English language version
Por la versión en español
When you say “WEPA”, you must emphasize the “e” for as long as possible and the “a” the same way. Say it with me: WEEEEEEEPAAAAAAAAA! It is a cry of celebration — an expression of joy, a versatile exclamation in Latin American Spanish used to express emotion, congratulations, and happiness, used mostly by the Puerto Rican community. WEEEEEEEPAAAAAAAAA!
On June 4, at the intersection of Moore and Humboldt Streets, El Puente Green Light District (GLD) and Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (ALJA) threw the third WEPA pa’l Pueblo. The free family event brought art workshops and music to the plaza in front of the Moore Street Market “La Marqueta”, a food and dry goods market with space for community programming built in 1943. The concert began with the beautiful music of Ed Martinez and the ensemble Con Sabor, playing Latin jazz and salsa for an audience of approximately 150 people.
El Puente’s (GLD) is a ten-year strategic initiative dedicated to sustaining, growing, greening, and celebrating Williamsburg’s South Side community. ALJA is a nonprofit, founded in 2007, with a mission to preserve Afro-Latin jazz music and heritage, support its performance, and educate youth in understanding this cultural treasure.
During the first set, I had the pleasure of meeting Zack O’Farill, director of educational programs for ALJA,and one of the musicians taking part in the celebration. I briefly chatted with Gloria Zelaya and Asenhat Gomez, who are both have spent 20 years working with El Puente and organized the event. They introduced me to Eugenio Maldonado, a co-founder of El Puente.
We all turned as we heard an extraordinarily beautiful voice and contagious joy emanating from the stage. Gina d’Soto, singer and songwriter, had begun her performance. In a matter of minutes, the atmosphere on the street transformed and the party kicked into higher gear. Her comfort on stage and passion are indescribable. She’s fearless and totally dedicated to her audience. The love she expresses with that mixture of jazz, soul, fusion, and traditional Cuban music is passionate. It is a resounding Bravo!
I’m from Spain and was curious where most of the crowd was from. As I chatted and got to know my neighbors, the answer was an overwhelming Puerto Rico, “Boricua!” they answer me proudly. But along the way I discovered others in the audience from Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Belize. I even met a Canadian!
It is already almost 5 p.m. when Kikiriki Biquey, a Cuban rhumba group, takes the stage. Their interpretation and the lyrics of the songs with which they delight us: pure art, pure love! Near the end of his performance, one of the members of this group launches a call to support the local businesses and the neighborhood. He tells us clearly and transparently that supporting what is local is contributing to the survival of our identities.
The sky is still bright blue and inside me is joy from this gift that is music, paying unlimited tribute to this community. I think of the answers that Gloria and Asenhat have given me when I asked them: why is El Puente necessary in our neighborhood? “Because we help our community, our youth, spreading art, maintaining our essence and culture. For the service we offer to the Latino community and people of color, for our defense of our rights to remain here and our right to celebrate diversity, our art, and our culture.” WEPA is “pa’lante”; WEPA is “alegria, bienvenida” they told me.