“Sharing the Joy of Music with All Who Wish They Could Play …”
Twenty-five years ago, Juan Romero, an independent civic and social organization professional, founded the Culebra Foundation. Then as now, the Foundation’s mission is to educate, protect and promote the understanding of the history, environment, culture, and community of the most isolated and least populated of Puerto Rico’s seventy-eight municipalities (travel between the mainland and Culebra entails a ferry ride or a costly 12-minute flight).
Located seventeen miles east of the municipality of Fajardo in mainland Puerto Rico and twelve miles west of St. Thomas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Culebra is a thriving tourist destination that, before the hurricanes, Irma and Maria, brought almost thirty times more tourists to the island than there are residents.
Four years ago, Luz Rivera-Cantwell, president of the Culebra Foundation and co-founder Joey Sala, learned about the lack of after-school programs and got together to create an alternative. What began as a successful summer camp evolved into Música pa’ Culebra, a music program that provides children (ages six and up), access to a voice, guitar and percussions lessons, and, as of 2018, access to a recording studio free-of-charge.
According to Sala, “Música pa’ Culebra is a long-term project, and sustainability is a priority. We breed future musicians, keep the overhead down and shy away from political dependency. Also, we are creating a market for the locals, tourists, and the business community.” Sala is working towards – and foresees – a day when Culebra is recognized as a music destination.
The Foundation supports two student bands whose repertoires run the gamut: Puerto Rican folkloric music, popular Cuban music, Afro-Cuban jazz, classical, contemporary and straight-ahead jazz.
Also, it facilitates musical exchanges between Culebra and music institutions on the mainland and exposes the students and the population to music that is both familiar and new. Past performances include the Interamerican University’s Conjunto Bomba y Plena and the Puerto Rican icon, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader William Cepeda and Afro-Rican Jazz, who uses national folkloric genres as a medium for exploration and experimentation.
The Culebra Foundation is one of three institutions in Puerto Rico (alongside the Foundation for Puerto Rico and the Ponce Museum of Art, that lent its support to Cepeda’s efforts to obtain grants through Chamber Music America’s Presenter’s Consortium for Jazz, which awards funding to nonprofit organizations presenting jazz in their communities. The historic alliance offers Puerto Rico’s cultural organizations, institutions, and musician’s access to a variety of resources they were previously unaware of.
In 2017, the hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Two years later despite the federal government’s lackluster response, the agonizingly slow recovery, and Culebra’s remote geographic location, the islands are recuperating, and the Culebra Foundation and Musica pa’ Culebra continue to play a vital role in the sustainability and evolution of Culebra’s community and create critical thinkers, curious minds and students who lead productive lives.
Note: Article originally appeared in Chamber Music Magazine (Vol. 36, No.3, Summer 2019).