Artist Profiles: Xiomara Fortuna

Xiomara Fortuna

Xiomara Fortuna was born in 1959 in Montecristi, in the Dominican Republic’s northwest region, near the Haitian border. Montecristi is a peaceful place with friendly neighbors and little controversy, where Xiomara heard the native folk rhythms of the mangulina. Her mother, Doménica, was always singing while she cooked or cleaned the house. She taught Xiomara the songs of the farmers and shoemakers. But young Xiomara also listened to socially conscious Cuban music on Radio Rebelde (Rebel Radio), broadcast from Cuba. Some of her favorites were Cuban nueva trova singers Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés. Xiomara’s first songs and lyrics were composed while she was in high school, accompanying herself with an acoustic guitar. She later studied at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) in the nation’s capital. Xiomara performed in the capital and also traveled throughout the Dominican Republic, playing in many different towns, at clubs and local holiday celebrations.

Xiomara studied Brazilian music with Chiqui Vicioso and also listened to American jazz recordings. Soon she became very interested in the rhythms from the other islands and the different kinds of jazz. She became well versed in her island’s cultural, musical and literary artistic traditions and she became a member of the group Kaliumbe, invited by its leader, Tony Vicioso. Her experience with Tony Vicioso was really important. He composed music for Xiomara and introduced her to roots music from the different communities in the country.

The first European country she visited as a performer was Switzerland. An NGO named Helvetas sponsored a tour under the name “De la loma al llano”. Until then, most European only knew about Dominican merengue so they were surprised to find new rhythms like the mangulina, pripri, salve, congos and gaga.

Most record producers in the Dominican Republic were only interested in merengue and popular dance music. This laco of interest in roots music led Xiomara to travel to France, where she spent a few months working on a solo recording and collaborating with jazz musician Archie Shepp, Maurice Cullaz, and she shared the stage with a host of world music artists and ensembles including Miriam Makeba, Vocal Sampling, Farafina, and Toure Kunda.

Known as one of the most progressive artists of her country, Fortuna’s Kumbajei CD was the culmination of her exhaustive musicological investigations of the Dominican Republic’s little-known African-rooted folkloric styles. On Kumbajei, she combined jazz, Caribbean, pan-African and world music influences. A skilled Dominican ensemble featuring drums, percussion, bass, keyboards, and horns and vocal chorus backed her full-bodied contralto. The festive love song, “Baisabi,” was written by Fortuna’s collaborator Jostibi, with a melody derived from traveling flower vendors and an arrangement based on the saranduga: a dance music genre from Bani. The album’s other tracks – from “Leyenda Congo,””An Ale,” to “Letania” and “La Napa”— highlight other Afro-Dominican rhythms: including the Congo of the cofradia religious brotherhood of Villa Mella, the Hatian/Vodu-derived petro and the Carabine from the southern portion of the island. The Dominican genres are blended with reggaejazz improvisation and Pan-African world music styles that gives Fortuna’s music a foreign and familiar feel.

Discography:

De la Loma al Llano (1985)
Balbuceos (1996)
Pan Music and Música Raíces (1997)
Kumbajei (Circular Moves, 2001)
Ella ta’ í (2002)
Tonada para un Querer (2004)
La Calle Será La Calle(2009)
Paseando (2010)
Pa Cantarte a tí (2010)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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