Que vengan los niños Musical Album

Que vengan los niños. Recently awarded a 2022 Cleveland Foundation Artist Fellow, Dr. Raquel M. Ortiz has released Que vengan los niños, an album of Afro-Puerto Rican bomba songs for children, sung in Spanish, in English, and some are also bilingual, created in collaboration with William Cepeda, a four-time Grammy-nominated Latin Jazz legend, composer, and educator.

The 12 songs (listed below) range in topics from the beauty of the island of Puerto Rico to animals, bomba music, and Boricua pride in the USA, and incorporate traditional Latin American children’s songs. Four of the songs are inspired by Dr. Ortiz’s children’s picture books and two theater productions.  The songs showcase the three basic rhythms and many others that are mainly variations of sicá, cuembé holandé, yubá, and seis corrido .

Que vengan los niños (Leró)
Vocals: Nelie Lebrón Robles  |  Lyrics: William Cepeda
This leró is a sung invitation to all children – and adults – to learn and celebrate their African heritage. By singing and praising the rhythms of warriors and the power of the barriles, together, we are stronger.

El canto del coquí (Sicá)
Vocals: Juan Eliel Castro Reyes  |  Lyrics: William Cepeda
The coqui is a Puerto Rican icon. This coquí sings a sicá to cultivate joy, peace, and love. His song fills us with faith and hope and helps our hearts stay true to what is truly beautiful and memorable. 

Plantando banderas (Cuembé)
Vocals: Josniel Ramos Díaz  |  Lyrics: Raquel M. Ortiz, William Cepeda
Inspired by Planting Flags on Division Street / Plantando banderas en la calle division (Colores Editorial House, 2016), this cuembé celebrates Puerto Rican communities throughout the United States.  

Mariposa (Holandé Lento)
Vocals: Michael Matos Clementes  |  Raquel M. Ortiz, William Cepeda
Inspired by Broken Butterfly Wings / Alas de Mariposa Rotas (Arte Público Press, 2021), is a holandé lento about how butterflies teach us how to be free. 

Medley of Traditional Latin American Children’s Songs (Bomba Pa’ Ti, Bomba Pa’ Mi – Sica; Chequi Morena – Cuembé; Arroz Con Leche – Yubá; Mambru – Holandé; Que Llueva – Seis Corrido)
Lyrics: Casabe Records
A modern twist on four traditional children’s songs. Now to the rhythm of sicá, cuembé, yubá, and holandé, we celebrate brave children ready and willing to fight for peace, work for a more just world and celebrate and care for Mother Earth.

Amame como soy (Yubá Lento)
Vocals: Anneilis Manso Dávila, Michael Matos Clementes  | Lyrics: Raquel M. Ortiz, William Cepeda
This yubá lento reflects what it means to love someone for who and what they are. It’s a reminder to see the light and beauty in every one of us. 

Big Bomba Drum (Sicá)
Vocals: Gabriela Matos Ramos, Josniel Ramos Díaz  |  Lyrics: Raquel M. Ortiz, William Cepeda
A sung conversation to the beat of sicá between two characters from When Julia Danced Bomba / Cuando Julia Bailaba Bomba (Artea Público Press, 2019). They explore bomba beats and what bomba means to them. 

Mi lindo Puerto Rico (Hoyo E’ Mula)
Vocals: Juan Eliel Castro Reyes  |  Lyrics: William Cepeda
Esta canción está inspirada en la belleza de la isla de Puerto Rico como sus paisajes, playas, palmeras y su gente. Puerto Rico is known for its breathtaking mountain range of the Cordillera Central, the incredible Río Grande de Loíza, and the waterfalls of El Yunque. But this hoyo e’ mula sings about the island of giants and pitirres, brave Taínos, and blessed cimarrones.

Arcoiris sonoro (Cuembé)
Vocals: Gabriela Matos Ramos  |  Lyrics: Raquel M. Ortiz, William Cepeda
Using lyrics found in the picture book Sofi paints her dreams / Sofi pinta sus suenos (Arte Público Press, 2019), this cuembé explores natural phenomena that create music. 

Remeneate caco é juey (Seis Corrido)
Lyrics: Casabe Records
This traditional silly song set to a seis corrido is about a crab (un juey) who dances, whirls around and chews his way through a bouncy bomba.

Animal Party (Rulé)
Vocals: Anneilis Manso Dávila, Gabriela Matos Ramos, Josniel Ramos Díaz
Lyrics: Raquel M. Ortiz, William Cepeda
What might happen if the animals at the Cleveland Zoo threw a dance party? Would we find bears boogieing, elephants stomping, and kangaroos bopping? Would you groove, strut, shake, and move with them to this rhythmic rulé?

Baila bomba, eh (Yubá)
Vocals: Nelie Lebrón Robles, Gabriela Matos Ramos, Anneilis Manso Dávila 
Lyrics: William Cepeda
This song invites everyone to be part of and experience the yubá rhythm and the genre of bomba music.

 Listen to the entire album on Spotify.

Plantando banderas trailer

William Cepeda and the students from the Escuela de música libre de San Juan: Indira F. Sánchez Bhajan, Jan M. Rodríguez Sepúlveda, José M Soto Montalvo, Antonio Avilés Figueroa, Nixon Cruz Hernández, Elionel Rivera Sierra, Gabriela Matos Ramos, and their Choir Director, Ana L Rosario González.

Creative Process

I craft music through collaborations with educators, cultural workers, children, and families at the Julia de Burgos Arts and Cultural Center and at elementary and middle-grade schools and community centers in New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, Lorain, and Holyoke. With support from Cleveland Foundation Artist Fellowship and a grant from Cuyahoga Arts Support for Artists, I have been workshopping melodies and lyrics for songs. We have been workshopping melodies and lyrics for songs while recording footage of l students for future music videos.

Q & A Que vengan los niños (2023)

1. What is Que vengan los niños about? How did the opportunity to work together come about?

Raquel M. Ortiz (RMO hereinafter) – Que vengan los niños is an album made up of Spanish, English, and Bilingual Afro-Puerto Rican bomba songs for children. The album is created in collaboration with four-time Grammy-nominated Latin Jazz legend, composer, and educator William Cepeda. Cepeda composed and arranged the music and served as the musical director for the production. We have created twelve songs exploring a range of bomba rhythms. Topics range from the beauty of the island of Puerto Rico, animals, bomba music, and Boricua pride in the U.S.A. We incorporated traditional Latin American children’s songs. Four songs are inspired by my children’s picture books and theater productions. 

The Cleveland Foundation generously funds the album through a 2022 Cleveland Foundation Artist Fellowship and a 2022 Cuyahoga Arts Support for Artists residency. Furthermore, we’ve collaborated with Enlace de familias (Holyoke, MA), the Julia de Burgos Arts and Culture Center (Cleveland, OH), and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (Chicago, IL), workshopping lyrics and creating music videos and educational materials. We recorded the vocals in Puerto Rico with middle-grade students from the Conservatorio de Música Libre de San Juan and children and teen members of the Banda Municipal de Loíza.

2. What was the relationship between your creative work before Que vengan los niños and your creative work today? How do you connect this to your Puerto Rican-Caribbean experience and personal or non-Caribbean memories within the United States and Puerto Rico?

RMO – Many of the songs are inspired by my children’s picture books and two theater productions. The bilingual song “Arcoiris” uses lyrics from the picturebook Sofi Paints her dreams / Sofi Pinta sus Sueños(Arte Público Press, 2019) to explore any natural phenomenons that create music. The Spanish song “Plantamos banderas,” inspired by Planting Flags on Division Street / Plantando banderas en la calle division (Colores Editorial House, 2016), celebrates Puerto Rican communities throughout the United States. The lyrics also explore how we “plant flags” to claim spaces, name our heroes, and celebrate ourselves. The English song “Big Bomba Drum” is a conversation between two characters from When Julia Danced Bomba / Cuando Julia bailaba bomba (Arte Público Press, 2019). They sing about why they play the drum, where bomba comes from, and different bomba rhythms. And the bilingual song “Mariposa” inspired by Broken Butterfly Wings / Alas de Mariposa Rotas (Arte Público Press in November 2021), is a song about how butterflies teach us about freedom and imagination. 

My success with children’s literature is because my stories incorporate public art, folk art, and folk music, and I integrate musical elements in my text and storytelling. Making songs about some of these stories was just the natural next step in an organic storytelling process. 

3. Please reflect on your growth and maturity as a person, writer, musician, teacher, and researcher with your current time in the United States and Puerto Rico. What differences do you see in your creative-investigative work? How has your work matured? How have you evolved?

RMO – I believe what may set me apart from others would be the number of collaborative projects I’ve done. My first picture book, Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural / Sofi y el mágico mural musical (Arte Público Press, 2015), is inspired by a community mural created by María Dominguez, who I’d studied and interviewed. María inspired and created the illustrations for the book. Planting Flags on Division Street / Plantando banderas en la calle division was created with a team of people, many from Chicago. I co-wrote Vicki & a Summer of Change / Vicki y un verano de cambio (Red Sugarcane Press, 2020) with founding member of the Young Lords Iris Morales. I co-wrote my first musical production, Sofi’s Magical Adventure (2018), with Melanie McCarter Guzman from the Cleveland Public Library. And, this past July, the Cleveland Play House contracted an adaptation of Alas de Mariposa Rotas “A las Nubes” by Chicana playwright Georgina Escobar.

4. Raquel, how do you see your creative work in regards to your peers in the United States and Puerto Rico? How has your work been integrated into your literary-musical work?

RMO – Like many diaspora writers, I believe I explore identity issues and tie that to issues of empathy and solidarity for Puerto Ricans on the Island. My research for my MA and Ph.D. has inspired many, if not all, of my stories. The songs I’m composing allow me to explore different topics I’m interested in and give more dimension to stories I’ve written. 

5 You have managed to tie and maintain a creative-investigative approach to the stories and music you create. How do you believe your work will be received within the United States and Puerto Rico, and by your peers?

RMO –It’s evident that my research influences the stories and lyrics I write. I think the work will be well received because it addresses issues of identity and self-affirmation that many Latinx in the United States struggle with. Also, because the songs are in Spanish, English, and bilingual, many audiences can listen to and enjoy our work.

6 Do you consider yourself Puerto Rican or not?

RMO – Like 5 million other Puerto Ricans, I live in the United States. Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, I lived in Puerto Rico for three years. Now I visit Puerto Rico to visit family and work on different projects. I’m an excellent example of many Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora – a back-and-forth reality, living in and in between two worlds. So yes, I consider myself Puerto Rican, a Puerto Rican living in the Diaspora with a very different reality than people on the Island. And being a Diasporic Puerto Rican influences how I approach my stories, songs, and poems. In the Diaspora, we create and recreate culture inspired by and with parts of culture, art, music, and literature from the Island. 

7 How do you integrate your ethnic and gender identity and political ideology into your creative work? Do you incorporate your training and research in your creative work? 

RMO – Many of my stories are inspired by my research on Puerto Rican art, music, and literature for my Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology and my MA in Puerto Rican and Caribbean Studies. I’ve worked at El Museo del Barrio, the Allen Memorial Art Museum, and The Brooklyn Museum. I’ve also held research positions at the Universidad de Granada and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Hunter College). I also worked for a time as an editor and writer for Santillana. And I taught art and literature at the high school level and have taught anthropology and Puerto Rican Studies classes at the University level for the past ten years. Lastly, all of my stories take place, or start, in the diaspora, as I was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, and have lived in New York City (Williamsburg and Washington Heights) and Chicago (Humboldt Park). 

8 How does your creative work integrate your life experiences as a student in Puerto Rico and abroad? How do you integrate those life experiences into your work today?

RMO – I visit schools across the United States to give Author Visits and conduct residencies, staging performances of my stories. I also offer workshops and present at conferences to teachers, librarians, and educators. I’m sharing my holistic approach to literacy, including a multi-modality approach to learning. I’ve also directed several music videos and an animated films. Currently, I’m working on bilingual educational videos about bomba that will be available to everyone soon.

9 What difference do you observe, over time, with the public’s reception of your creative work? How has it changed?

RMO – My first book was well received, but I had to knock on many doors and prove myself. Thanks to this first book, I learned I had to be an artist and a performer. First, I was a writer, but soon I realized I had to connect with my audience and make them a part of my readings. Thanks to including lyrics to songs in my Sofi story, it was easy for me to help the audience join me on Sofi’s adventure. Also, almost all of my stories include lyrics to songs that make my readings interactive. This gave way to turning my first book into a musical. Thanks to adapting the music and working with directors with theater backgrounds, I became more aware of how to perform my work, how to perform for an audience, and how to incorporate sound and music into my work. I contacted William to arrange and compose music because of the Sofi musical. That project gave birth to us working on Que vengan los niños.

10. What other creative projects are you working on now?

RMO – Currently, I’m working on two plays: a musical adaptation of Cuando Julia bailaba bomba, and Telling Stories With The Bomba Drums, and a reinvention of the Cucarachita Martina story. I’m also finishing up a young adult urban fantasy novel that explores Taíno mythology.

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