Bella Martinez “La Escritora Irreverente de la Salsa” en Cuarta de Ponce from Puerto Rico the Island of Enchantment.
Ángel “Papote” Alvarado, who is also a composer, percussionist, vocal leader, and founder of Grupo Esencia, manages culture by fertilizing our Afro-Caribbean roots every year, making sure to bring the National Afro-Caribbean Festival to Ponce’s La Cuarta neighborhood, where he grew up. Usually, the event takes place in June of each year. However, this year -due to the global health emergency brought on by the pandemic that still threatens us- the iconic annual festival was held from November 19 to 21, 2021 at its usual venue.
On Friday the 19th November 2021 and coinciding with Puerto Rican Day, Angel “Papote” Alvarado kicked off the festivities to usher in the 22nd edition of the festival that each year makes the neighborhood the center of our Afro-descendant culture.
This year, the festival paid tribute to Willie Rosario, Ottoniel Vélez, Jesús Chu López and Héctor Pochy Gastón.
The musical offerings on Friday 19 included: Los Cimarrones, Robert Burgos and Descarga Zasón in addition to the stellar Míster Afinque. Willie Rosario’s orchestra has delighted with its unique compact format and has remained active for more than six decades under the direction of maestro Rosario himself, whom the salsa dancer keeps at the top of his preference within the environment that groups only connoisseurs.
The closing of the first night of the festival was preceded by the impeccable performance of the Willie Rosario Orchestra, a well-deserved tribute to the longest-serving bandleader in the salsa sound. Afterward, the author of the authorized biography of Mister Afinque -Robert Tellez- praised Maestro Rosario with some moving words.
Afterward, “Papote” Alvarado thanked Robert for his support to Afro-Caribbean cultural activities and presented him with a commemorative poster of the 22nd edition of the festival. The poster contains a photo by a photographer who stands out as one of the most committed cultural connoisseurs of the salsa scene: Conrado Pastrano.
It is worth mentioning that journalist Robert Tellez, who is also known as “the one who knows the most about salsa” traveled from Colombia to Ponce’s Barrio La Cuarta to be part of the festival and specifically to accompany the artist who is the subject of his work “Willie Rosario, el Rey del Ritmo” during the tribute. Maestro Rosario made us laugh when, in his usual serious and firm tone, he affirmed, microphone in hand, that he was grateful for the tribute, and at the same time said that he deserved it.
On Saturday 20, the following were presented: Boricua y de Mayagüez, Tribute to Héctor “Pochy” Gastón and Jesús López, Ángel “Papote” Alvarado and El Grupo Esencia, Roberto Roena’s Apollo Sound with Carlos Santos and Tito Cruz singing. On Sunday 21, the stage was decorated with Ausuba, Bambalué, Homenaje a Ottoniel Vélez, Guayacanes de San Antón and Abran Paso, with Pichíe Pérez and Rafy Santana singing.
This 2021 would have been the 23rd edition of the festival. However, the 2020 edition was canceled. In a stoic manner, the team in support of the persistence of the president and founder of the Comité Pro Nuestra Cultura – “Papote”- who has the unconditional support of William Rodríguez Thillet did not give up so that this 2021 edition would be achieved. Following all the rules that the COVID-19 protocol demands, the public was able to enjoy a luxury show.
Security and parking added comfort and convenience to the event. The festival featured, as usual, a display of artisans and kiosks, with the best of Puerto Rican fritanga.
For more than two decades, which are easy to say but are twenty-two struggles for the benefit of culture and its permanence, Angel “Papote” Alvarado has kept our Afro-Latin culture afloat, beyond the border of the southern pearl. Congratulations!
Lots of good energy, health, and success to this musician and cultural manager who carries on his shoulders an invaluable legacy. As for the rest, we look forward to the next edition of this unmissable festival that takes place every year. In the meantime, let’s follow the transcendental feat of his Grupo Esencia.
By: Bella Martínez
Photos: Conrado Pastrano
Article of Interest: Raymundo “Ray” Barretto Pagan was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 29, 1929.
Ray Barretto, Giant Force
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