Las fiestas de Santiago Apóstol (Feast of St James) is in Loíza Aldea, Puerto Rico Friday-Sunday, July 23-25, 2021 with various festivities through Sunday, August 1, 2021.
It’s a beautiful Puerto Rican patron saint festival derived from our Indigenous, Spanish and African heritage.
Las fiestas de Santiago Apóstol 2021
Friday, July 23 ~ At 12:01am, the neighborhoods of the town start celebrating. This goes on all night until 6am. Traditional Latin parties go on for from three to ten days.
There is a Santiago Apóstol Mass in Plaza Don Ricardo Sanjurjo de Jesús at 6pm. We are having trouble finding this on Google Maps. Apparently it is on San Patricio Street (PR-951). We’ll update this.
Saturday, July 24 ~ There is a bomba Puertorriqueña festival at Parque Histórico Cueva María de la Cruz from 11am to 5pm. It’s a beautiful large cavern that has been a sacred place since Taíno times.
There is bomba drumming, singing and dancing; artisanal crafts for sale; and food, lots of great food. Loíza chefs are famous for their gastronomy. The delicacies made from jueyes (land crabs) are excellent!
The Ayala family will be present. This celebration is usually held in the Casa Ayala, but this year is in a bigger outdoor space because of the pandemic. This is really their party and the entire town is involved. Other groups include Belelé (@folklor.belele), Dulce Coco (@dulcecoc03) and El Combate, Tambores Calientes (@tamborescalientesoficial) and Los Parranderos de Loíza.
Sunday, July 25 ~ There is a culture festival in Paseo Julia de Burgos, next to el Rio Grande de Loíza, from 3-8pm. It honors Yanniel A. Arce Rivera and the 50th Anniversary of Loíza salsa band Orquesta La Zodiac.
Yanniel A. Arce Rivera is the star of “The Blue Cape” (2019) a short film by María José Delgado. You can stream it on PBS “The Latino Experience Episode 1.”
The Cepeda family is one of the first families of bomba Puertorriqueña. In the 1970s, the tradition was almost dead. William Cepeda, son of patriarch Raul Cepeda, asked himself, “What happens to bomba when my family passes away?” So the Cepedas, Ayalas and some families from Mayagüez worked to bring it back. Now bomba along with plena are core elements of Puerto Rican identity. Young Puerto Ricans are growing up with our traditions again. We are all students of the Cepedas and the Ayalas now.
The Cepedas say their family tradition comes from a French plantation in Mayagüez. Nobody says this, but that is likely Haitian Diaspora. French is the clue and Mayagüez is a traditional entry point from Hispaniola and Cuba. The profitability of the Saint-Domingue plantation model and then the instability of the Haitian Revolution spread Haitian culture around the Caribbean, including to New Orleans where jazz comes from.
El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico is one of Puerto Rico’s leading salsa orchestras. They are called the University of Salsa because so many great salseros started with the band. Gran Combo itself formed from the former band of Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera. Cortijo and Rivera put bomba Puertorriqueña into la salsa, the Sicá bomba rhythm specifically. That’s part of the Puerto Rican sound. You don’t have salsa without bomba. It’s amazing how we are all connected.
St James ~ Santiago Apóstol
St James is the patron saint of Spain, Guatemala and many small towns across the Latin world.
In Spain, Santiago Apóstol (St James in Spanish) is an iconic myth of divine support for Christians killing Moors (North Africans, Arabs, Africans, any people of color). We thought it strange that we would celebrate such a character.
In colonial times, the colonizers believed that the apocalypse would begin once the whole world was baptized and after that there would be heaven on Earth. To bring on the end of times they went about collecting souls like Facebook likes. Celebrating anything but Catholic traditions could bring on sadistic abuse and even murder. The African diaspora (mixed with Indigenous) cleverly hid their own culture inside the colonizer’s culture. What better way to celebrate your own traditions than to fool the colonizer into thinking you are celebrating theirs.
That’s syncretization, the blending of traditions. The way we celebrate today is no longer Indigenous, Spanish or African, it is Puerto Rican. We blended. Colonial times were a forced blending, but if you leave people alone, we will mix naturally.
Fiestas Patronales (Patron Saint Festivals)
In Puerto Rico, Santiago Apóstol is the patron saint of Aibonito, Fajardo, Guánica, Loíza Aldea and Santa Isabel.
Patron saint festivals are small town carnivals. It’s the big party in these small towns. Communities prepare six months before and a lot in the last month. The public celebration is just the tip of the iceberg.
The festivals hire great Caribbean salsa and merengue bands for the nights, so the festivals actually support the musicians.
Loíza Aldea is our favorite town in Puerto Rico. It is known as Puerto Rico’s most African Diaspora town. In the colonial era, the Spanish colonizers allowed people who escaped British slavery to live there. From San Juan, it’s across the Rio Grande de Loíza (Loíza River), the great river of Puerto Rico. There is a bridge now, but you used to have to cross by ferry. The river is beautiful with the Taíno sacred mountain El Yunque in the distance.
According to legend, the town is named for Yuisa, a Taíno Cacique (leader), one of the famed Indigenous women leaders of the Caribbean. African and Indigenous mixed together when we escaped from the colonizers to the countryside and mountains. We become the Jíbaro, the iconic Puerto Rican mountain farmers who are beloved for their resilience.
Bomba Puertorriqueña is a Puerto Rican drum, song and dance tradition. It is unique, but in the same line as Cuban rumba, Colombian cumbia, Venezuelan tambor, Brazilian samba, Mexican fandango, and many other traditions.
One of the unique characteristics of bomba Puertorriqueña is the flirty game played by the dancer and lead drummer. The dancer moves and the drummer responds in time. The dancer basically plays the lead drummer with their movement. It’s fun.
The three instruments in bomba are the cuá, maraca and bomba barrille. The barrille used to be made from rum barrels. The maraca is an Indigenous Taíno instrument. Any time you hear maracas in music, that’s Indigenous influence.
The dance space is called the “batey.” It’s the Indigenous ceremonial circle of Taíno towns. You see the same thing all the way to the Mayan Yucatán. We don’t need an official circle of stones. Dancers naturally form the sacred circle. You only enter the batey with love and respect.
It can also be a place of friendly competition. The rap batalla is basically the same thing. Rappers may battle hard in the ring, but afterwards, it’s all embraces. Interestingly, the crossed-arms rapper pose is a bomba dance move.
In the bomba, young urban Puerto Ricans have risen above faith, race, gender, nationality and social class. After good mothering, it’s the most beautiful thing we’ve seen on the island. We are very proud of our youth. They are an example to the whole world of how fun it is to just be together without labels.
The traditional bomba songs are like nursery rhymes. Everyone knows them and sings along. To really enjoy bomba Puertorriqueña, get as close to the drums as you can, and stand around the batey in the middle of the people singing.
When the chorus opens up, you’ll get goosebumps. It’s a mystical experience caused by everyone synchronizing with their hearts open. That’s what bomba is really about ~ connecting with each other. We know this feeling from our work in Tango Argentino. But that is a profound connection between one couple. Bomba is an equally profound connection shared with everyone present. That was a big surprise to us.
There are bomba songs about every human emotion, but the most common emotion you’ll see is pure joy. Everybody smiles because everybody loves bomba. It doesn’t matter whether you know what’s going on or not. Just smile too!
La Familia Ayala
The Santiago Apóstol festival in Loíza is important because the town is the home of the Ayala Family, one of the first families of bomba Puertorriqueña. So it’s also a bomba festival, one of the most important on the island.
The Ayala family also created the vejigante mask made from coconut. The paper mache one is from Ponce in the south.
Vejigante is the iconic Puerto Rican carnival character. He is supposed to scare people into being good. In Puerto Rico he is not mean, he is beloved. Indigenous Taíno were a peaceful people.
The traditions derive from Spanish Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) festivals. In old Spain, vejigante represented defeated Moors. El caballero (horse-riding gentleman) represented Spaniards. We have turned hate into love and darkness into light.
Las fiestas de Santiago Apóstol
Las fiestas de Santiago Apóstol may seem like a small town carnival, but there is a lot going on if you open your eyes and your heart to see it.
You can celebrate in New York City with Danza Fiesta at the Bronx Music Hall plaza in Melrose, The Bronx on Sat, July 24 at 3pm @BxMusic
There is a parallel universe here if you learn to read it. Aside from the beaches, mountains, the people and the food, bomba is the most beautiful thing we know in Puerto Rico.