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Contacting the Concha Mocoyu Center

Gisela Arandia Covarrubia

Also by Arandia: Panorama of Afrocuban Culture


Concha Mocoyú: La California

Concha Mocoyu: Center for Yoruba Studies
in the Solar "La California", Havana
by Gisela Arandia Covarrubia

The cultural project "Concha Mocoyu" in the solar (neighborhood) of "La California," Consejo Colon, Municipality of Havana Center, was prepared from investigations done over various years. This proposal has as basic objective the use of popular culture for the betterment of the community.

This projects consists of the creation of a Cultural Center located in the solar and directed from within by the neighbors themselves. The proposal starts with the creation of a School of Yoruba Studies for song, dance, and music based on the every day knowledge that they have of this culture.

The teachers in this Center for Popular Yoruba Culture Studies are the very neighbors of "La California" who are ready to organize themselves in this project, aided by UNEAC, the National Union of Writers and Artists.

The theoretical basis for this project starts with the study of the cultural life of this Havana solar whose origins go back to the last century. As with many other Havana solars, the building was initially a stable for horses which was later converted to a market then to a little burg of modest dwellings for unmarried men.

It is said that at the beginning of the 30’s, the solar had more than 30 apartments distributed on two stories with access both by Colon Street and by Crespo, where the main entryway was located with the number 78. As was typical in these buildings, in its beginnings they had planted in the central patio an enormous mamoncillo which disappeared after the 1944 hurricane.

The name of "Concha Mocoyu" given to this Cultural Center was due to Concepcion Martinez, the oldest and most prestigious santera of the California, whose Yoruba name was Omi Saide, but was known to all as Concha Mocoyu. On the 26th of October, 1960, was planted in the central patio of the solar a ceiba tree which had been grown in a tin by Concha. Although she was already deceased, the tree was transplanted to the central patio as a way of perpetuating her spirituality.

The ceiba holds many mystical connotations among cultures of African origin [equal to that of the Baobab in Africa]. That planting of the ceiba tree was a fortifying of the beliefs of the Regla de Ocha, popularly called santeria, the Regla Bantu or Palo Monte, and the cult of the descendants of Calabar or Abakua.

The cultural history of the California solar has not only been dominated by cultures of these African religions in our country, but also was impacted heavily by one of the musical manifestations which played a role in the consolidation of our national culture, Rumba.

There also played and danced the famous percussionist Chano Pozo, who in the 40’s placed the stamp of Cubania on Jazz. As is well known, the participation of Chano Pozo together with Dizzy Gillespie in this initial phase of Jazz was an essential contribution to improvisation in percussion, which acquired starting with that moment a classic status in popular music.

Many are the players in Cuban culture who have felt inspired by the life in La California. Recently I learned of an eyewitness testimony on the famous Bola de Nieve who did a cultural project there in the 40’s. Among other personalities who frequented activities there is the world renowned Damaso Perez Prado.

This Concha Mocoyu project began in the first days of May 1997, under the guidance of Teresita Segarra, Coordinator of the UNEAC in Centro Havana. After various preliminary meetings, the La California Neighborhood Association was formed the 16th of May. This working group has been in charge of the organization and orientation of the residents in this place, as much for the usual activities there as for the preparations of the Concha Mocoyu cultural project.

Despite a supposed reputation for a non-participatory attitude due to the difficult conditions there, the presence of the group from UNEAC generated, in a short period of time, an atmosphere of confidence in the future.

With creation of a Neighborborhood Association capable of directing the cultural project at the same time as we had requests for renovating the building make their way through the administration, we were able to observe in a short period of time positive changes which are expressed in the relations with institutions and other organisms. [Note: a visit of La California in late August, 1997 show a complete renovation taking place].

The signing of a letter of intent with the French organization ARCA, Association de Recherche Culturelle et Audiovisuelle, headed by Phillipe Jobet, from the French Electrical Workers’ Union, to godfather the Solar La California was an important step within the many that were taken.

The active and organized participation of the Junta of Neighbors in the Municipal Poder Popular thanks to the collaboration of Cesar Arozarena, responsible for the External Relations of this part of local government has a decisive impact for the development of the work.

The simplicity and the respect which have characterized the Junta of Neighbors who have headed up the project, inspired an immediate action of solidarity, as much with the French as with the Municipality of Centro Havana, Poder Popular, at the same time as it fortified the self esteem of the community.

It is clear, and they have explicitly formulated it as such, that a decisive action will be needed on the part of corresponding organisms. With the collaboration of compañero Cesar Arozena can already be seen a financial collaboration with the Spanish region of Saragoza, but there is a need to get even more immediate aid especially from the Water Ministry.

Now we are working so as to have a small locale in La California itself, where there is a storeroom that could be moved down the block.

From the cultural-social point of view, we are working on various issues which will allow us to deepen the cultural potential of the solar La California. We are preparing a place for intellectuals, artists, sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, and other specialists who have shown an interest in integrating themselves to the Cultural Project "Concha Mocoyu".

For these tasks, we are of course counting on the collaboration of the compañera Teresita Segarra, Coordinator of the UNEAC in Centro Habana, of the Municipio de Cultura headed by compañera Idalia Gonzales, and of the Consejo Popular de Colon, which is now headed by compañero Javier Francisco Brisuela.

Contacting the Concha Mocoyu Community Project

Barbara Oliva Micado

Presidenta de la Junta de Vecinas
President of the Neighborhood Association
"La California"
Crespo 78, e/ Refugio y Colon
Municipio de Centro Habana

Telephone: 63.62.37

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