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We are Guayama: the Umoja collective searches for the roots of bomba songs

The rhythmic rhythm of his drums shakes even the most timid of his interlocutors, like a genetic pentagram that awakens the African heritage.

But behind each touch the true story of a Puerto Rico is sung that for years “they have tried to hide”, but its imprint is so strong that it echoes in modernity.

It is the mission of Umoja Collectivemade up of more than a dozen guitarists, dancers and singers from the puerto rican bombshell from all over the country, who decided to get together to investigate where the songs they performed came from.

The project was born in Guayamaunder the tutelage of Julia Ivette “Julie” Laporte García who, for decades, has sung in several bomba groups, and, given her curiosity about the lyrics she sang, she wanted to bring together other talents who, like her, were mature enough to find out what happened and learn from their findings.

“I am a very curious person about history, I love the bomb from the first moment because it is in my blood, and I wondered where the songs in the bomb came from. I don’t think in those times it was about me making something up. I was able to verify it more because many years before I was with the Flores family, from Puerto de Jobos de Guayama and the songs were from her family and stories from that community, ”said Julie, 56 years old.

“After much reading, I found that these songs contain the clues to our history. We held a meeting of people who had been in the pump for a long time in different groups and communities and we were mature enough in the pump to know that what we were doing was not merely sitting down from time to time to play and sing, but rather we wanted to be aware of what happened, to grow and learn more”, told the member of the group Bomba del Sur, directed by Edwin González.

However, the idea was not to leave their respective groups but to create a complement to what they were doing. In search of a name, they chose the word Umoja, which means unity in Swahili, a language adopted by various regions of Africa.

The “family” did not know each other until they interacted in the group because they come from different towns such as San Juan, Cayey, Ponce, Guayama, Salinas, Gurabo and Toa Baja, among others. Although each had heard of the other and respected their various roles in the bomb.

In addition to Julie, among its members is the master firefighter José Luis “Archie” Archeval, Adelis M. Pérez Laporte, Minirka Cabán Casanova, Carlos David de Jesús Rivera, Pedro Luis “Pepa” Amaro Ruiz, Nadia Centeno, Pedro Antonio Cebollero, Sixto Javier Merced, Ivette Ayala and Cairis Yalees Pérez.

“It was Ivette Ayala who turned the collective around, because one day she came and said she knew a man named ‘Goro’ who lives in the port and knows a lot about history. And there was a lady named Marta who was also in the port. It is Ivette who comes with the idea of ​​interviewing the elderly, ”she explained.

“It was on June 30, 2017 that we officially sat down to talk with José Antonio Díaz Sabater, better known as ‘Goro’, and then with Marta Almodóvar and that turned the Umoja Collective around, having original songs, using and honoring the songs traditions, looking for who wrote them, what they said and telling stories that the elders who are still alive are sharing with us”, said the bomba singer.

Listening to the oral history of the elders, the members of the group found the history of Puerto Rico.

“We found the history of Puerto Rico because the history we learn in our schools is a manipulated history,” he argued. “If you look closely, they will tell you the same thing, that we are the product of three races: Spanish, Taino and African. They always show you Africans in chains and on their knees, they tell you that they are slaves and not that they were enslaved. I have never seen in the Social Studies books that they show the Africans who were in Puerto Rico talking, revealing themselves. It is a manipulated story, that they left out a lot of what happened, ”he agreed.

“For us it wasn’t just about playing music and not just bomba. When we share stories we can genuinely enrich the history of our country. A country is made by the people who work every day in different roles, occupations from the most humble to the most prestigious. It is on a day-to-day basis that the history of a country is forged”, he stressed. “At first it was to find out the origin of the bomba songs. Then we started talking to people, not just reading and searching but also rescuing oral history”, pointed.

Finally, he agreed that Puerto Rico is experiencing a bomb awakening. “Many young people are interested in learning to play the drum, to dance, to know what happened. That makes me super happy,” she said.

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