by Angela Hyde
On a stormy Saturday, the Union United Methodist Church on Columbus Ave is a beacon of bright excitement! Here is a gathering in celebration of the Día de Muertos holiday, or the Day of the Dead. The beautiful Union Church has welcomed many esteemed performers and speakers to its sanctuary, including hosting the 1950 NAACP convention, which voted to pursue the Brown v. Board of Education case, and the Duke Ellington Sacred Jazz Orchestra in 1966. This year, on October 27th of 2018, Veronica Robles and her all-female Mariachi ensemble are welcomed by the community and the church to perform both traditional Mexican folk songs such as Cielito lindo, as well as original works and arrangements by Willy Lopez, Robles’ husband and music producer. Presented by Celebrity Series’ Neighborhood Arts program, which collaborates with Boston-area artists, the joyous occasion is a highlight of the vibrant Mexican culture in Boston.
In a beautiful blue and white traje de charro, the traditional mariachi uniform with the replacement of a skirt instead of the usual trousers, Veronica’s beautiful voice echoes throughout the church. Behind her stands her female-mariachi band consisting of two trumpet players, two violin players, a guitarist, and a bassist. All combined with the strong voice of Robles as she encouraged the audience to sing along. Clapping in beat and yelling as instructed, there was no attendee without a smile on their face. Children in attendance, and adults alike, could not help but dance.
Throughout the show, Robles spoke about the meaning of the holiday to her and her community. In celebration of life and an honoring of the dead, she spoke of her recovery from the trauma of losing her daughter, and what it meant to create an altar space in memoriam. This tradition is believed to draw the souls of those passed so that they may hear the memories and prayers of the living, though these traditions, of course, vary from family to family, and individual to individual.
Nearing the end of the show, Robles calls for women in the audience to volunteer for a traditional dance in which women wear skirts, flapping them from side to side in time with the music, as cups are either held or, if you’re brave, carried on the top of the head. The volunteers walk down the main hall of the church as Robles and her band serenades them, and once the song is complete, there is no one in the church without a smile.
At the closing of the concert, Robles encourages the audience to celebrate life and love, and the memories of our ancestors during this holiday and at all moments in our lifetimes. Through this meaningful concert, there is a connection between the audience to one another, to the church itself, and to the artists as their music brings us all together. We all share in the honor of living through another year, and the beauty in the sounds vibrating off the beautiful stained glass windows.
Neighborhood Arts, a program of Celebrity Series of Boston, partners with over 50+ community organizations for interactive workshops and community concerts such as this Day of the Dead celebration with Veronica Robles, within six contiguous Boston neighborhoods: Dorchester, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale, Roxbury, and the South End. As a cultural icon for Latinos in Boston, Robles has been honored by Mayor Walsh and is the co-founder and director of the Veronica Robles Cultural Center. This East Boston-based organization supports community action and economic growth and empowers the diverse community through Latin American arts and culture programs, not only by providing jobs for youth but also by teaching them about their roots and culture. Celebrity Series of Boston is honored to bring these fabulous performers to the greater community of Boston. To learn more about upcoming Neighborhood Arts events, please visit our community calendar.
As a College for Social Innovation Fellow in the Fall of 2018, Angela Hyde is an intern with the Advancement Department at Celebrity Series of Boston. She is a senior at Wheaton College MA, pursuing a Writing Degree, with a minor in Journalism Studies.
All photos by Robert Torres.
Video by Kristin Otharsson.