Virginia Lopez | Asere, Qué Bolá?

“Asere, qué bolá?” is a uniquely Cuban greeting that means “How are you?” Like so many elements of Cuban culture, it is derived from both Spanish and African languages. And, like other Caribbean countries, Cuba was a Spanish colony, and enslaved Africans formed a large percentage of the population. However, unlike other colonies, these enslaved people were segregated by where they originated from in Africa, an effort by the Spanish colonizers to suppress insurrection. As a result, musical and other traditions retained more of their connection with the original African traditions.

Among those traditions is the spiritual, ceremonial role that music plays in religious observance, especially in the tradition that Lopez is connected to, the Lucumí faith, also known as Santeria, which comes from the religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa, and incorporates some influences from Roman Catholicism. Many of the songs performed as part of Lucumí ceremonies are dedicated to specific deities, often with a focus on healing. And it was this focus that inspired Lopez and Alamo, both Cuban immigrants, to create a new song inspired by traditional songs, that would promote healing and well-being in this difficult time. “Emotions can be so confusing during a time like this. Music helps you get to a place of healing, of positivity, and community,” Lopez says.

The project arose from a story of musical and cross-cultural discovery. A few years ago, Lopez and Bruggeman were talking about John Coltrane, and Lopez began to sing one of the melodies from Coltrane’s iconic 1965 album A Love Supreme with traditional Lucumí lyrics. Bruggeman was amazed to hear that this music she had thought was modern had ancient roots. The two had a similar experience with another Coltrane recording, Afro Blue, which was actually composed by Mongo Santamaria, a Cuban American percussionist and singer who adapted the melody from a traditional song in 1959.

The composers performed the music along with Bruggeman on saxophone and flute along with bassist Chris Nakato in a socially-distanced, outdoor space in Lopez’s backyard, then tell the story of the project, along with a healthy dose of information on Afro Cuban music, how salsa music is different from Afro Cuban traditional music, and how the pandemic has affected each of these musicians personally and professionally. The artists will be joining the audience for a livestreamed discussion immediately following the film premiere.

About the Artists

Virginia Lopez is passionate about her Afro-Cuban heritage – and she expresses that passion through her music. A drummer and percussionist, Ms. Lopez has been the lead singer of Melao de Cuba Salsa Orchestra for 15 years. In all her creative pursuits, Virginia’s purpose is to lift people’s spirits, create community, and increase the public’s understanding of the range, beauty, and depth of Afro-Cuban culture and music.

Mieke Bruggeman-Smith is a performer, educator, composer/arranger and education coordinator for the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble. Pre-Covid, she regularly performed with the Quadraphonnes, Melao De Cuba, Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE) and for various musical theater companies, recording sessions and freelance work. Recent albums she’s performed on include Ekta: The Unity Project (2020), We Limit Not the Truth of God (2019), From Maxville to Vanport (2018) and Oregon Stories (2017). Deeply committed to education, she is tackling the new world of online teaching as a private instructor and Artist In Residence at Portland Public Schools for various local band programs.

Ivan Alamo was born in Havana, Cuba. At the age of twelve, he became interested in music and chose the guitar as his instrument. He taught himself to play, and later studied classic guitar at the conservatory, “Alejandro Garcia Caturla”. He later discovered the ‘Cuban tres’, a traditional string instrument, instrumental in popular Cuban music. From that moment on, he began to work with various groups in Havana, until 2000, when he decided to move to the United States. Since living in the United States, he has collaborated and performed with numerous musical projects and groups, mostly in Portland, OR.

Virginia Lopez – voice and conga drums
Ivan Alamo – voice, guitar, and trés
Mieke Bruggeman – baritone saxophone and flute
Chris Nakato – bass