*The AFrican ConeXion Project was initiated in 2001 as a way of bringing together Latino, African American and African communities through theater, dance and music. Conceived as an international and local project, I chose to bring 4 artists from La Habana, Cuba to create an original bilingual musical based on a traditional Yoruba myth (Patakín) with 20 neighborhood kids at Rainier Valley Youth Theatre, located in a mostly African American community. This project proved to be a galvanizing moment for bringing together together English and Spanish-speaking audiences, local and international artists, professionals and student/aficionados in a connection of cultures between North and South.
In 2007, The AFrican ConeXion Project embarked on a three year process to develop a fully-staged bilingual musical based on Afro-Peruvian rhythms, music and dances. In a partnership with Teatro Del Milenio of Perú, director/ choreographer Luís Sandovál and musical director Roberto Arguedas came to Seattle to work with local actors, dancers and musicians, both professional and aficionado on a bilingual musical adaptation of Callejón. One of the musical numbers included the traditional parade-style “pasacalle” dance called, El Son De Los Diablos (The Devil’s Dance Parade). Very beautiful hand-crafted masks and costumes were brought from Perú, and very quickly the character of the “Diablo” became a symbol for The AFrican ConeXion Project as a whole. Over the next four years, El Son De Los Diablos began to take on a life of its own, invited by local festivals, events and community organizations to dance, representing another facet of Latino culture in the Seattle-area. Continuing with the mission of bringing together Latino, African American and African artists, participants have included dancers from Perú, Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Jamaica, South Africa and more. Now it its fifth year, El Son De Los Diablos presented by The AFrican ConeXion Project continues to be invited to festivals, conferences, ground-breaking ceremonies, civic events as a celebration of diversity and unity within communities. The Devil’s Dance Parade in Seattle echoes El Son De Los Diablos in Perú as a dance that over time has come to represent cultural resistance of the African Diaspora and a source of cultural pride.
Our Devil’s “group” first began to recruit and coalesce around visiting Afro-Peruvian artists brought by The AFrican ConeXion Project such as Luis Sandoval and Peta Robles who served as teachers as well as guest artists. To fulfill the mission of bringing together communities, we recruited dancers from other dance traditions such as Brazilian or Mexican dance groups, so that they could train their members. The organizational strategy was to train as many dancers possible in the choreography, professionals and aficionados, in order to create several brigades of Devil's Dancers in the greater Seattle area. The result is a brigade of between 6 and 12 dancers from many different cultural and dance backgrounds who can come together at any given time to perform El Son De Los Diablos. We are typically contacted between 1 to 4 weeks in advance of a performance and I have remained the central coordinator. Over time we have come to bond over our experiences of performing on the streets of Seattle and identify ourselves as a “troupe” of sorts. In general all dancers are paid, but the idea of fun and being part of something unique in Seattle seems to be as much of a motivating factor.
In 2010 we began to incorporate musicians on the traditional Afro-Peruvian instruments of the cajón (big box), cajita (little box) and quijada (donkey’s jaw). Later on we began to incorporate violins for the “zapateo” (Afro-Peruvian stepping) portion of the dance.
We also began to incorporate children and youth, mainly as musicians but also as dancers. This has been a great source of pride for the for the children as well as an appreciated “first paying job”. In addition we have shared presentations with other dance groups as a cultural exchange, to learn the choreography and traditions of another dance. In 2010, Los Hijos De Agueybana were visiting Seattle from Puerto Rico presenting their Afro-Puerto Rican dance called Bomba. For one week the Devils and Bomba dancers and musicians learned each others dances and rhythms, rehearsing for a combined presentation highlighting the African influence on dances in the Diaspora.
Our presentations have included traveling down narrow city sidewalks, wide city streets, bridges, raised stages, plazas, stairs, on grass, gravel and dirt. We adapt the choreography to fit the the width and depth of each playing area, taking into consideration the orientation of the audience. The colorful masks and costumes help us draw the audience attention and we are able to move crowd into a circle if necessary. Since part of the origin of this dance in from the pageant of Corpus Cristi in 16th century Spain and later in Colonial Peru, we try to conserve the pageantry aspect of processing through the streets and crowds whenever possible.
After every performance there are usually audience members who ask about the significance of the Devil’s mask. In explaining the Devil role that Afro-descendants were once made to represent in the colonial pageant, we try to make it evident that our devils are fun and happy and not fearsome, therefore subverting the image of that many religions have of the Devil. However, this is not always an easy concept for some religions and not always understood by all audience members. In general our Son De Los Diablos has received great acceptance by and large, and usually not more than a month passes before we are contacted again for another public presentation.
-Rose Cano The AFrican ConeXion Project, Executive Director April 10, 2010 Seattle