Swat Dances to Yerbabuena’s Music

This past Friday, the New York-based band, Yerbabuena, returned to Swarthmore to kick off the Intercultural Center’s year-long celebration of its fifteenth anniversary. Rafael Zapata, the event’s organizer and Director of the Intercultural Center, described the group’s music as an “Afro-Puerto Rican kind of blending.”

“April 4th marks fifteen years since the founding of the Intercultural Center,” explained Zapata. “Everything this semester will be to celebrate that.”

Zapata said that he chose to kick off the celebration with a performance by Yerbabuena because their performances at Swarthmore have been stellar and also because he has known some members of the band for years. “They are from New York, and I am from New York. I met some of them when we were all working in the activist scene,” he explained.

The Intercultural Cultural center is composed of eight core groups, including the Native American Student Association, the Swarthmore Queer Union, and the Swarthmore Asian Organization. It works closely with other groups including the Muslim Students Association.

The recent performance wasn’t a traditional Swarthmore event. Most events ascribe to the rule-of-ten: the average Swarthmore student will arrive to every event ten minutes late. For Yerbabuena, however, students and faculty started to arrive half-an-hour early.

An unusually diverse group attended the event. College President Al Bloom, Vice-President Maurice Eldridge, and Associate Dean for Student Life Myrt Westphal were among the attendees, and students, too, came in force.

yerbabuena_6.jpgby Miles Skorpen

Yerbabuena had high expectations for its audience. “They really expect people to dance,” Alisa Giardinelli, from the Office of News and Information, explained. “Last time, there was a whole line of people dancing in front of them,” she reminisced.

Before the event got underway, Zapata went so far as to put away the first row of folding chairs, leaning them against a wall of the courtyard. “I want people to dance,” he explained to on-lookers. “You don’t just stand and watch … you feel the rhythms, and you move.”

Swarthmore students certainty felt the rhythms. Dozens of Swatties, accompanied by Martin Warner, the Registrar, moved to the music.

Yerbabuena’s genre of music is unusual at Swarthmore. Tato Torres, the group’s lead singer and director, described the genre as “real Puerto-Rican hill-billy stuff.” Zapata described the music as “a really rich form of Puerto Rican culture.”

“I’ve never heard anything like it,” said Louis Jargow ‘10 over the loud beat of the music. “It wouldn’t normally be my thing—but it’s really getting people moving!” As he spoke, his head bobbed along with the music.

Two hours later, as the event slowed, the dance-area was still packed with dancers. The band signaled that the next number would be its last, but the dancers successfully drew the group back for an encore performance.


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