Maria Isa on "Latina Ritual Project" with Malamanya's Adriana Rimpel

Adriana Rimpel and Maria Isa
Adriana Rimpel and Maria Isa

In conjunction with Cedar Cultural Center's "Cedar Seeder" program, Maria Isa and Adriana Rimpel of Malamanya have been raising money for an ambitious new project. They hope to expand the scope of the local Latin music scene by incorporating collaborations with Puerto Rican talent and empowering the voices of Latinas in the culture. To truly capture the intended sound, Maria and Adriana flew to Puerto Rico to perform in the Fiestas Tradicionales de Santiago Apóstol, connect with well-known bomba and rhumba musicians, and begin recording. We caught up with Maria Isa to ask her about the project:

How has your trip to Puerto Rico been so far?

It's hot, man. You think it's hot over there... it's just twice as much. It's in the 90s, it's humid all the time, it just doesn't stop. When you're walking and marching in the parade and singing for five hours straight... It kind of beat me up. This is Adriana and Tony's [ed. The bassist for Malamanya] first time. They feel at home, they feel welcomed. They were a bit nervous. Tony's like, "I'm not Latin. I grew up with a passion for Latino music, and I've worked hard to be accepted back at home, and was wondering how I'd be accepted here...". If you know the rhythms, and you've studied it and you feel it, it's all about having the soul. This is a guy who yesterday jumped on every instrument at the parade, from bass to percussion to singing. Adriana was singing in the chorus of the group. It really opened up their eyes to another world within our world, not just with the music but with the people and the political status of Puerto Rico. 

There's a lot of police around here, man. It's crazy seeing police everywhere. You ask yourself, is this really necessary? Are they actually doing anything for the people? It feels like you're in a kind of secured zone, like Total Recall. Researching what's going on in the news, there's an estimation of 1,400 people being killed in one year on this island. 12 people in one day. You don't hear about things like that. This is the U.S.'s best kept secret: the music, the people, the attractions... At the same time, there's this hidden underground violence and police brutality that's being kept away. This isn't Disneyland or the tourist area of Puerto Rico. We're in the hood. But they're showing us so much respect, it's overwhelming. It's such an honor, and it just feels good to be able to go back home and tell my mom and my dad that we're gonna be okay, we have people looking out for us.

Who are some of the artists you'll be collaborating with for the album?

Basically reuniting with friends and musicians that I've been working with for a few years. I was invited by a group that I collaborated with last year, called Tambores Calientes. Tito Matos, the director of Viento de Agua, which is a very popular afro-latin band, I think they've won a few Grammys. Harold Hopkins; he was the bass player for Puya, which is well known in Latin-America for being kind of the Latin-American Rage Against the Machine. At this point, the Twin Cities artists involved are Adriana's band Malamanya; Muja Messiah; we just started writing to a beat by Nicademus, a producer from Minneapolis; musicians that I've worked with in my band; Felipe of Los Nativos is down to be part of the project; Viviana Pintado, an Afro-Cuban artist based out of Minneapolis for almost ten years now, and she played with the Grammy winning band Albita. We also have not just musicians but dancers. A big aspect of Latin music is choreography involved in rhumba and bomba. We got Giselle [Mejia] from Curio Dance out of Minneapolis to put a piece together for one of our songs. This is just the first step for the project, and it's been great to see it move along fast with the support of the Cedar. We can't wait to see those pedals blossom.

Adriana's statement in the project's press release ("Through the basis of mutual respect we collaborate with both men and women, but we refuse to take a back seat in the creative process. This is our voice and we define who we are,") highlights a feminist angle that seemed like a good way to frame the project.

It is, because if you think about it, we're here, playing with a majority of men and they're all playing the drums, and I was the only female yesterday to grab the drums and play with the guys. You see the women look at me like, woah! It's like, I've been learning these rhythms, just as much as you have, since I was five, but to them, [women] sing and dance. I was raised to play each instrument and each element of bomba. You felt the vibe of the young girls. You're not just singing and dancing, you're also playing the drums with the guys, and those men are respecting them. As soon as we landed, it's just been really cool to feel the love and respect as a female. When I first started coming out to Puerto Rico, the guys wouldn't talk to me. Very similar to the hip-hop cypher, where you're [supposed to be] the girl in the video... "Oh, you rap too?" We're not gonna be degraded. We're not gonna have to just sit and listen to the guy, and hear what he has to say, and keep our ideas closed-minded. We want to come forth to see how we can work together, because we need you. 

It's amazing to get that valued respect from the men who are the directors of these groups and bands we've been playing with. They're like, "We want our daughters to be like you guys, to be preserving this and treating it with respect,". Adriana captured it very well with that quote, because we're not gonna be... we sometimes, yeah, have to bite our tongue, but we're also not going to be treated with disrespect and slapped down. We come from a culture that's very degrading to women, and sexist. But there's also a side that's very respectful to women and hold up women as queens. So we want to showcase both of those sides and bridge them together positively. Don't just treat us with respect because we're women and we learn about our history, and we sing, and we carry that essence of beauty onstage; we're just like your mothers and your daughters and your wives. We want to give the self-esteem to those women who may want to come and pick up a drum. 

How did the idea for this project come about?

It's been something I've been talking about with Adriana for almost a year now. She's been interested in learning more about bomba. We grew up together on the same side of the Westside [of St. Paul] - we're very close family friends - literally two blocks away from each other. It's cool because Adriana enjoyed singing but it wasn't until recently that she started to put herself into songwriting and wanting to individualize her style. I love what they're doing with Malamanya; they've done such a good job capturing and preserving that folklore history with afro-cuban song and rhumba. It's cool that they get to explore how those rhythms are very similar here in Puerto Rico, being the other wing of the dove. They say Cuba and Puerto Rico are the two wings of the dove for the Caribbean. 

Not only am I working with an artist that I respect and I look up to, and she says it's vice versa, it's also fun. We're both Latina: Adriana's mother is Mexicana and her Dad is Haitian, and my parents are Puerto Rican, so we're representing the Latino community there. We don't want this just to be about us. We want this album and this live project to be an invitation and recognition of the Twin Cities Latino music scene. It's been around for over four decades, so we're gonna showcase our music, but we're also going to be elaborating on the history of Latin music in the Twin Cities and taking that abroad. We've got some time. I'm telling you things right now but it may grow even more. 

The project is slated for release in the spring, along with a release show performance at the Cedar in January, but you can support the project ahead of time with a donation. Proceeds go toward workshop fees in Puerto Rico, honoraria for teaching musicians and artists in Puerto Rico, and pre- and post-production costs for the EP.

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