The Heroic Melody of ‘Yanga’ at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

An African prince turned freedom fighter is the focus of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s June 7 concert at the Meyerson Symphony Center in the Dallas Arts District.

The orchestra collaborated with the African American Museum of Dallas and the Latino Arts Project to present the work of Gabriela Ortiz Range, a composition inspired by Gaspar Yanga. Yanga was an African prince sold into slavery and sent to Mexico, then known as New Spain. In 1570 he escaped, leading other escaped slaves to establish a maroon colony near Veracruz. The fugitive slave colony survived by raiding caravans along the Camino Real between Mexico City and Veracruz.

After defending the colony against Spanish attack in 1609, Yanga brokered a peace treaty with Spain and helped establish San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo as the first free African community in the Americas. He was named “National Hero of Mexico” in 1871. In 1932, San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo was renamed Yanga in his honor.

Jesus Cornejo

Written for percussion ensemble, choir and orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic premiered Gabriela Ortiz Range in 2019 with Tambuco Percussion Ensemble.

The concert with Tambuco Percussion Ensemble and Dallas Chamber Choir completes Yanga: The Path to Freedom in the Americasan exhibit on display at the African American Museum in Dallas until October 31. Jorge Baldor, the curator of the exhibition, talks about Gaspar Yanga and his legacy.

BNC DFW: Why is Yanga’s story important to know now?

Jorge Baldor: Yanga’s personal story of overcoming adversity is an inspiration to us all. It reminds us that sometimes the solutions are within us once we have the courage to act.

BNC DFW: As curator of the exhibit at the African American Museum in Dallas, what have you learned about America’s experience of the slave trade?

JB: Omar Ibn Said’s diary, written in Arabic and available online at the Library of Congress, pointed out that more than 20% of slaves were Muslims and read the Koran in Arabic. We often imagine those who became slaves as being illiterate, without family, social or religious structure, but in fact the opposite often happened.

BNC DFW: How does the music amplify Yanga’s story?

JB: Music amplifies all of our lives and Yanga’s heroic story is made more compelling with the sounds of the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble and the Dallas Chamber Choir joining DSO conductor Maurice Cohn. This collaboration of this performance reflects the collective impact that the Latino Arts Project Yanga: Journeys to Freedom The exhibition combines with the Cara Mia Theater and the Anita Martinez Ballet Folklorico to tell the story of Yanga using different art forms.

BNC DFW: What do you find most fascinating about Gabriela Ortiz Range?

JB: Gabriela Ortiz was the right composer for Yanga’s piece. His contemporary rendition has an African influence with tones that also tie directly into his own Mexican background. With the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble and the Dallas Chamber Choir singing in Spanish, we will see Gabriella’s work as she intended.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra Gabriela Ortiz Yanga

Gabriela Ortiz composed Yanga.

BNC DFW: What do you find most powerful in Yanga’s story?

JB: If we don’t tell our own story, others will use their story to define us. Yanga’s gripping story of negotiating with the King of Spain, as a former slave, and creating the first free African community in the Americas, was intentionally erased from history so that he would not be recognized as a hero. But eventually the truth was revealed and he is now recognized for his accomplishments as a leader and liberator.

Learn more: Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Dallas African American Museum

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