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Jorge Arce brings back Bomba traditions at Festival Betances

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Jorge Arce brings back Bomba traditions at Festival Betances
Puerto Rican music forms including salsa, bomba and reggaeton are a mainstay of Festival Betances. (Photo: Celina Colby)

Sunday afternoon, July 16, Jorge Arce took the stage at the 44th annual Festival Betances in the Villa Victoria neighborhood of Boston’s South End. Born in Puerto Rico, Arce is known for championing the Afro-Caribbean beats of Bomba and Plena music. While many of the festival’s performances featured contemporary music styles, Arce got the crowd’s hips shaking with traditional tunes.

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To see Jorge Arce’s workshops schedule visit:

In addition to his musical talents, Arce is a cultural historian and researcher. It was his studies of the cultural traditions of the barrio he grew up in that inspired him to spread the knowledge. Arce established the Humano Multicultural Project to provide exploration into Puerto Rican and Afro-Caribbean culture. His workshops include art and artifacts, history, dance and music.

“We respect and learn from the diversity, but also we enjoy the connection that we find within it,” says Arce in a promotional video. His aim is as much to bring people together under the Bomba notes as it is to educate on their origins.

Arce appears with his group Raiz de Plena in a bombastic, carnival-style performance. Their traditional Plena music includes percussion, trumpets, trombones and audience participation in the form of call-and-response chants.

In 2014, Arce held a two-month Plena workshop at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, which culminated in the community participants performing with him at the 2014 Festival Betances. Nothing says Puerto Rico like a neighborhood coming together for a parade. “No one thought I would be able to get that number of people to participate, that many people up and dancing and enjoying themselves” says Arce. “I will always remember that as being very special.”

Festival Betances is Boston’s longest-running Latino festival, wherein people of all Latin nationalities come together to celebrate Puerto Rican activist Ramón Emeterio Betances. The two-day festival, put on by the nonprofit Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), features performances, live music, contests and enough empanadas to feed a small army. The festival has become increasingly important to the area as the South End neighborhood around it gentrifies. IBA specifically addresses the displacement of low-income families due to urban development, supporting them through arts, life skills and health programming.

Whether it’s Arce’s natural charisma, the collective, celebratory nature of Puerto Rican music or the championing of diversity, Arce and Raiz de Plena have a special way of bringing people together.

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