William Porayouw

Proyecto Cimarrón is sharing its love for Puerto Rican bomba with New Haven.

The group, which was officially launched last year, seeks to create a space to nurture Puerto Rican culture through bomba. Historically, bomba is the oldest traditional form of music in Puerto Rico and emerged from the cultural traditions which enslaved Africans brought to the island, serving as a source of cultural and political expression. Today, the art form has made its way to New Haven, where members of Proyecto Cimarrón practice their musical and dance skills for events across the city.

“The idea is to create space … for anyone who wants to be a part of the culture and learn,” Addys Castillo, who began Proyecto Cimarrón in 2021, told the News.

Castillo further described the history of the group.

In 2019, Castillo came across Movimiento Cultural, a performance troupe in New Haven dedicated to the study of bomba, where she met Kica Matos and several other group members. She had immersed herself within the troupe, learning how to drum and dance, before realizing a vision for a new group.

“We weren’t necessarily looking to just be a performance troupe,” Castillo said. “We wanted to kind of be rooted in the idea of creating space for just joy and liberation and practice … we’re not so much worried about the sound and how perfect we need to sound, but more or less about the camaraderie and the fellowship.”

When Castillo and several others left the group last fall, they found a new space at the Citywide Youth Coalition, which Castillo noted “is generally created for this kind of fellowship.” Castillo serves as executive director of the organization, which supports local youth through education, leadership development and anti-racist community organizing. 

“Cimarrón,” according to Castillo, refers to the feeling of liberation that the space sought to provide.

“That was the word, the name that they gave to enslaved people who ran away from plantations and ran into the mountains,” Castillo said. “When we say it in Puerto Rico, we’re speaking specifically to people who resisted and fled all for the purpose of being liberated and taking up with the oppression. So part of our space was about us being liberated.” 

Then, Proyecto Cimarrón was officially born. 

Since its creation, bomba has served as a form of spiritual expression for enslaved Africans under Spanish rule and has since remained a symbol of resistance and justice. It has since been used in political and civil activism such as the Black Lives Matter protests and in the recent movement to remove former governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello following political controversy.

For Matos, bomba is an opportunity for her to celebrate her Afro-Boricua roots.

“The yuba is my favorite rhythm,” Matos told the News. “It is often associated with resistance and rebellion. It is said that many a slave rebellion was planned to the rhythms of the bomba, and there are a lot of yuba songs that center resistance.”

Today, the group practices every Tuesday and has been invited to perform at events across the city.

Cuqui Matos, who learned of the group through her sister Kica’s involvement, felt as though the group fostered an inclusive attitude which not only included Puerto Ricans in New Haven but also the city’s larger Latine community. When she was asked to join, she said — “why not?”

“I found myself tapping my foot, moving my head,” Matos told the News. 

She described the group’s atmosphere as welcoming, especially as she considered herself one of its newer members. The group, Matos said, is very collaborative and serves as a source of her Puerto Rican pride.

Kica Matos also described her love for the group in its current form.

“I love to see the interaction between the primo drummer and the dancer,” Kica Matos told the News. “It is always unique. I also appreciate the interactions between all of us in the group – we have a lot of love for the bomba and respect for each other, and when we perform there is always so much joy and respect for the music and [culture].”

While the group will continue practicing weekly and performing at events across the city, they are anticipating getting involved with future projects.

“We will be hosting educational workshops, and moving forward, we anticipate that you will often find us performing in spaces that are advocating for social justice – rallies, protests, workshops,” Matos wrote in an email to the News. “We will also be hosting community spaces for folks who want to be in community with us.”

Proyecto Cimarrón will be performing on the New Haven Green on May 1.

William Porayouw covered Woodbridge Hall for the News and previously reported on international strategy at Yale. Originally from Redlands, California, he is an economics and global affairs major in Davenport College.