World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Las Bomberas de la Bahia

Dance Origin: Santurce and Loiza, Puerto Rico
: Bomba 
Artistic Directors: Sarazeta Ragazzi, Denise Solis

First Appearance in SF EDF: 2010

Bomba emerged among seventeenth and eighteenth century enslaved African communities in colonial Puerto Rico. Africans forced to work in sugar plantations developed a community practice of hope and protest through song, music, and dance. They played bomba to communicate, share their stories of love and loss, or send a call to arms for rebellions. The form includes set and improvised call and response lyrics, West African rhythms (mainly from Kongo and Bantu people), elements of African and European (Spanish and French) dance, and Native Taino elements.

Las Bomberas de la Bahia was founded in November 2007 and is the Bay Area's first and only all-women's bomba ensemble. The group is composed of Bay Area activists, educators, and artists dedicated to expanding awareness of Puerto Rico's oldest African-influenced music and dance tradition and to highlighting the important roll that women play. Directors Sarazeta Ragazzi and Denise Solis have studied extensively in Puerto Rico, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, with many masters, instructors, and practitioners of the tradition.


Title: ¡Hay Bombazo en el Batay!
Dancers: Stephanie Castillo, Ivelisse Diaz, Jade Powers Sotomayor, Sarazeta Ragazzi, Melissa Reyes, Vanessa Zavallos,  
Musicians: Vanessa Camarena (vocals), Ilia Correa (buleador/vocals), Maria Elena Garcia (vocals), Elena Lepe (buleador), Norka Nadal (percussion/vocals), Sarazeta Ragazzi (vocals), Sandra Garcia Rivera (percussion/maraca/vocals), Denise Solis (lead/subidor/vocals), Anna Maria Violich (vocals)

¡Hay bombazo en el batay!
Las Bomberas brings a contemporary Puerto Rican bombazo—a lively bomba gathering—to our stage. The cantadora opens with her call to set the seis de bomba rhythm, and the chorus picks up the song. Buleadores drummers, along with performers on cuas sticks and one maraca, set the pulse in motion, and then the conversation begins. The subidor drummer improvises, and the dancer cues the rhythms, executing complicated footwork and fluttering her skirt.  

The group presents three songs that speak to the historical and present day struggles of the Puerto Rican people. Yuba La Marile—in yuba corve rhythm—is a traditional bomba song. The corve style is from Loiza, an area once home to enslaved Africans mostly of Yoruban origin. The word ‘ile’ is Yoruban for ‘house’ and ‘mar’ is Spanish for ‘sea’—it is thought that this song was originally played in a house by the sea. A’ eh Mis Barriles—in holandes rhythm, Santurce style—is a contemporary song by Manny Kenderhish. This song has partially improvised lyrics, and it's danced in homage to the barriles de bomba drums, traditionally made of rum barrels. Los Varilleros, in a Loiza style seis corrido rhythm, is a song of protest about the firing of workers from La Caremelita sugar refinery.

The setting is in a contemporary batay (the site of a bombazo). In similar gathering spots, in Puerto Rico and the diaspora, bomba is very much alive. The bombazo offers practitioners a form of protest, a call to action, and a means of community messaging. Practitioners invent new songs; and women are taking on new roles in instrumentation, as illustrated by this unique all-women ensemble.

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