Jazz festival raises awareness for Puerto Rico disaster through music

The Puerto Rican Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) sponsored a jazz festival on Monday, Nov. 27 to raise money to support efforts to rebuild in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

The Puerto Rican Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) sponsored a jazz festival on Monday, Nov. 27 to raise money to support efforts to rebuild in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

The word of the evening upon entering room 304 of the Student Union on Monday night was ambiance. The Puerto Rican Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC)-sponsored jazz festival hadn’t yet begun, but the lights were low, the room lit by battery-powered candles and Christmas lights. The Afro-Latinx Jazz Ensemble took the stage, their black clothing making the colors of their brass instruments and red high heels pop.

Despite the cheer of the room, the event addressed a very serious issue. It raised money to support efforts to rebuild in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Afro-Latinx Jazz Ensemble reached out to PRLACC to volunteer their time for an event in support of the island.

“It’s the least I can do,” Abdiel Rivera, a graduate electrical engineering student who attended the event, said. Rivera has family in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican Student Association (PRSA) President, Ana Usúa, said University of Connecticut community members were affected by the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico. She stressed awareness was a big focus of the event.

“Not everybody knows what’s going on in Puerto Rico and that it’s still going on,” Usúa said. She encouraged anybody who was looking to support Puerto Rico to contact PRSA as they are equipped with information and resources about the best places to donate and the best ways to provide aid.

In addition to raising awareness about disaster and relief efforts, the night was also about raising awareness of the music.

“Puerto Rican culture is such a proud culture,” Usúa said. “It’s a great event to expose that and show a little of what we’re made of.”

Jazz may be most closely associated with smoky rooms in Prohibition-era Harlem, but seventh-semester music major, Sally Kurdziel said that jazz expands into a number of cultures. She named rock jazz, Indian jazz, Irish jazz and Afro-Latin jazz as examples. Jazz already has strong parallels to salsa music. As Rivera pointed out they use a lot of the same instruments.

“We’re able to learn about different cultures just by playing music,” Kurdziel said.

The ensemble, directed by music professor Earl MacDonald, played some slower, smoother numbers as well as upbeat songs and cha-chas during which MacDonald encouraged audience members to dance. Attendees danced interspersedly throughout the night starting after the third song. The movement peaked during the intermission when recorded salsa music played in back of eating, talking and dancing.

While the band played, the dancing wasn’t typical college student standing and swaying, but rather the dancers seemed to actually have a plan for where their feet were going, swaying their hips in characteristic salsa fashion.

After the blending of music and cultures, the event ended with applause as the lights were switched back on and the band packed up. However the event won’t end with the music, but rather it will end in Puerto Rico, helping to rebuild lives and communities.


Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.