Updated: This story reflects the new workshop dates after winter weather forced us to make some changes.
A generous grant from the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County has allowed the Greater Bridgeport Latino Network to expand on a successful 2016 concert that explored Puerto Rico's rich musical heritage.
The Puerto Rican Songbook returns this April 22, and will be bolstered by three musical workshops in the weeks ahead.
The workshops will give context to music to be performed, once again, at the Bijou Theatre by Ricardo Reyes and the Campo de Humo band.
"This event started as a fundraiser for GBLN — our intent was to provide a program that attracted folks," said GBLN president Carolyn Gonzalez.
But Gonzalez and Reyes were surprised at how popular the Songbook concert was.
"We underestimated how much people in our community were longing and nostalgic for this music," said Gonzalez. "We know folks who attended last year appreciated the music and the trip down memory lane, but we recognized that the show lacked some of the context that newcomers to the music, including our own community, did not know or understand the history of Puerto Rican music and its impact."
"The grant will allow us to provide the free workshops and videotape them to share with folks to learn more about Puerto Rican music and to fully enjoy it. David Green of the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County was very supportive of our efforts to promote Latino cultural activities and encouraged us to apply," said Gonzalez.
The three free workshops culminate in a concert event, at the Bijou Theatre, on April 22. Tickets for that cost $25. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8.
Reyes was artist-in-residence at the Bijou last year when he and Gonzalez conceived the Songbook and brought it to the historic downtown theater's stage. Reyes treasures his year at the landmark theater.
"The residency stimulated my creativity and helped create this songbook," said Reyes. "I wanted to learn and I came to appreciate the music more. I had taken it for granted, I thought I knew it. It's made me a better musician."
Rick Reyes says that the Latin music genre brings together the music of various countries and Puerto Rico continues to play a major role.
"Puerto Rican music continues to be very influential throughout Latin America," he said. "This concert has simply made some of us 'stateside Puerto Ricans' more aware of our place in the world of music — and frankly to understand it better and be proud of our roots."
Through efforts such as get-out-the-vote campaigns, blood drives and community service, the Greater Bridgeport Latino Network mobilizes its members throughout the year.
The workshops and concert are in line with GBLN's broad mission to engage the community.
"Civic engagement at every level," said Gonzalez. "Youth, students, adults — everybody."
1 p.m. Saturday, March 4
Typically Puerto Rican – La Musica Tipica de Puerto Rico. Learn about the origins of Puerto Rico’s authentic country music at the Bridgeport Public Library downtown.
Focusing on folkloric Jibaro music, will talk about Joe Diaz and Edwin Rios bring insight into the genre. They will also perform examples of different types of Jibaro music that correspond with various towns and regions of the island. RSVP here.
6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11
The second workshop, led by noted musician and professor Hernán Yepes, is called "Boleros en Borinquen." It will be a discussion and performances of Puerto Rico’s favorite love songs, with wine and cheese served for the occasion. The bolero singers and songwriters of Puerto Rico helped to develop this genre and their boleros are known throughout Latin America. The Nest Arts Factory, 1720 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport, is lending GBLN ample space on its second floor. The Nest, across the street from the former ASPIRA building, houses artist studios as well as Reyes' rehearsal space.
1 p.m. Saturday, March 25
The third workshop, at 1 p.m., will focus on Puerto Rico's Afro Caribbean roots with a workshop and presentation on Bomba and Plena by Obanilu Allende, an expert on the subject matter of Puerto Rico's African roots and musical legacy. City Lights Gallery is lending their space for the event.