Monday, May 2, 2011

Introduction to Los Muñequitos de Matanzas

Good evening. My name is Neil Leonard. We are extremely fortunate that MassMoCA and Jacob's Pillow have brought Los Muñuquitos de Matanzas to Massachusetts this weekend. When I began to investigate Cuban music in the mid-80s the only way to hear this music was to travel to Cuba. I was one of the few US musicians to make the pilgrimage to Cuba and it changed my life, as well as that of my peers.

Traveling to Matanzas, I could see that Cuban folkloric culture is unlike anything that we know in the US. Matanzas is the cradle of West African culture in Cuba and the Americas for that matter. Los Muñequitos are the living legacy of this culture. We have heard fragments of these roots in salsa, rumba, son and music throughout the Americas. What we will experience tonight is the most authentic expression of this tradition. The rhythms, chants and dances that Los Muñequitos will present have been passed down within their families for generations.

Though the work that you will hear/see tonight originated in Africa, some of the culture and beliefs found in the dances of the Muñequitos no longer exists in this form in Africa today. Africans in Cuba preserved their beliefs as a way of holding on to their identity despite enslavement and in some cases their practice was even endorsed by the Church. During the years of slavery, the Church set up African meeting places, or cabildos, to help the slaves feel more at home. In cabildos, the slaves were permitted to hold African religious rituals at fixed hours on specific holidays.
Los Muñequitos are now passing their legacy down to new communities, not only in Cuba, but in the US. Here, they have attracted a following of dancers, musicians and artist who look to Los Muñequitos to grasp strains the African legacy that they have kept alive.

On behalf of MassMOCA and Jacobs Pillow, please join me in giving our warmest Massachusetts welcome to Cuba's premiere folkloric group, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas!

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