Kadencia - Bomba & Plena / Salsa
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Kadencia - Bomba & Plena / Salsa

Richmond, Virginia, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | INDIE

Richmond, Virginia, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2009
Band Latin Folk




"Rhythm and Culture"

The featured orchestra for the Aug. 24 Latin Jazz and Salsa Festival at Dogwood Dell burst onto the Richmond scene a year ago.

Led by Maurice Sanabria-Ortiz, 59, the 12-member Kadencia orchestra is dedicated to conserving and promoting Afro-Puerto Rican music.

“My music is inspired by my grandfather who lived until age 97,” Sanabria-Ortiz says. “He worked as a sugar cane train conductor, and he explained to me about the parties the sugar cane workers would have after the harvest using the bomba and plena music styles.”

Sanabria-Ortiz moved to Richmond eight years ago from Puerto Rico because of the economic crisis there. He left behind a career in the pharmaceutical industry and a band of the same name, but his move brought him closer to his son Maurice Sanabria Gallardo, 39, who has lived in the area for more than 15 years. Father and son both work at the Defense Supply Center in Chesterfield, and both are members of Kadencia.

Kadencia (a spin on the Spanish word for cadence) is one of the few Caribbean bands in Richmond. “In Puerto Rico, my group had three trombones, a bass and a piano,” Sanabria-Ortiz says. “Here, it’s one trombone, two trumpets and one sax player who also plays the flute.”

Sanabria Gallardo plays the plena drum and sings an echoing chorus to his father. Onstage, he also banters with his dad and explains the songs to the audience. “We are trying to use bomba and plena, these rhythms that were born out of poverty and slavery, to make something very nice,” he says.

At the Latin Jazz and Salsa Festival, Kadencia will share the bill with numerous local, national and Puerto Rico-based performers including Tito Puente Jr. The group will perform a repertoire from “La Voz del Barrio” (The Voice of the Neighborhood), a CD Sanabria-Ortiz brought from Puerto Rico. It was performed and recorded by musicians in his hometown of Mayaguez, but here in Richmond, Kadencia interprets the songs with new arrangements.

The song “Bomba de Baquine” tells the story and portrays a celebration of the enslaved sugar cane workers in Puerto Rico after a baby died because of the belief that the child was passing without sin. “Rumba Callejera” (Street Rumba) portrays a street party. “Juicio al Plenero” (Plenero Trial) is a tongue-in-cheek story of a court that has to determine the origin of the fast plena rhythm.

Says Sanabria Gallardo, who also does social media for the group, the music is “something that shows resiliency. It came out of these rhythms of people working very long hours. They used music to relax, to have fun and to talk about what happened. We use three different drums; we play as a team. Each of us [has] to play our part. We have to play in unison.”

Those are lessons the musicians have taken to stages at the Que Pasa Festival, the Henrico Theatre, the Smithsonian and the Lincoln Memorial, as well as a solo performance at Dogwood Dell earlier this summer and workshops at area schools.

“It’s an oral tradition,” says Sanabria-Ortiz. “They used to call plena the newspaper of the neighborhood, to talk about important events. But most important to the music are the rhythms.” Backed up by numerous percussionists in the band, as well as a hearty brass section, the rhythms are intended to make the audience dance.

Sanabria Gallardo is seeking to keep the band busy with monthly bookings. They also have a smaller ensemble that plays a more pared-down, traditional style. Sanabria-Ortiz is working with arrangers in Puerto Rico on his next album, which delves into the different histories of the island surrounding slavery, Africans and Spaniards.

“This band of heroes preserves the culture and history of the island of Puerto Rico through the preservation of our music bomba and plena,” says Luis Hidalgo, a Latin Jazz and Salsa Festival organizer. “Through their music and expression of fellowship, they bring us together in a time of divisiveness. - Richmond Magazine

"How local Puerto Ricans Resist and Celebrate through Music"

Washington City Paper

How Local Puerto Ricans Resist and Celebrate Through Music
Local musicians are dropping plenty of bomba and plena.

JULY 23RD, 2021

On Tuesday, while the D.C. Council voted for economic relief for child care workers, folks experiencing homelessness, and low-income families, a revived White House task force met for the first time to discuss economic relief for another vulnerable group: residents of Puerto Rico.

Like D.C., Puerto Rico has no voting representative in Congress and its residents are without full voting rights. Lawmakers and media outlets have increasingly linked the two areas’ decades-long fights for statehood as they have gained ground in Congress this year. In recent months, the self-determination bill Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed has faced controversy. But the White House task force on Puerto Rico, which President Biden re-established to give options for Borikén’s political status and relationship with the U.S., is instead focused on recovery relief over statehood, according to the president.

When people don’t have a legislative voice, they speak up and out in other ways. (You know it, D.C.!) For residents whose heritage is caught up in a limbo of unrecognized autonomy, celebration and resistance can come in the form of intergenerational solidarity, cultural practice, and oral history preservation. For Puerto Ricans from the island (or whose parents hail from there) who live in D.C.—a growing population—this dual limbo state isn’t immobilizing, it’s galvanizing. And the lack of autonomy and federal aid back home as Puerto Rico has faced devastating natural disasters, its own racial reckoning, and public health crises even pre-pandemic have spurred local millennials to delve into their roots, playing old-school Afro-Boricua rhythms with siblings, and inspired parents to play progressive bomba and plena melodies with their children.

What Are Bomba and Plena?

Bomba, a percussive genre centered on call and response that’s considered the anthem of Puerto Rico, has resurged among Boricuas outside the island, including young people. While bomba has been on the brink of becoming mainstream, it dates back to enslaved 17th-century Puerto Ricans, for whom the lyrics conveyed their rage and melancholy and the songs both galvanized uprisings and created community and identity. Its 16 rhythms are a result of interactions among enslaved Puerto Ricans and those from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Dutch Caribbean colonies.

Plena, a one-rhythm Afro-Borikén musical tradition often paired with bomba, is known as “the newspaper of the people” for a reason: Its narrative lyrics and function in news reporting and political commentary hail from sugarcane fields (cañaverales) in the southern part of the island in the early 1900s. For this reason, one of Kadencia Orchestra’s original songs in their first album is “Bomba de Cañaveral.”

Machetes have a special place in Puerto Rican culture, particularly so with plena. “Tito” Sanabria, the buleador and requinto drum player for Kadencia Orchestra, links the knife with the sugarcane his ancestors would cut when they developed the genre. His great-grandfather, who worked as a train conductor transporting sugar canes in the 1930s, would regale Tito Sanabria’s father with tales of folks in the sugarcane fields dancing during their scant free time. The machete and its associated music genres symbolized a dual resistance via education through plena news sharing and as a means to put their children through to university.

Kadencia Orchestra members who hail from Puerto Rico or strongly identify with their Puerto Rican heritage—and who will be performing in Fairfax tonight— actively engage in this act of celebration and resistance.

“The 2-piece Combo,” AKA “the Roman Duo”

As Jersey kids, they broke a futon imitating The Hardy Boyz’ and The Undertaker’s wrestling moves. As teens in Prince George, Virginia, they walked out together when Alfredo, their mentor in the church band, dealt out too much tough love during rehearsal. Will Roman on the drums, Marc Roman on the trumpet—the two brothers, now 30 and 27, respectively, stuck together. Their father, a DJ in the ‘90s who moved to New York City from Puerto Rico at the cusp of adulthood, would sit them down on the couch and have them memorize album covers of Latino-Caribbean artists: Eddie Palmieri, Fania All-Stars, Puerto Rican Power Orchestra, Buena Vista Social Club. At family reunions, 5-year-old Will Roman would play percussion on top of the salsa music playing while people enjoyed pasteles and empanadillas.

Salsa music helped them weather transitions like the move from a “super loud” and highly Latinx-populated city to a highly tree-populated Virginian town as pre-teens. “I came over here and it was, like, super quiet,” says Marc Roman. “And it makes you kind of paranoid because it’s too quiet.” But it was also the place he learned to play trumpet (in Jersey, their school didn’t have the music programs they did in their new home). It was the place he and his brother adjusted to their new home through music, joining and unjoining salsa bands with bad-attitude bandmates.

And, in 2018, it was the place that a friend from church introduced Will and Marc Roman to a man that would offer the light-skinned Puerto Rican brothers a new way to experience their Afro-Boricua roots: playing bomba and plena, the Puerto Rican musical genre. (Salsa and reggaeton music, contrary to popular misconception, didn’t originate in Puerto Rico; they are, respectively, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Panamanian in origin.)

A man that, during his first meeting with Will Roman in the man’s living room, pulled up a PowerPoint with his vision for a bomba and plena band he was resuscitating: Kadencia Orchestra.

The vision jolted Will Roman and made his wife say, “I think you should do this,” when he climbed into their 2014 Honda Accord afterward and, despite all the bad bandmate experiences, made him say yes. It drove his brother to commit as well—putting in motion the dynamic brass-percussion duo that a Kadencia bandmate would later call “the 2-piece combo” and “the Roman duo.”

The man’s name was Maurice Sanabria.

Keeping It All in the Familia: Fathers and Sons

When 41-year-old Tito Sanabria found an abandoned bodyboard laying on the grass next to a basketball court in his town of San Germán, Puerto Rico, at age 12, he didn’t know what it was. Maurice Sanabria, who had surfed as a youth, asked his son if he wanted to learn the sport. In the weeks that followed, with the bodyboard Tito Sanabria remembers as “kind of split in half at the top, not completely broken, but somebody didn’t want it,” Maurice Sanabria taught Tito Sanabria how to move with the rhythms and swells of the ocean, how to balance it all.

Years later, when Tito Sanabria had come to Richmond, Virginia, for a job and, nursing knee injuries and feeling homesick (it was tough to find other Boricuas in the area then), picked up a requinto bomba drum, his father Maurice Sanabria taught him how to better balance the rhythms of bomba and plena. A photo taken in Puerto Rico of a bodyboard, a gift from Tito Sanabria’s mother, visible as he chats with City Paper, reminds him of the sport where he and his father took something ugly and discarded and harnessed it into a teaching tool and source of joy.

“[Bomba and plena] create an understanding that especially Puerto Ricans and many Latinos are a mix of races,” says Tito Sanabria, alluding to the genres’ origins in slavery. “There’s beauty in that, there is value in that, there is a rich history … and there’s an ugliness too that we can’t cover up that contributed to these rhythms.”

Maurice Sanabria, in a way, followed in the salsa-dancing footsteps of his own father, who sang in Miami and New York. In the military, while stationed in Germany in the late 1980s, he uncovered a big salsa community and joined a military salsa band. Invites for him to sing in other bands poured in, and Maurice Sanabria eventually started one focused on bomba and plena rhythms: the original Kadencia Band, which later disbanded in the early 2000s.

As a teen, Tito Sanabria’s father played in bands with friends in marquesinas, wall-less garages, with equipment one of those friends, a band boy for a well known salsa group, sneaked out at night. Maurice Sanabria had already been singing and playing tambora, a two-headed drum hailing from the Dominican Republic, at family parrandas since age 8. In marquesenia gatherings, folks would cut down palm trees with machetes, put up some lights, and dance to music, sometimes live playing; that’s where Maurice Sanabria and his friends came in. That’s when Maurice Sanabria “really got into it.”

The Band That They Bonded

Through contacts he met through friends and randomly at venues, Maurice Sanabria had gathered an all-star team of diverse drummers, bass musicians, and vocalists to accompany his singing-storytelling. His dream was to rebuild the Kadencia Orchestra with new members, so he brought his original songs from the original salsa band and bought the melodies from former band members. Will Roman on the congas and primo drum and Marc Roman, the trumpet player and back-up singer, have been two mainstays since the group re-formed with Maurice Sanabria as the lead singer and güiro player and his son Tito Sanabria on back-up vocals and the requinto and buleador, drums made of goat skin. Maurice Sanabria’s grandfather’s stories became the stuff of the orchestra’s songs: “No Me Quite el Tambor,” for instance, is the story of an enslaved person who prostrated himself before captors who threatened to take his drum—for him, it would be like taking his life.

Their first gig as the new Kadencia Orchestra, the 12-piece ensemble that frequently plays in the DMV, was at Hawk n Dove on a chilly January 2019. During the pandemic, after a year of only virtual rehearsals, when the COVID-19 cases had dipped, Maurice Sanabria brought the band together in one room in his house. He had bought clotheslines and curtains to separate each player in the rehearsal space. They took rehearsals seriously, playing as though they were still performing at the Lincoln Memorial, as they did in August 2019 as an invite from Music at the Monument. Tito recalls glancing over at his father, incredulous that they, Puerto Ricans playing Afro-Boricua music, were standing at the same spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. had made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“We have a dream!” says Maurice Sanabria, chortling as he recalls the performance. Behind him, as he talks to City Paper, is a portrait of Black Boricuas dancing bomba and plena that his oldest son, Michael, photographed.

Apart from performances, Kadencia Orchestra keeps the oral history going with bomba and plena workshops and discussions on Afro-Caribbean music for the Virginia Department of Education.

“I think whenever we can have a conversation that brings to the center…the importance of acceptance, of understanding where we come from,” it’s more than worth it, says Tito Sanabria. For them and so many others in the DMV, the resistance plays on.

Kadencia Orchestra plays in the DMV area tonight, from 7:30-8:30 pm, at Royal Lake Park, 5344 Gainsborough Drive, Fairfax, VA, 22032.

—Ambar Castillo (tips? acastillo@washingtoncitypaper.com) - Washington City Paper


Kadencia - La Voz del Barrio



Kadencia is an orchestra dedicated to conserving and promoting Afro-Puerto Rican music. The band uses Bomba, Plena, and Salsa to promulgate Puerto Rican culture, educate audiences on our Island’s native musical expressions, and make your body move in ways you never knew possible.Why Bomba, Plena, and Salsa?These rhythms are native to Puerto Rico and they were forged out of a necessity to communicate through song everything that is good and bad about our history, culture, and daily life. Music is one of the primary channels used by our people, whether in the mountains or “barrios”, to express social and economic injustice. Bomba and Plena are also conduits of joy that make people sing and dance like there is no tomorrow. Our mission is simple and straightforward; we will make you dance and have a great time while learning about the culture and music of Puerto Rico. We look forward to discussing how Kadencia can serve your musical, educational, and cultural needs.

Band Members