“Let’s Make That Drum Talk!”: Interview with Milteri Tucker, Artistic Director of the Bombazo Dance Company

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Over three days, from Friday July 10 to Sunday July 12, the City of New York will be hosting the Afro-Latino Festival of New York. Celebrating its 3rd Edition, the Festival will be showcasing Afro-Latino music, cuisine, arts & crafts, dance, history, and culture in hopes of promoting its larger mission of raising awareness of the shared heritage among the peoples of African descent throughout Latin America.

Photo by Linda Nieves-Powell

Milteri Tucker (Photo by Linda Nieves-Powell)

La Respuesta had the pleasure of interviewing Milteri Tucker, the Founder and Artistic Director of the Bombazo Dance Company, which will be performing at this year’s Festival. We discussed what it means to be not only an Afro-Boricua, but also an educator of the traditional music and dance of ‘Bomba’.

While I may be the last person you would see on the dance floor, there is something truly profound and spiritual about the art form of Bomba. As someone who is shy when it comes to dancing, I have found that as you carefully listen to the beat of the drum and let the songs carry through your soul, you simply cannot resist moving just a little. In fact, there is indeed a driving force in all of us, and I myself believe Bomba can be a great form of release.

That’s exactly what Milteri Tucker hopes to accomplish with the youth she teaches. Her overall goal is to educate youth through performance. Fusing classical, contemporary and social styles of dance, Tucker, along with her diverse staff of performers from areas like Asia, Europe, Central & South America, as well as the Caribbean and general African Diaspora, have created a new movement, while still preserving the authenticity of the traditional form of Bomba.

But, why exactly is their dance company called ‘Bombazo’?

According to Tucker, “the word ‘Bombazo’ signifies a Bomba jam. It is where the community gathers to celebrate life through its rhythms, song and dance.” That being said, the key word in her definition is “community”, because when we are within a communal setting we have the opportunity to learn about the importance of each others culture and identity.

Photo courtesy of the Bombazo Dance Company

Photo courtesy of the Bombazo Dance Co.

And that’s essentially what Tucker hopes to accomplish with youth. After all, “the youth are our future”, as Tucker affirmed.

The first activity that she often has her K-12 students complete before even setting things into motion is to first go home, ask their parents about their culture, ask them about one particular dance from their culture, then come back to class and teach it to her. By doing this, “dance becomes universal”, as Tucker says. Children become no different from each other and they can come together to share their dances as a collective. But what this activity also does for youth is help them find their cultural identity and “preserve the stories of their elders”, Tucker notes.

Therefore, by asking our elders about our identity and our culture, we are preserving our histories for future generations.

Photo courtesy of the Bombazo Dance Co.

Photo courtesy of the Bombazo Dance Co.

Tucker also went on to say that she herself talked with her elders. As a child growing up in Ponce, her grandmother and her aunt gave her the inspiration to dance and sing. From that moment on, throughout her childhood she was always moving on the “tip-of-her-toes”, and always right there beside her was her mother, providing her with moral support. So when it comes to her roots, Tucker firmly believes Bomba needs to be present and be taught in the community today because it’s not only part of our culture, but our histories, histories in which we have to continue to preserve.

Too often, Bomba is “miscategorized and mislabeled”, says Tucker. She has even heard people associate “Santería with the traditional dance of Bomba, going on to giving it a negative stigma”. But Tucker challenges those labels by stating that “movement is her religion”, and she is proud of her Afro-Boricua roots!

IMG_2278So what Tucker says she hopes to really achieve is to target those “who don’t know us” and let them know “who we are”, which means starting with the youth and teaching them to make that drum talk!

Catch the Bombazo Dance Company facilitate workshops as part of the Afro-Latino Festival this Sunday July 12 at the Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza (1368 Fulton Street) in the morning. You can also help to support their dance company by purchasing either t-shirts or traditional Afro-Caribbean skirts from their website.

Check out their promotional trailer here.

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Gabriel José Maldonado

Poet, Gabriel José Maldonado (also known as Neo-Literato) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate student at Bank Street College of Education, where he majors in Museum Education. In his spare time, he loves writing poetry and taking photos throughout his travels. In the future, he intends to pursue a career in preserving Hispanic and Latina/o cultures, because being Puerto Rican has made him proud to spread our culture through the arts.