By Nelson Santana
November 19, 2018
Yasser Tejeda and Palotré visited Bronx Community College (BCC) as part of the “Bronx Reads: One Book, One College, One Community” initiative, which aims to bring together the Bronx Community College community by having faculty, students, and staff read one book during the academic year. This year, the college community is reading Michele Wucker’s Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola (1999). Tejeda and Palotré performed Afro-Dominican fusion music which includes elements of rock, jazz, merengue, and gagá/rara, among other genres.
At BCC, Palotré—mainly Yasser and percussionist J’Blak—provided context to their music. For two hours, the group serenaded the BCC audience with traditional and modern Afro-Dominican and Afro-Haitian music. In between sessions, the group provided the audience with anecdotes and a brief history of race, politics, culture in the Dominican Republic, as well as their perception of the historical relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
According to Yasser, “The African heritage [sic] is not being taught in the schools.” Hence, “That’s why we are trying to do this type of music so you see the difference of how the Afro-Dominican music is in and you get a little bit interested in that.”
Among the songs the group performed are “Compadre Pedro Juan” and “Yo soy Ogún Balenyó.”
One of the most interesting takes of Palotré’s inclusion in the “Bronx Read” program is that it contradicts the distorted narrative of scholars like Michele Wucker, whom in her book, Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, asserts that Haitians and Dominicans fight one another as though they were cocks. Thus Wucker compares Dominicans and Haitians to irrational animals who are in constant battle or conflict with one another. Palotré, a proud Afro-Dominican group, disrupts Wucker’s narrative, as these musicians embrace their African heritage and the more than 500-year-old legacy of African-descended people on the island, which has been noted by several scholarly works including the digital humanities project First Blacks in the Americas: The African Presence in the Dominican Republic.
Palotré is a quartet whose Afro-Dominican musical style is rooted in Dominican culture. The group launched its debut, Mezclansa, in 2009. According to the group’s website, the Dominican Republic’s Association of Writers (Acroarte) dubbed the album one of the “100 essential recordings of Dominican music.”
Palotré comprises of four musicians. Yasser Tejeda is the group’s leader. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, he is the group’s guitarist, singer, and composer. Victor Otoniel Vargas is a drummer and percussionist who started his musical odyssey at the age of 12 under the tutelage of Ramón Solano. In addition to his role in Palotré, Victor tours and records with Prince Royce. Jonathan “JBlak” Troncoso is Palotré’s main percussionist. Jonathan’s inspiration to become a musician derives from his father, Domingo Troncoso. Jonathan’s grandfather, Bienvenido Troncoso, was a well-known composer who lost his life during the bloody dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. In addition to Palotré, Jonathan is involved in other aspects of music including as a participant of the summer gatherings of Gagá Pa’l Pueblo. Last, but not least, Kyle Miles is the group’s bassist. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Kyle has spent several years of his life honing his skills.
About Bronx Reads: One Book, One College, One Community
Bronx Community College’s one book initiative aims to unite students, faculty, and other members of the college community in reading the same book throughout the academic year. Last year, the BCC community read the critically-acclaimed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010) by Rebecca Skloot. This academic year, BCC selected journalist Michele Wucker’s nearly 20-year-old book Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola (1999), an interesting selection given there are both more recent and more renowned works on both countries as well as more informative research and creative works pertinent to Dominican-Haitian relations. In addition to reading Wucker’s book, BCC is hosting lectures, film screenings, and musical performances that relate to this year’s theme.
As part of the Bronx Reads at Bronx Community College, Yasser Tejeda along with his colleagues in Palotré, provided those in attendance with a history lesson of the African influence in Dominican culture as well as Dominican-Haitian relations.