Gladys “Bobi” Céspedes
Gladys “Bobi” Céspedes is an acclaimed folkloric singer, dancer, percussionist; she is a recording artist, theatrical director, storyteller, accomplished lecturer, and cultural arts teacher. She sings in three languages: English Spanish and Lucumi, the mother tongue of the descendants of the Yorubas of West Africa in Cuba. She makes and plays a variety of authentic folkloric percussion instrument, including the Chekere, a beautiful beaded calabash gourd. As a storyteller, she weaves the tales of the Orisha-deities of the Yoruba pantheon- in fluid word and gesture, and illustrates the poetic, reverent vision of God and nature that is her ancestral heritage. As a priestess and Iyan Ifa in the Yoruba-Lucumi spiritual tradition, she carries, unbroken, the cord of spiritual tradition and inspiration which joins the past with the present. For over forty years, Bobi has been directly involved in the preservation and teaching of Afro-Cuban culture and traditions.
In 1979, Bobi became a founding member of the Ifa Players, a theater company which produced and performed plays based on African mythology. Later in 1979 she became a California Arts Council Artist-in-Residence in San Francisco’s Hunters Point, teaching Cultural Arts to Children. In 1980, she co-directed, along with Marcus Gordon, El Teatro Coco Santo, a Cuban Brazilian performing group. In 1882, Bobi, her brother Luis and nephew Guillermo formed an original Son trio, called Trio Céspedes. In 1984 Trio Céspedes released their debut album, Guira Con Son, on Caldero Records. Trio Céspedes later grew into what became the infamous 12 piece band Conjunto Céspedes.
In 1994 Bobi received a commission from San Francisco City Celebrations to write, produce, and perform, “Skin Talk, An Ancestral Ballet of Women” a multicultural production featuring a culturally diverse group of female traditional drummers, for the San Francisco Drum Festival at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Bobi has also arranged 7 Caribbean Carnival instrumentals for the Children of Many Colors Company, which she directed for 16 years with the support of the California Arts Council and the San Francisco Council of Churches. Bobi was also an Artist- in- Residence at the Bay Area’s Discovery Museum where she coordinated the museum’s annual Carnaval Celebration from 1996 to 1999.
Bobi appears as a vocalist and dancer in the 1985 Les Blank’s film “Sworn to the Drums” a documentary on the life of Francisco Aguabella. Also she appears singing in “Follow Me Home” a documentary on the life of Native Americans in the US. This film was produced by independent film producer Peter Bratt. As a vocalist she appears in Mongo Santamaria’s album “Ole Ola”; in “Bata Ketu” produced by Michael Spiro; in Music for Little People’s award- winning children’s recording “Fiesta Musical”. Bobi was also a featured vocalist, recording in “Kodo Mondo Head” by Mickey Hart, with whom she toured as lead singer in his groups Planet Drum, Bembe Orisha, and Rhythm Devils tours.
Bobi is co-director and lead singer of the 12-piece band, Conjunto Céspedes, Bay Area’s oldest, world renowned, Afro-Cuban Ensemble. As a songwriter and arranger for Conjunto Céspedes, Bobi composed and collaborated on Conjunto’s releases, “Guira Con Son on Caldero Music, “Una Sola Casa”, “Vivito y Coleando”, and “Flores” on Xeno Phile Records. Both “Una Sola Casa” and “Vivito Y Coleando” won the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD) INDIE Award for best Latin Recording in 1994 and 1996, respectively. Bobi has performed nationally and internationally with Conjunto Céspedes in such state of the arts venues as Bill Graham’s World Beat Festival, The BAM Festival in Barcelona, The Kentucky Center for the Arts, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, at, SOB’s in New York City, Joes Pub also in New York City, to name a few, and opened for countless acts including Tito Puente, Ruben Blades, Celia Cruz, and El Gran Combo.
In 1989, Bobi Céspedes founded Siguaralla, a folkloric ensemble featuring stories and rhythms of the Lucumi. Under her direction, the Afro-Cuban folkloric ensemble performs traditional music and dance to educate audiences about the essence of Cuban rhythmic expression…its religious roots. Combining education with entertainment, Siguaralla explores Cuba’s contribution to other musical forms that draw their inspiration from Africa.
In addition to her other accomplishments, Bobi Céspedes teaches about the sources, form, magic and spirit of her music in Public Schools, Community centers, Colleges, Universities, and museums through seminars, panels, classes, and workshops. Presently Bobi is the Cultural Arts Coordinator for San Francisco State University La Raza/Head Start Dual Language Program.
In 2002 Bobi decided to try out a solo career and experiment with other combinations of sounds. Out of this decision was born Rezos (Six Degree Records 2003) a combination of old and new. She changed the instrumentation of her ensemble to a 6 member ensemble and added a drum set, electronic beats, and Bata drums as features.
In 2005 Bobi wrote a workbook, Imagination and Cultural Expression in the Class Room, which she uses in her cultural arts class workshops. And in 2007 she wrote a chapter-Imagination and Cultural Expression- as part of a collaborative in the book, Soy Bilingüe Adult Dual Language Model for Early Childhood and Elementary Teacher Education, Published by the Center for Linguistic and Cultural Democracy; edited by Sharon Cronin, Ph.D.
In 2007 to the present: Bobi toured New York, performing at Havana Harlem, and Wisconsin, at the University at Madison, Latino Arts in Milwaukee WI. Back to California she performed at Anna’s Jazz Island, Santa Clara University , and a powerful six shows run at the world renown Yoshi’s Jazz Club, in Oakland. In 2008 Bobi in collaboration with VL Sounds, produced her latest CD Patakin which was released January 30 2009.