Ambassadors of Rumba
Another Muñequitos trademark is a look at the evolution of rumba, and the 1998 show was no exception. The group wowed the audience with a series of flirtatious and athletic dances, including the guaguanco, a dance contest in which the women try to "avoid" the sexually charged advances of the men. Their songs almost always open with the claves, the pair of rhythm sticks that set the tone and the pace for the music, followed by a series of calls and responses, starting with the chant to Ellegua, the orisha of the crossroads, who is always saluted first to "open" the ceremony. From there, layer after layer of flowing dresses begin to take on new cylindrical shapes as the dancers twirl, flip, and spin. Their program for their show at Hill Auditorium on Friday, March 15, includes dances to Ogun (the orisha of war), Chango (the orisha of thunder and lightning), Yemaya (the river goddess), and others, all accompanied by the captivating singing and powerful percussion of the two-headed bata drum.
While many other styles of Cuban music and dance are familiar to American audiences (cha-cha, mambo, and salsa, for example), these rumba styles are rarely performed outside of Cuba. So, except for those who ignore the government's embargo on travel to Cuba, the Muñequitos give audiences a unique opportunity to witness, firsthand, five centuries of rootsy, authentic Afro-Cuban song and dance traditions.
[Originally published in March, 2002.]