During the 1960's and 1970's, Latin American
performing and recording music which spoke directly to the poor and
oppressed peoples of their countries and Latin America regarding their
collective social condition. In
many countries this artistic expression was a way around the strictures imposed
by dictatorships on free political speech.
The American equivalent of the 'New Song' tradition is probably best reflected by the music of progressive artist such as Ritchie Havens, Bob
Dylan, and those thousands of artists who lent their talents to the movements in support of the Civil Rights movements in 1960's
and '70's America.
WPFW, 89.3-FM in Washington, DC has Latin music programming Monday through
from 9 to 10 PM. Much of the music played on those programs is of the 'New
Song' tradition. Tuesday night's programmer plays
more traditional 'New Song' material, which
tends to be on the folkloric side of musical styles. Other programmers focus more on modern danceable
music, which also reflect expressions of the aspirations of oppressed peoples.
in Washington, DC, The Wilson Center was host
to dozens of human rights fairs and festivals during the late 1970's and early 1980's.
These events were organized around providing a traditional Latino
expression to political organizing and fundraising for community organizations
and for groups fighting for human rights in El Salvador, Nicaragua and
Guatemala. Indigenous cultural
events were also a feature of cultural celebrations at Centro Wilson.
The New Song Movement's local exponents, Latino and American, found in
the Wilson Center a friendly community social space to grow and
present their art. They shared that space with Latino musicians
of all beliefs and musical styles.
In addition to El Centro de Arte, the Latin American Youth Center,
same complex, provided space for the Escuela de
Rumba (school of Rumba), which existed from 1978 to 1982.
This community music school was founded by veteran Latin and Latin Jazz musicians Maria
Rodriguez and Luis Salome, as well as Dominican singing star Camboy Estevez and
local journalist Jose Sueiro, director of DC's largest Latino newspaper: La
Maria Rodriguez, an African
American music teacher for over 30 years in the DC Public Schools and at the University of
Maryland, trained many local Latin musicians in piano, theory, voice, orchestration,
arrangement and composition.
A co-founder of the School of Rumba, Maria was a giant in the
Latin-Jazz and Latin-Salsa music scene here in Washington, DC since the late
1950's when she performed with Latin percussionist Paul Hawkins. Her
Thursday night rehearsals with her 14 piece Latin big band, held in her
basement on 13th St. NW were a true DC institution. Hours of hard practice,
laughter and always serious home cooked food after the hard work. Many Salsa veterans
in DC learned their craft from Maria. Her daughter, June Butler,
who recorded on the original Cosby Show Latin theme, carries on her
mother's tradition, being a veteran music teacher in the DC public schools and
an accomplished Jazz pianist and recording artist.
folklorist Luis Salomé, who spent more than 40 years in the DC
a member of many top Cuban bands in the
1940’s. His house was the place where
music star percussionist Mongo Santamaria and other
famous Latin artists would stay when in
town. The school of Rumba was largely
the idea of Don Luis Salomé, who taught Afro-Cuban folklore there.
Close by to
Wilson Center complex exists the Bell Multicultural High School.
Nicaraguan composer and
Alfredo Mojíca, Sr. was a music teacher at Bell, and was a famous
Latin-Jazz band leader in DC for several decades, continuing to perform live even after
serious heart surgery. His son, top Latin
percussionist Alfredo Mojíca,
Jr. carries on his father's traditions.
Together these three veterans of the
DC area Latino Music Scene provided
musicians with the knowledge of our ancient
multicultural musical roots together with a solid foundation in music theory.
While Maria Rodriguez, Luis Salomé
and Alfredo Mojíca,
Sr., local giants in
Latin music, with careers dating back to the late 1950's in
DC's Latin and Jazz music scene have passed on to the other side, they are
warmly remembered. They are the
spiritual ancestors of many of those who play on our stages today. They
provided much of the musical training and experience in both folkloric and
commercial styles of Afro-Cuban and other Caribbean Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia and Latin Jazz
for professional musicians and other interested
students. The musicians who
participated in The School of Rumba have since that time (1978 to 1982) formed the base of the
veteran talent playing in DC's local commercial Latin dance bands.
dedicated to María Rodriguez, Luis
Alfredo Mojíca, Sr. Their decades of tireless and patient work in teaching musical culture lives on
in the dozens of talented local musicians who were lucky enough to cross their
The Centro de Arte's percussion workshop, a
descendent of 'LA Escuela de
Rumba' performed on July 11th under the
leadership of star Puerto Rican percussionist José López, a former fellow student
at La Escuela de Rumba. Musicians
of the Lilo Gonzalez and his ‘Los de la Mount Pleasant’ (The folks from
the Mount Pleasant barrio) Latin band, musicians of
the Luciano Castro band and other musicians present also represented the legacy of
what Doña Maria, Don Luis and Don Alfredo have left in this community, on this
corner and in our hearts.
existing on this corner is El Centro de Arte.
Since the mid 1970’s El Centro de Arte has played a key role in developing Latino performance and graphic
arts talent in this community. They
provide performance space, music education and other resources to many local Latino
musicians, had their own in-house theater group 'El Teatro Nuestro' (Our Theater)
and supported Latino graphic artists, providing gallery space to them.
connected to El Centro de Arte in the 1970’s and 1980’s was the
local folkloric quartet Rumisonko (Heart of Stone in Quechua, a language
of the Inca Empire) directed by local graphic artist Carlos Arrien. Originally founded by Carlos and
other Bolivian and
Chilean students at nearby Montgomery College in Maryland, Rumisonko was the first
Andean music group in DC, performing Bolivian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Chilean and
other folkloric music, fusing the Indigenous Inca bamboo panpipes and flutes
with Spanish Guitar, and the Charango (a small 10 string ‘Indigenous
mandolin’ made from an armadillo shell).
DC now counts dozens of such groups, but Rumisonko was
first on the
Veteran African American Blues, Latin and progressive music performer Luci
who performed July 11th with
daughter Topaz and fellow musician Peter Jones, was and is an important
contributor to DC’s unique multicultural version of ‘New Song’ and other
progressive, Jazz and Blues vocal music.
but not least veteran percussionist and band leader Luciano Castro and his
orquesta performed. He and some other members of this top-notch
Dominican Merengue music dance band have performed in DC
Remembered with deep appreciation and
respect on this list also are our local pride of Mexico, singer-activist
Arredondo, and our friends from the Mexican mariachi groups Mariachi Los
Amigos and Mariachi Las Americas, as well as the dozens of music
students, music supporters and other artists who walked through this center and
made its history for all in DC.
July 11th event held special significance for the folks who originally
participated in building
the Latino musical renaissance in Washington, DC in the 1970's and 1980's.
After a long dormancy, the type of grass roots people's cultural event held
on July 11th, 1998 is being revived, for many of the same reasons which gave birth
to that movement in the DC in the late 1970's. The need to provide community space for cultural enjoyment
while also providing the community with a place to meet each other and empower
itself through exchanges of ideas and a sharing of cultures.
I hope that gives folks a little more background on
history of the
community and the Wilson
Center's central role in
that legacy. The
revival of such a cultural space after nearly 20 years of existance is
historic and will likely be smiled upon by many long-time residents of the local
Chuck Goolsby, July 11th, 1998
The below section has been added June 28, 2001.
web site is being posted at this time in recognition of the
cultural crisis and loss that the sale
of the Wilson Center Complex by its owners (The national body of the
Presbyterian Church) will cause
to the community it resides in. The tenant organizations of Wilson Center
have struggled for many years to raise the money needed to buy the
building outright, something that the current recession makes less
likely. Gentrification (the buying up of urban property by
middle class professionals) is impacting the Columbia Heights area,
especially since a new Metro station opened one block away from Wilson
Center, endangering El Centro's future.
As one can see, a LOT of culture has come
through Wilson Center. The community continues to need that resource,
especially the young people who face few other recreational choices in this
historic multicultural community.
Chuck Goolsby, June 28th, 2001
a former member of these Wilson Center affiliated performing groups from
1978 through 2001 and beyond: