La Peña Cultural Center has been a lively cultural space in Berkeley for the past 39 years. Since it’s doors opened, La Peña has served as a community cultural center promoting a wide diversity of cultural traditions from the Americas and Caribbean as well as promoting social and political justice. Doing so, La Peña has created the perfect mixture of politics and the arts in a community that is known for its diversity.
This past month of June has been filed with celebrations geared towards celebrating La Peña’s 39 years of promoting peace, social justice and action, as well as cultural awareness through the arts and education. Paz: Fandango Urbano was one of La Peña’s 39th anniversary events that filled the theater with sones jarochos. A son jarocho is a regional folk musical style pertaining to Veracruz and the Gulf of Mexico consisting of the jarana jarocha, a guitar shaped instrument, a requinto jarocho or guitarra de son, which is also similar to a small guitar, a pandero jarocho, similar to a tambourine, a quijada, typically made of a donkey or horse jawbone and conga drums or a cajon.
Once the doors opened and people greeted each other and took their seats, the musicians came out onto the stage and began playing their harmonious and lively music, that were composed and put together in previous Fandango workshops and jam sessions. These sones reflect the Bay Area experience of those who have partaken in the past Fandango Urbano workshops. The lead artists, Maria de la Rosa would zapatiar to the music in her traditional son jarocho dress adding the rhythm of her tapping heels as she danced to the music. The zapatiado dance is a traditional dance in fandangos and is also a form of percussion, having their dance essentially become an instrument. After playing a few sones the artists, invited the audience to dance and to come up and showcase their zapateado. Once the artist were done with their performance, they invited the audience to jam with them in a Fandango Urbano and create new community sones.
Listening to sones for the first time, was really a pleasing musical experience. The combination of the small acoustic instruments gave the music it’s folkloric accent, while the cajon conga drums, and the zapatiado dance gave the music it’s percussive rhythm.
The following day after Paz: Fandango Urbano, La Peña held it’s open house to invite the community to see the newly renovated lounge and cafe, which now serves farm fresh Mexican food from “Los Cilantros,” and to officially celebrate La Peña’s 39 year anniversary with live music and the broadcasting of World Cup’s match between the U.S.A. and Portugal. The afternoon started off with a performance by Gail Dobson’s vocal class, which consisted of the community’s children singing popular songs and the Latin American Songbook class who were both very good and showcased both group and solo performances. There was also Salsa, Bomba y Plena, Cumbia, and other diverse genres of Latin and Afro-Cuban music, that just made you want to get up and dance, like some of the attendees did. The food provided by “Los Cilantros” was also very savory and fresh. I had the opportunity to try their chicken tamales and they were simply delicious. The fresh agua de piña (pineapple water) was also very sweet and refreshing and complimented in my opinion the chicken tamales. The World Cup also started soon after, which drew soccer fanatics as the U.S. and Portugal played an intense and suspenseful game, which lead to a draw between the two teams. La Peña was additionally holding a silent auction. The auction consisted of many paintings and posters that reflected what La Peña stands for culturally and politically, as well as books and other cultural objects from different areas.
Attending both events made my weekend truly a different experience from the typical routine. In two days I heard a wide variety of new music and was able to enjoy and be exposed to the different compositions of other cultures besides my own, try some wonderful and appetizing food, as well as being able to enjoy it with the local community all thanks to La Peña Cultural Center. My favorite part was the Fandango, where majority of the audience made a circle around the band and artists and began having a jam session with traditional Veracruz folk music, which I would never thought possible for folk music. The soccer match, was an adrenaline pumper, as people would stand up and cheer as their team came close to scoring and things got even more exciting towards the end, the energy in La Peña was really something else. Being able to attend La Peña’s 39th anniversary celebration really was a great cultural experience and a fun time.
About the author: Sonia is currently an intern at La Peña, as a part of her work field. She first heard of La Peña Cultural Center through her Chicano Studies advisor at UC Berkeley. She took interest in becoming an intern at La Peña, as it provides a space for people of all cultures to showcase their cultures through the arts, spoken word, and theater performances. She is currently finishing her bachelors at Cal and hopes to use the experience learned at La Peña to further promote cultural and ethical awareness.