Explorations in Afro-Cuban Music & Dance – Humboldt State University, Arcata, California

Explorations in Afro-Cuban Music & Dance – Humboldt State University, Arcata, California

October 18, 2019 1 By Stanley Isaacs


My name is John Santos. I’m a percussionist,
educator and composer and I’ve dealt in Afro-Cuban music… the Afro-Cuban Dance and Drum program
at Humboldt State University is a unique and wonderful learning opportunity and experience
for everyone who comes here. I say that because of the fact that being faculty — being part
of the faculty, which is a great honor for me — I know from talking to the faculty,
that the faculty feels the same way. Everybody learns, everybody comes here, there’s always
elders who we learn from. Even the eldest one, who’s been here the last several years
— Lazaro Gallaraga — he’s learning too, and he asks questions about songs and traditions
from Santiago, where some of the younger Cubans are from, and it’s just an exchange and it’s
really wonderful. [Lazaro Gallaraga singing, students singing]
John Santos: All the teachers, without exception, will tell you, of course, that as a teacher,
you know, the ones who are constantly learning and the way I felt, the ones who learn the
most, are us, the teachers. [drumming in background] And we learn about what questions the students
have, and we learn how to better teach, which makes you better to learn something, better
to absorb and understand it well, in order to convey it. [drumming]
John Santos: Having this opportunity to teach, and deal with students who come from all over
the country and all over the world, to this program, is a great opportunity, a great learning
experience, a great inspiration for all of us. I know the students enjoy it, but I can
speak as part of the faculty that the faculty really enjoys being here. [drumming]
John Santos: It’s unique because you’d have to go to Cuba to have something similar, but
going to Cuba presents a unique set of complications that don’t happen here. And so these wonderful
Cuban instructors that gather for this week every year, they live in diverse corners of
the country, and they only come together during this week. [drumming]
Michael Spiro: …anyone who does the Bantu now, you have to do that — but still get
back into model, but still know where you are, and then the song just changes from this
side of the clave to the other side of the clave, and then you have to flip the whole
model in your head… [drumming and singing] John Santos: So it’s a really magical week
in a lot of ways. People come together to learn, to share, to share stories, to play
together, to sing and to dance, and it’s really an uplifting of a collective soul that happens
here. If people knew what was going on here, they would be beating down the doors to get
into this place, because it’s really an incredible program. A lot of learning, a lot of serious
teaching and learning goes down, and the students come with whatever questions they have, and
they get the questions answered. I highly recommend it: The Afro-Cuban Dance and Drum
program at Humboldt State University. That’s it! [drumming and singing]
Jose Goico: Well, the first thing I want to say is that this is my first time here. As
anybody, I had expectations. I wanted to learn; I wanted to be a part of the Afro-Cuban experience.
And it has blown me way over the top. I mean, it’s met every expectation — technically,
culturally, musically. The way it’s organized, the teachers, the level, you know, the compliment
of watching these masters perform, the way that they allow us to learn, and to guide
us. It’s all been a growing experience. It has challenged me. I’m literally in ecstasy.
I’ve been walking around, pinching myself, and saying, ‘Am I really here?’ and it’s true.
I’ve played music a long time, and to be with teachers of this caliber, and their spirit
and their obvious mastery of the traditions… I’m going to do everything in my power to
come back, because I want more. That’s all I can tell you. This is not enough [laughs].
I’m sorry I’m gonna be leaving. [drumming and singing fades out]