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Afro-Latino percussion program returns to Mission community
Bomba y Plena Workshop founders Hector Lugo (right) and Shefali Shah (dancing), who have participated in Ritmolandia workshops. Courtesy: Alfie Macias

Ritmolandia—the free traditional Afro-Latino percussion preservation workshop series geared toward the Mission community and hosted by some of the top Bay Area musicians and dancers—will beat once again.

The sessions, which start again on March 3 at In Chan Kaajal Park at 17th and Folsom streets, are open to the public with the hope of engaging the Mission community and celebrating its Latino heritage and connection to the African diaspora by providing access to teachers of traditional percussion styles.  The sessions are also designed to aid the underserved within the Mission community in the fight against gentrification, by providing access to creative musical outlets, especially for local youth.

Organizer Alfie Macias—a professional percussionist  and San Francisco resident of nearly 30 years—engineered a partnership with Youth Art Exchange funding and San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department to host the workshops.

“The goal is to help artists do what they do, to give these masters the opportunity to keep their drums alive, while also empowering the community with their own cultural heritage during this ‘Great Displacement,’” Macias said, referring to the aggressive wave of gentrification that has hit the traditionally working-class Mission neighborhood especially hard, displacing many Latino residents.

Ritmolandia hopes to reach youth and families by providing a healthy environment in In Chan Kaajal (a Mayan phrase that translates to “little town”) where there is space to picnic and play as well as participate. The sessions are free and instruments are provided for up to 30 people with opportunities for instruction by local professional dancers and musicians.

On Dec. 2, 2017 Hector Lugo and Shefali Shah hosted sessions on the Bomba y Plena style of Puerto Rico. The upcoming March 3 session will be hosted by Macias and his wife Raffaella Falchi, who teach Brazilian Samba No Pe, or Carnaval-style Samba, and other styles at the ODC dance school in the Mission.

But the sessions will also include renown musicians as well, such as Cuban pan-percussionist Carlos Caro of timba group Paulito F.G., and Jorge Alabe, famous for introducing Carnaval-style Samba with bateria to the United States.

Falchi is the director of programs at the Youth Art Exchange, whose mission is provide free access to the arts for high school aged students from underserved communities.

“Ritmolandia is another way to provide access to musical styles for free in a place where people can brings their friends and family to participate, people who may otherwise never set foot in a dance studio,” Falchi said.  “As much as the arts can be free and accessible to anyone, I will be there, I will participate.”

Caro, a Bay Area resident for the past 20 years, says beginners are welcome during his workshop.

“The main thing I want to give is the best experience for participants no matter if they are a beginner, and to give information about Cuban percussion styles they can maybe use later if they want to,” Caro said. “I’m interested in bringing together the community.”

Alabe, a renown musician who brought Samba No Pe to the Bay Area nearly 50 years ago, is an expert in Afro-Brazilian rhythms. He is a singer, a dancer and percussionist.  

“I’m happy for the opportunity to work with youth. If people have the opportunity to gain the experience, they pick it up fast,” Alabe said.

Workshops are also scheduled to run throughout March, April and May, and will include members of the community, with a final showcase slated for May 19.

Story by: Leslie Hicks