Monica Rojas and dancers take the stage, representing the Seattle Fandango Project. There are three of them, and they move intertwining like braids, their bodies declaring fierce power and speaking out, unabashed with direct address. Two others weave into their line of invitation to the audience. They are clapping, signifying, giving it up with their hands and feet pulsating against the floor, their thighs, turning and dancing, pulsating back to their instruments center stage where they hammer out the welcome. The pounding of the beat boxes on which they sit requires the extension of their bodies: they are the drum, the body transformed into an instrument that powerfully resonates into all of us seated and standing in the hall. You FEEL the rhythms surge into your flesh. You, too — we, too — become the drum. AH HA! They yell, as they close the performance.
Moncia Rojas: “This is a very special day. I feel honored to be hear with all of you. The instrument you just heard, is traditionally played by men and this project is part of introducing women to percussion. I’m the director of the cajon project; I’ve been working to fight racism and discrimination in my country; as a middle class Puruvean I realized that I was part of the culture of oppression and since then I woke up and realized that I need to be part of the solution. That is the work I am doing in Seattle, supporting by educating communities as best I can about the culture of my home country of Peru. We’re going to start with a Puruvan waltz called BROWN WOMAN.”
The group plays a beautiful waltz comprised of cajon (the musical box of a drum played by sitting down on the drum itself), guitars, handheld percussion instruments, and castanets. Monica sings with the kind of fever that begins in childhood, the song surging forth as a snapshot of memory for us to embrace.
Their second song is a song about a woman who wakes up and describes the path she musts traverse as she goes to work in the fields. Her husband, a man she describes as “one who rocks” opens the song with his voice. He throws out the first verse, Monica responds. They are clearly narrating a story about how people survive and keep it together. The beat is one that demands joining in. People are clapping, moving to the beat, joining the call to join the movement. The repetitions of refrain remind of the repeated rhythms of work; the way the music asks us to move in response makes clear this is a story about collective movement.
Their next song works from a Peruvian phrase to explain how we are all mixed and have different cultural roots: African, Japanese, Indigenous. The song begins with the guitar, a line that sounds distinctly Latin but quickly melds into cajon percussive beats that are more African sounding, their tempo dissonant and purposeful, something that to me I hear coming from more Indigenous music practices. But it all blends together quickly and morphs into coherency, a song like nothing I have heard before when listening to Peruvian music.
The three songs have taken us on an incredible musical journey. Monica introduces all members of the band. Their last tune, Oyita, has a chorus of “ha, ha, ha” and she invites the audience to join in the signing of the song. We clap and begin the chorus. At this point Washington Hall is ROCKING! This is my third year blogging for the conference, and I have never seen the hall fill up so quickly and with so many people! Striking is the fact that there are more young people here than in the past and it’s a very multicultural scene. The female dancers are returning to the stage to join the musicians. Ha, ha, ha….and with that, audience members join them! The stage is turning into a dance floor! The music has conjured representatives of the very diverse cultural roots it sang of! What a fabulous beginning to this year’s UnConference!!!