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Los Mun~equitos' Rumba Ritual

April 07, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER

If the danzon is the most European of the many musical styles that originated in Cuba, the rumba is by far the one in which the African influences can be felt more palpably.

This was clear Friday at the Veterans Wadsworth Theatre during a hypnotic, soulful rumba recital performed by the all-time masters of the genre, Los Mun~equitos de Matanzas.

The Cuban troupe's drumming, singing and dancing celebrate the roots of the music that would later mutate into the more popular salsa. But if contemporary rumba concentrates on the more frivolous, carnal aspects of love, Los Mun~equitos' tribal dances are all about religion, conflict and revelation.

Whereas much of contemporary pop emphasizes the performer's alienation from the world and his fellow human beings, Los Mun~equitos made it clear from the start that family and community play a key role in their ritual.

As the percussionists created mesmerizing, interlocking beats on their conga drums and the singers chanted invocations to one of the many divinities representing the merging of African gods with Catholic saints, the group presented its newest member.

Luis Deyvis Ramos, 10, appeared on stage dressed in white, dancing with a charm that would make the toughest customer crack a smile. The son of dancer Vivian Ramos and grandson of musical director Diosdado Ramos, he jumped off the stage and danced in the aisles, playing tricks on unsuspecting audience members while the other Mun~equitos smiled knowingly.

The second part of the show was by far the more vibrant, presenting dances such as the Yambu, the Guaguanco and the breathtaking Columbia. The latter is a feat of dangerous acrobatics, performed by male dancers carrying machetes.

By the end of the evening, when Los Mun~equitos invited the audience to become part of the show by joining them and dancing to the last tune, the sea of people onstage, old and young, graceful and clumsy, was a defining message of unity as inspiring as the music itself.

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