish.
At 8 p.m., the film Si me comprendieras (If You Understood Me), about the lives of a group of black Cuban women, directed by Rolando Diaz, will be shown. In Spanish with English subtitles. MDCC auditorium.
Friday, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m. — An evening of music and poetry under the stars at the Ponce de Leon Circle in Coral Gables with poets Adrian Castro and Lourdes Simon and music by Ife-Ile AfroCuban Dance and Music Ensemble and The Bafoons, in collaboration with Words and Music.
Saturday, Oct. 2, noon to 6 p.m. — The festival ends with an outdoor fair on the grounds of MDCC featuring AfroCuban music, dance, foods and display booths with activities for adults and children.
For more information, call 305-237-3659.