This spring, Jacob's Pillow Dance and MASS MoCA come together once again to present acclaimed Afro-Cuban folkloric music and dance group Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. Named the "reigning regents of rumba" by the San Francisco Chronicle, the ensemble combines high-energy drumming, vocals, and dance in vibrant performances that call upon the deep African roots of their Cuban culture. Internationally renowned as one of the world's finest rumba groups, Los Muñequitos returns for a 16-city national tour after a nine-year absence from the United States. They will perform Tambor de Fuego en Homenaje a los Ancestros at MASS MoCA's Hunter Center on April 30 and May 1. Peter Watrous of The New York Times states, "Expect wild machete play, spectacular sensual dancing and some of the most complex drumming to be heard in this hemisphere."
Ella Baff, Jacob's Pillow Executive and Artistic Director comments, "Los Munequitos has been away far too long and we are so happy to welcome back this beloved and respected troupe. They are the keepers and innovators of important traditions - the soul and spirit of Afro-Cuban dance and music. Expect to be uplifted; expect to feel like dancing."
Tambor de Fuego en Homenaje a los Ancestros (Drum of Fire in Tribute to the Ancestors) incorporates Afro-Cuban ritual dances with innovative new musical compositions and contemporary rumba in an exuberant two-part program. The first half of the performance merges rhythms, songs, and dances from Afro-Cuban folkloric heritage, including Yoruba, Brikamo, Kongo, Arará, and Iyesá, while the second half contains several subgenres of Cuban Rumba such as Yambú, Guaguancó, and Columbia. Sixteen drummers, vocalists, and dancers fuse the traditional elements of the rumba with contemporary forms of expression. The performance closes with the Conga Matancera, a high energy Carnival rhythm of Matanzas, Cuba.
Founded in 1952, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas was first composed of musicians and percussionists who gathered casually in Matanzas, Cuba. The original members were port workers, plumbers, and masons; workers who would create music from spoons, bottles, and tables nearby as a way to unwind. The name "Los Muñequitos de Matanzas" means "Sunday cartoons from Matanzas," and came from the title of a well-received song on the first record they released in 1956. From these modest beginnings, the group grew in popularity and acclaim, and by 1965 had incorporated dancers into their ensemble. In 1989, the well-established Los Muñequitos de Matanzas began to tour internationally; visiting England, Canada, Central America, South America, and Europe, and making their U.S. debut in 1992. The company first performed at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in 1994 and returned in 1999.
In 2001, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas received a Latin Grammy Award for Best Folk Album for their collaboration of El All-Stars de La Rumba Cubana - La Rumba Soy Yo. Since then, they have been nominated for three additional Latin Grammy Awards in 2003, 2007, and 2009. In 2003, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas' 50th anniversary album, Rumba De Corazón, was named Best Folk Music Album at the 7th International Cubadisco Fair and was nominated for Best Folk Album at the Latin Grammy Awards. The group has been called "the essence of Cuba's musical soul" by the San Diego Union Tribune, and has performed in more than 50 cities across the United States, from small music clubs to grand concert halls. The ensemble's most recent performance in the United States took place in 2002, and they now return to the U.S. for the first time in nearly a decade through a national tour produced by MAPP International Productions.
Saturday evening's performance will feature a brief tribute to Irene Hunter, a MASS MoCA patron with a rich history in North Adams and emerita Board Member of Jacob's Pillow. She was married to the late James "Bing" Hunter for 57 years and they raised four children in the northern Berkshires: Elizabeth 'Beano' Solomon, now of Park City, Utah; James "Jim" Hunter of Williamstown, Mass.; Bonnie Trotta now of Mount Kisco, N.Y.; and Susan Hunter now of Dedham, Mass. The James Hunter Machine Company (which was headquartered where North Adams City Hall stands) was founded in 1847 by James Hunter. Bing Hunter was the long time president of the company. James Hunter's great, great, great grandson Jim Hunter has served as a MASS MoCA trustee since 1997, two years before the museum opened. Joan Hunter is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Jacob's Pillow. Irene's philanthropic interests were directed primarily toward education and the arts - dance in particular -- and she was the recipient of the only Lifetime Achievement Award ever awarded by The National Association of Fundraising Professionals.