Writing, music, art, and dance all have one thing in common–voice. No matter the art form, the creator laces his or her own voice into the work. In Eleanor Parker Sapa’s blog, Finding Your Unique Writing Voice, Sapa defines voice as “the unique way by which we see, experience, and interpret the world as individuals.” She goes on to discuss her thoughts about the use of voice and how there is no one-size-fits-all for this element of the creative process. Her definition demonstrates how the development of a voice is entirely dependent on the artist, and that makes sense to me. If no one person is exactly like another, how can their voices be the same? As someone who is both indecisive and fears commitment, I appreciate that fluidity that Sapa’s definition provides.
I am on a constant search for writers, singers and artists who share work that demands attention as well as a response from their audience. Lately, I have been very drawn to Latinx and Afro-Caribbean writers and artists. I’m interested in the variety of voices, experiences, and attitudes that come from these individuals because they possess similar identities to my own.
My desire to experience art created by artists who identify as Hispanic began when I read Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This novel did not fully embody my own experience as a female of Latin descent because Esperanza, the story’s protagonist, is Mexican and I’m Puerto Rican. However, I must give my parents credit for exposing me to a novel that was written by and of Hispanic females.
Similarly, my parents noticed early on that I had a passion for the visual and performing arts. They put me into a Caribbean dance class where I learned salsa, merengue, cha-cha, plena, and bomba. This time of my life was filled with people who looked like me, spoke Spanish, and taught me about my Boricua heritage through dance.
Out of these dances, bomba was my favorite. Dancing Bomba leaves me in an empowered state, where I am focused on myself as well as my own interactions with the rhythm. In Bomba, this interaction produces the dance steps that in turn influences the beats.
Let me explain: Bomba is one of the beautiful treasures produced from the African influence within Puerto Rican culture. The rhythms, music, and dance of Bomba are derived from the traditions of the African slaves that were brought over during the colonial period, which is why we see variations of this dance and its rhythms throughout the Caribbean. Back in that time, bomba allowed people the space to express their sadness over their living conditions and the struggles that eventually drove them to rebel and protest. However, bomba was also a space they could explore as an expression of joy and celebration, which is how it is more commonly used today.
To truly understand bomba as an artform is to understand the conversation between the dance steps and the beat. In bomba there is always a call and response; a soloist sings a phrase and it evokes the drummers to begin. The crowd then gathers and the dancers begin to come forth. When a dancer comes to the forefront and engages the lead drummer, el primo, he or she is challenging the drummer to follow their steps and body movements with the beats that they produce. The challenge is done like a gentleman’s duel, starting with polite saludos, then the drummer and dancer can go for as long as possible until one tires and a new round begins.
Bomba gave me an ear for rhythm that I now try to paint onto the canvas. Unfortunately, what the ears hear and the eyes see rarely translate perfectly. Transitioning from dance to painting as my artistic media was a challenge. Developing designs, compositions, and placement of colors to replace the feel of a rhythmic beat was both a strange and daunting task. Unlike dance, where everyone hears the same music, the rhythm that I feel and build into the painting is not the same rhythm that the viewer may experience. Rather than translate my perspective exactly to my audience, I allow my temperament in that moment of creation to dictate the art that I create. Therefore, my work is constantly changing. Recently, I have tried to redirect my art back to the basic of both colors and textures in order to depict movement. Either way, I find myself wanting to cut the ties I’ve placed on myself. The lack of cohesiveness in my art pushes me to explore the lack of a distinct voice that I feel. In all honesty, I still don’t understand the art I create.