Article: Festival De Las Calaveras at The Cedar 11/4

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From the moment I began at the Cedar as an intern and looked at the fall concert schedule, I knew I had to attend the Festival de Las Calaveras. As a Venezuelan, I was not very familiar with the Day of the Dead. I was taught about it in school, how it is a day to remember those who have passed and are no longer with us, and I was intrigued, but there were never any celebrations going on in my country for me to learn more. And yet, I felt incredibly at home the moment I walked into The Cedar Cultural Center on November 5th. The whole venue buzzed with excitement, Spanish and English mingled in the ecstatic air, and faces from all over the American continent smiled with one another. Even if it wasn’t my tradition, it was my community, it was my language, and it was our music.

The performance began with dances full of pasion and words full of fuerza. The colorful and majestic entrance of Kalpulli Mexica Yolotl dancers had entranced the crowd. They danced traditional rhythmic Aztec dances with pride and fire, faces held high and bodies pulsing with energy. In between their two dances, Los Palabristas, a group of Latin@ wordslingers, took to the stage. With their words of wisdom, love, and anger, they touched the audience’s hearts and fed the fire in their souls.

calaveras-10Rodolfo Nieto and Alejandro Magallon with their band. Photo by Jon Behm.

If I try hard enough, I can remember the bittersweet ballads of my childhood that would crackle through the car’s radio back in Latin America. My father’s tenor voice would sing along to every word and vibrato from the fuzzy old recordings. The memories of my childhood music were suddenly alive and vibrant as soon as I heard Rodolfo Nieto and Alejandro Magallon. These two singers, both frequent performers with the Minnesota Opera, performed a variety of Mexican music from various genres accompanied by two musicians playing string instruments. To say that their repertoire was heart-felt would be an understatement. Their connection with the audience was effective and intimate. With every song came memories and anecdotes from the past, from those that were no longer on this earth with us. Even as the duo ended and were ready to leave the stage, the audience asked for ‘otra, otra’! Rodolfo and Alejandro complied, and with wide smiles shared a few mysterious whispers with their accompanying musicians. The audience laughed in delight as they began to sing with a velvety ‘Besame, besame mucho!

Next up came Vhaltta, a rock band that had the audience waving their arms and cheering. The group did justice to their self-proclaimed genre “Rockmantic” through songs filled with romantic lyrics delivered with a rock edge. Playing through various covers and a number of their own songs, they provided a spectacle with their energetic performance and their strong stage presence. Their lead singer jumped, danced, and sang with vigor, guiding his band of five from the very beginning end of their performance with dedication.


Bomba Umoya during their performance. Photo by Jon Behm.

After Vhaltta came a dramatic genre shift as Bomba Umoya came on stage with several large drums and maracas to start their set. Having grown up playing music with my family during holidays, it was almost melancholic to see the members of Bomba Umoya sitting down with drums between their legs, like they were sitting in their living room with friends, ready to sing all night.  The band performs ‘bomba’, a genre that developed on the sugar cane and rum plantations in Puerto Rico almost 500 years ago. The strength of their rhythms combined with their chant-like singing and the dancing of their members had everyone bouncing in excitement. Even those who had been sitting quietly, not knowing how to move their body to some of the previous music, were up and about during the whole performance. Even as their set finished, the audience was left craving more bombas. 


Maria Isa singing in memory of her grandmother. Photo by Jon Behm.

From the moment I heard Maria Isa’s music, months before the festival, I became excited to hear her live. The electric charge of her lyrics, the strength in her voice, and the richness of her beats could make anybody swing to it. What I had not expected was the personal touch that came along with the live performance. Maria Isa laced together her music with the story of her grandmother who had recently passed away. Back home, we rarely send our grandparents to homes or to live by themselves. They are close to us, to our hearts. I can barely keep track of the amount of times my grandmothers saved me from my parent’s scolding, or cooked more cachapas than I was allowed to eat just to please me. Maria Isa sang in her grandmother’s memory, spoke in her memory, and made sure that we all knew her story and what she meant to her granddaughter. We could almost feel her presence in the room as the music flowed. It was a good day to remember such an incredible woman.

Closing out the night was Guayaba, led by Chico Chavez, who I had the privilege of interviewing last month. Speaking with Chico was like having a breath of fresh air. I hadn’t had such a substantial conversation in Spanish in a long time, and listening to him speak about his experiences and wisdom about music was enlightening. After hearing so much about Guayaba’s music, a specialized fusion genre from Peru called ‘chicha’, I was excited to hear them at the festival. When I was younger, my dad would speak wonders about similar groups from his youth, and how he would go and see them, dancing all night until the sun came up. I had never had the opportunity to watch one of those bands live until Guayaba. Even after so much music, they found a way to keep the energy in the room fresh and new and exciting! It was the perfect ending to the festival and left everyone with a smile on their face.

When I first arrived to Minnesota, I had a hard time finding the Latin community. The school I attended had many people like me; people who moved from Latin America to come study in the United States, but not many people who had grown up here or were even planning on staying in Minnesota (demasiado frio!) Only when I arrived to the University of Minnesota did I meet more people from my community, and mostly because there was a student group dedicated to Latin@ and Chican@ people and their culture. Even then, I wasn’t able to attend it often, and I felt very isolated. I even began forgetting a lot of my Spanish! Being able to go to the Festival de Las Calaveras and reuniting with the music of my childhood and the language of my heart was something I didn’t realize I needed until I was there. I want to give a big thanks to all the bands and groups who attended and Deborah Ramos, the organizer, for allowing for this beautiful event to happen. It has warmed my heart and reconnected me to my roots and culture; and I think that’s one of the most wonderful things you can do.


– Ines Guanchez
Marketing & Content Intern