Monday, October 12, 2009

Back to School


A high school was the last place I thought I'd be dancing to a live charanga band on Friday night. But that was precisely the scene at Durham Academy's Fiesta Latina last week: Young friends and old going back to Salsa Carolina days, moving and grooving to the sounds of Orquesta Broadway and Los Van Van...I had to pinch myself.

This is what happens when you get one Puerto Rican from El Barrio on your board.

That thought makes Bela Kusin smile. Member and former head of the DA Board of Trustees' Diversity Committee, Kusin started out as just another parent whose son attended Durham Academy. But when the Trustees asked her to join, she was eager add her energy and commitment to the school's diversity initiatives.

"It was because the school was so committed to doing something about diversity that I said yes," Bela recalls.

Charanga Carolina plays a tune dedicated to Puerto Rican youth, as bomba dancers approach the drums.

That "something" turned out to be the Fiesta Latina, a community celebration during Hispanic Heritage Month, now in its fourth year.

"It's our gift to the community," Bela says.

Local talent at the free, public event included Colombian trova singer Juan Carlos Echeverri, folkloric dance groups representing Colombia and Puerto Rico, the UNC Charanga Carolina and members of Mambo Dinamico dance company.

Juan Carlos Echeverri dedicated this song celebrating the vital role of singers in every culture to Argentinean folk icon Mercedes Sosa.

But the sensation of the evening had to be Pavelíd Castañeda, just back from France where he performed a dual harp concert together with his son, Edmar Castaneda.

"I've never heard so much music from a harp," opined one listener from Hillsborough.

Pavelíd's harp became an orchestra for dance standards such as "Moliendo Cafe," earning him a standing ovation. One teacher sitting near me closed her eyes and drifted in the rhythm of "Oye Como Va," a faraway smile on her face.

With the Fiesta Latina growing in participation and success each year, Bela is already thinking ahead to make next year's bigger and better.

"I'm not satisfied. I want to pack the house," she says.

Brava. If education takes a village, count me in.

Ed. Note: Bela Kusin was misquoted in an earlier version of this story. Onda Carolina regrets the error.

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