The group was first scheduled to appear at West New York Middle School on Friday, March 18, at 6:30 p.m. They were to give a condensed one-hour performance, which will later be seen in its entirety by a sold out crowd today (Sunday) at Newark's New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC).
"Tuna" is a type of minstrel music that was made very popular during the Renaissance by Spain and Portugal.
"The one thing we try to do is promote Latino culture and understanding," said Bill Colon, president and CEO of The Latino Institute, a non-profit group based in Newark. "The group is giving a couple of concerts and is going to West New York because [there is a large] Latino community in the Hudson County area."
Tuna de Segreles performs a cultural rendition of folkloric and traditional music from Spain, Puerto Rico and other parts of Latin America. "They are the best in the world in this musical genre," said Colon. "The Tuna is something that Puerto Rico inherited from Spain and Portugal. A Tuna is basically a group of men, because it was traditionally a men's choir who also had to have a musical instrument to play while they sing."
Segreles derives from the Portuguese word segrel, which best described the singers or minstrels of that era who would go around regaling audiences with musical tales.
"Segrel is the name that the Portuguese had for the singers; in Spanish they were referred to as juglar," said Colon.
String instruments were always the preference for these choirs, which stemmed from the tradition of the singing minstrels that went from one court to the other in the city states of Spain and Portugal.
Composed of 23 singing male musicians of all ages, the world renowned Tuna de Segreles has been performing together for the last 13 years and is based out of the University of the Sacred Heart in Puerto Rico.
"They are 23 [performers in the group] with the youngest being 17 and the oldest 55," said Colon. "Three of them are university students and the others are graduates. They are all professionals [professors, lawyers, psychologists], and they do this as a hobby, basically."
The ensemble follows the minstrels' medieval tradition of courtesan singers in Spain and Portugal. These minstrels were also influenced by the Middle Ages tradition of the "sapistas," who were poor university students who sang for the price of a soup or the cost of their professor's class.
"[During these times]," Colon said, "professors would rent space and the students would pay them to attend classes."
For the last 10 years, Tuna de Segreles has won 43 international awards in competitions in Europe and Latin America. They recently won first prize at the prestigious Festival Internacional de Tunas de Lisboa in Portugal last October.
More to come from the Latino Institute
Now with their second visit to the NJ/NY region, and additional visits to Florida and Washington D.C., this group is gaining recognition in the United States.
"We just wanted to spread joy with this concert, and we are also planning to bring other events such as folkloric ballet from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico into the area as well," said Colon.
The Latino Institute is a private non-profit, charitable organization, whose self- proclaimed mission is to "serve as a bridge between the Latino community, and the educational, cultural, governmental, social and economic institutions of society." Only nine months into their operations, they have focused heavily on the educational achievements and advancements for Latinos, and for the promotion of Latino culture in America.
"I was the executive director of another Latino organization for seven years, and I wanted to go beyond [standard] education and bring about more cultural events of this nature," said Colon, who established the institute. "I also wanted to do more research than other organizations were currently doing."
Tuna de Segreles will be giving two performances, one at 3 p.m. and one at 7 p.m., in NJPAC's Victoria Theater. Both performances, which were first announced two weeks ago, have since sold out both shows. With the success of these two concerts, Colon is hoping to bring them back once again, along with many of their other cultural acts they plan to amass throughout the year.
"They will be at the Victoria Theatre this Sunday, and they will also be accompanied by the choir of the University of the Sacred Heart," said Colon. "Tuna de Segreles is very much traditional, and it's something that I hope everyone has the opportunity to enjoy."
For more information on Tuna de Segreles, visit www.sagrado.edu/Segreles.