Dakota Datebook

Chuchumbe

Friday, November 21, 2003

Tonight, there will be a group performing in Jamestown that’s been described as “very scandalous due to its suggestive steps and verses.” The time of this description was 1776, and the dance was called El Chuchumbe, which arrived in Mexico via a boatload of Cubans. The Cuban immigrants were of ‘color quebrado’ – mixed bloods or mulattoes – and their dance styles were quickly condemned by the Mexican Holy Inquisition as being too sensuous.

And what does this have to do with Jamestown? Jamestown is the only city in the state that was chosen to participate in a program called Midwest World Fest, which features arts, education and performances from all over the world; four performing ensembles from four distinct cultures will tour nine states over the next two years. The first of these is the group, Chuchumbe.

The group is from southern Veracruz, Mexico, and has been in Jamestown since Sunday. They’ve been conducting workshops in the community and working with students from elementary through high school, as well as from Jamestown College and the Anne Carlsen School. They’ve also been working with the Adolescent Center and folks from the chemical dependency unit at the ND State Hospital.

Tonight, they perform for the public at the Reiland Fine Arts Center at Jamestown College at 7:30 p.m. The tickets range from one to five dollars – or as many Mexican vendors like to say, “almost free.”

It’s believed that Cuba was populated around 900 A.D. by distinct tribes from present-day Colombia and Venezuela. Six centuries later, the Spanish arrived, soon followed by African Slaves with their drumming expertise. From the blend, unique forms of music developed, one of which is El Chuchumbe – which the group, Chuchumbe has been studying and recreating.

The tradition itself is called son jarocho. The group members came together in 1990 to explore the roots of this tradition, and they’ve now established a worldwide reputation for their performances. They also pass on what they’ve learned through workshops that teach traditional music, how to build musical instruments, writing verses, as well as “zapateado,” which is a percussive type of dancing using a wooden platform for natural amplification.

Although Chuchumbe’s roots are in Cuban music, it’s not necessarily what we think of as Afro-Cuban. Chuchumbe has strong melodies that come more from Spanish roots. Cuban music has been popular for centuries and has been merged with other cultures around the globe to create the flamenco, danzon, habanera, son, rumba, mambo, cha chas, conga and salsa music – all supported by strong drum rhythms.

There are now salsa bands around the world, including Japan. One can even hear Cuban riffs in ‘50s and ‘60s Vietnamese music. Only American rock ‘n’ roll can compete with Cuban music as the world’s most popular music.

The purpose of the Midwest World Fest is to help students connect with unique cultures from around the world, and also to help them appreciate new ethnic groups and immigrants who are settling in the area. Sounds like a pretty fun way to do it, actually…

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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