Bullerengue & Beyond: Learning the Palenques of the South West Caribbean Through Sound

The William Grant Still Arts Center presents its 15th Annual African American Composers’ Series Bullerengue and Beyond: Learning the Palenques of the South East Caribbean Through Sound. This year, we are expanding our definition of American by looking beyond the borders of the United States and into communities along the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Panama. We are also looking beyond our canonized forms of approaching who is a composer. 

Bullerengue and Beyond explores the impact of music from the palenques, which are the Maroon towns of the South East Caribbean, on modern and contemporary music. Ignoring the colonial lines drawn to indicate Colombia and Panama, we focus on the music of the self-liberated formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants in these areas. With origins in the Congo, Angola and West Africa, we are learning that bullerengue, cumbia, vallenato, and salsa use sounds and polyrhythms that revere those found in nature.

The matrilineal traditions of Bullerengue, Tambora and Congo highlight the compositions of women who invent lyrics and songs while they do their work in the home, field, and society at large. The music is then workshopped in communal “Ruedas” and subsequently performed and interpreted in endless ways to the present day. The fundamental percussive element is women’s hands clapping to create the rhythms. It is then played on drums. 

The exhibition will also include vibrant Caribbean Pico culture. Picos are huge hand-painted speaker stacks used to blast music out to the community. They are similar to sound systems found in Jamaica. As stated by Don Alirio, “a Pico is Africa’s speaker in the Colombian Caribbean.” The unifying chord between this region and Africa is clearly seen in the music and dances shared and created by the communities of the Caribbean. 

Much like a Pico, we seek to amplify the resilient and anonymous voices through whom oral and sonic tradition has sustained the culture and faith that keeps their communities thriving. 

The William Grant Still Arts Center Presents
Bullerengue and Beyond: Learning the Palenques of the South West Caribbean Through
April – July, 2023
Opening Reception: Saturday, April 1, 3:00-6:00 pm

Live Concert: Más Allá … Beyond
April 22, 3 – 6 pm

Free, No RSVP required

Regular Gallery Hours:
Tuesday – Saturday, Noon – 5:00 p.m.

William Grant Still Arts Center
2520 South West View Street
Los Angeles, CA 90016

Cost: Free