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Bembé Drum & Dance: Milwaukee's Afro-Latino cultural gem

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A student dancing a cultural dance with Bembe Dance & Drum.

Just over a week ago, Bembé Drum & Dance celebrated the grand opening of Casa Cultural de Bembé, a vibrant hub of Afro-Latino musical culture nestled in the heart of Milwaukee on South Layton Boulevard.

Through a rich tapestry of drumming, dance, song and performance, Bembé provides a platform where tradition meets education. The space offers two dance studios with a variety of drums and colorful traditional wear, as well as an upstairs area where parents or community members can relax.

I was one of those curious community members to drop by during the opening, although I wasn’t there to sit on the sidelines. I took a demo class that taught both elements represented in Bembé’s name: dance and drum.

In the context of La Bamba, the dance becomes a language. Dance director Imani Jalil uses the analogy of sentences and periods — the sentences are movements that flow together to tell a story, while periods allow for rest or emphasis. This intricate dance is not just about beauty; it's about communication with the lead drummer, where the dancer's signals guide the rhythm and intensity of the performance.

On this episode of Uniquely Milwaukee, we hear from founder Johanna de los Santos and learn a drum beat from music director Bony Benavides. Later, I discover the delicacy of this non-verbal communication and experience the culture of Bembé, where music and movement intertwine to tell stories of culture, connection and community.

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee