Plattsburgh State senior gender and women’s studies major Wilson Lantigua, born and raised in the Bronx, adds something unique to PSUC’s musical world.
Lantigua, 22, self-identifies as Afro-Puerto Rican, or Afro-Latino, to pay tribute and respect to his Puerto Rican ancestors.
“Afro-Latino is me embracing my African roots in history,” he said. “A Puerto Rican is not a Puerto Rican if it wasn’t for the indigenous people on the island, and the colonizers, which were the Spaniards at the time.”
He said that mix is what makes a Puerto Rican. Lantigua said identifying as that connects him to his history in culture, but in the United States, Latino people can be marginalized and forget where they came from due to assimilation and modern society. For him, being an Afro-Puerto Rican drummer is a part of him.
He started playing percussion when he was 7 years old, and soon after that, he was introduced to his now mentor and friend Jose Ortiz, or what he refers to him as Dr. Drum.
Ortiz was an instructor at the after-school program at Lantigua’s primary school. His students, including Lantigua, would play music, and Ortiz said that as Lantigua was growing up in the neighborhood that he did, there were aspects of his life that affected his attitude, which Ortiz thought was getting in the way of his talent.
“I remember saying to him, ‘I will not teach you anything unless you change your attitude,’ and ever since then his whole personality, his whole persona, has changed, and he started doing the right thing,” Ortiz said.
During the first few months of after-school program, Ortiz said Lantigua would sit and watch the other students because he felt he needed to earn his way back to his position.
“When it was his time for him to come back up, I didn’t have to say anything twice,” Ortiz said. “He knew everything, and he was just ready.”
He introduced Lantigua to the Bomba, which is the Afro-Puerto Rican genre of music and the first music on the island. It consists of percussion, song and dance, but it is different than most genres. In Bomba, the primo drummer, or the rhythmic drum, follows and improvises based on the movement of the dancer.
“The lead drummer and dancer create a dialogue with the dancer’s improvised movements that are then interpreted by the drummer with the sound of the drum,” Lantigua said.
He said that after learning the music and learning how important culture is, it gave him a new lens to look at the world and accept everybody for who they were and where they come from.
“It gave me direction in where I wanted to go in my life,” Lantigua said. “I’ve always been working in the community and going to school at the same time. Being in the community gave me an interest to do community work after college.”
As a GWS major, his studies have shown him world issues pertaining to women and gender that he was previously unaware. He has found that many other problems stem from those issues.
Associate Professor and Chair of the Gender and Women’s Studies Susan Mody said Lantigua comes alive when he talks about his music.
“Drumming is a different kind of voice. It is a different communication style,” Mody said. “He has to be attending closely to the dancer and how she is moving.”
Mody said this role engages his whole being, and he becomes the teacher in that cultural context. She said she had never seen him in that role before, but that is a part of who he is.
“I think Wilson has so much to give. He has so much to share,” Mody said. “He has so much insight and understanding about himself and relationships and how people interact with each other in the world.”
Mody said he has a hunger to learn and grow, and he has done much of that on his own, outside of the classroom.
PSUC senior Diana Quinde said Lantigua is passionate and dedicated, and he loves educating others on Afro-Puerto Rican culture. She said it is important that he can share that piece of himself with others because not everyone can do that.
“He is very proud of where he comes from, especially Bomba,” Quinde said. “It is something that he’s done growing up, and he’s expressed in the past that this is something that’s helped him grow up.”
Quinde said his whole life revolves around performing arts, and that brings his personality to life.
“Knowing where you come from can really empower you and give you confidence and shape your identity,” Lantigua said.
Today, Lantigua is the lead drummer of Bombayo, a non-profit organization based in New York City that brings a new energy to an old Afro-Puerto Rican music and dance tradition, according to their website, bombayo.org. The group does workshops at schools, senior citizens homes and other locations in the NYC area to pass on the culture and to educate those in the audience.
Ortiz said there is a certain language to the Bomba that requires a time and space to learn, and he said Lantigua exercises his knowledge well.
“I’ve seen a lot of primo drummers out there, but he is one of the best primo players out there,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz said the pair can go anywhere to play, even on the spot, and he said he can’t do that with anyone but Lantigua.
“My goal in life is to send a message to the young people and the generation before me to figure out who you are in life and who you want to be,” Lantigua said. “Use the past as a tool to help you with your future.”
Email Lisa Scivolette at firstname.lastname@example.org