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Encuentro 36 puts modern twist on tradition of resistance through music

Encuentro 36 puts modern twist on tradition of resistance through music

La Misa Negra. Photo: Andrew Zhou

For the past 35 years, Acción Latina’s annual Encuentro del Canto Popular has bridged local and international communities through music.

Founded In 1982 by volunteers from El Tecolote, Encuentro was envisioned as a statement of solidarity with the “Nuevo Cancion” movement of 1960s and ‘70s (embodied by the Chilean poet Víctor Jara), which sought to overcome the political oppression in Central and South America through music.

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The concert has evolved over time, changing venues and broadening in scope to include sounds beyond Nuevo Cancion, but the message has remained the same throughout the years.

“Music is very powerful,” said Acción Latina Performing Arts Manager Jesus Valera, who has produced Encuentro for the past three years. Varela added that his intent was to focus on attracting a youthful audience, while creating an experience everyone could enjoy, “somewhere where people can bring their grandma and also their homegirl.”

This year’s headliner La Misa Negra, a seven-piece outfit from Oakland, fits the bill.

La Misa Negra. Photo: Andrew Zhou

The band’s sound is a mixture of cumbia and Afro-Latin music, or music with an “upright bass, old-school and classic sound with a Columbian and rock energy,” according to founder Marco Polo Santiago, 40, who is also a composer, guitarist and an accordion player.

Santiago grew up listening to hip-hop, metal and cumbias in Santa Monica and in West Los Angeles. After a video game company laid him and hundreds of others off in 2009, he and his wife decided to move to the Bay Area to be closer to his in-laws.

He founded La Misa Negra towards the end of the year in 2011, although the original members have all since been replaced. In the the group’s current lineup, Diana Trujillo from Colombia is the lead singer, Justin Chin from the Bay Area plays the tenor and the baritone saxophone, Morgan Nilsen from Vermont plays the tenor saxophone and the clarinet, Elena de Troya from La Misión plays percussion, Paul Martin from Milwaukee plays the bass and Craig Bravo plays the drums and percussion.

The band has steadily built a dedicated following, playing gigs and festivals all over the country as well as in the Bay Area and at locations in Southern California, such as the House of Blues in Anaheim. And they recently released an album, “La Misa Negra,” on Sept. 22, which is available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and on their website

Though Santiago was not previously familiar with Encuentro, he and his band are excited to perform once again in the Bay Area (this is their last show before embarking on a cross-country tour).

“It’s cool to play shows with friends,” he said as he explained that he has good relationships with members of the other two groups performing at Encuentro: Taller Bombalélé, a dance ensemble in the Puerto Rican folkloric tradition of “Bomba,” and Soul y Agua, the latest project of local poet, singer and songwriter Monica Fimbrez.

Acción Latina produced a series of “Encuentritos” sessions this year, mini concerts held in its backyard, where nine local acts performed at three separate events, and two of them were selected to perform at Encuentro 36. After some serious deliberation, a panel of judges selected Taller Bombalélé, and Soul y Agua.

Taller Bombalélé was founded in 2014 by Denise Solis and Julia Cepeda, to spread the traditional dance of “Bomba” which is performed to the sound of Puerto Rican music. Cepeda is the granddaughter of Rafael Cepeda Atiles the patriarch of Bomba, who is known in Puerto Rico for promoting the Afro-Puerto Rican music such as Bomba and Plena. Solis is the founder and director of Las Bomberas de la Bahía, a group of women drummers. They now offer classes and perform throughout the Bay Area.

Soul y Agua’s music is a combination of traditional sounds of Latin America, inspired by Fimbrez’s Californian roots. Fimbrez, who plays several instruments, such as the guitar, jarana, bass and percussion, has spent a large part of her life writing music in a variety of genres.  

Acción Latina has also invited Bay Area rappers Chhoti Maa and Equipto, who El Tecolote profiled in its Nov. 2-15 issue, to serve as the evening’s as master of ceremonies.

The 36th Annual Encuentro del Canto Popular with La Misa Negra will begin at 7 p.m. this Sunday, Dec. 3 at The Chapel, 777 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at   

Story by: Destiny Arroyo

El Tecolote is 51 years strong this month!