ABOUT: “It’s changed over the years, not a lot of young people understand where this music came from. People don’t know what is going on, but they’re drawn to it,” says folkloric percussionist Nico Laboy. Born and raised in East Harlem, Laboy energetically keeps the Afro-Cuban musical traditions of his ancestors alive by night in the corners of El Barrio. His Bomba y Plena performances are synergetic narratives that unfold between himself, the drummer, and experienced dancers who emerge, unforeseen, from his audience. The fierce movements and the sounds of these collaborative performances derive from Puerto Rico’s socio-political history. “The dancer imitates a slave master, telling everyone what to do. The dancer is the one who makes the music, and the drummer follows the dancer out of respect.” Though Laboy performs worldwide, he remains a man of El Barrio. “It’s home,” he concludes with a shrug and a smile. “It’s always a blessing to see an old face... [the people here have] become family through music.”
COMMUNITY VISIONS: Laboy hopes that the community will find more effective ways to foster the artistic growth of its youth. “Children are sponges, teenagers are sponges... there are a lot of kids who show interest [in the arts] but they have nowhere to go.” He would like to see artists contribute their skills to help forge this community of learners. “People who are well-known, they should give back. Make it happen. Make growth happen.” Additionally, he would like to see more local bars and restaurants that are willing to host artists. “The only place is Camaradas. We need more spots like that. It’s warm and inviting and it embraces the people who come."