Gladys Bobi Cespedes

Cuban Yoruba Lucumi traditions

For hundreds of years, Cuban descendants of the Yoruba people of Nigeria have maintained interconnected African religious arts including songs, dance, drumming, rituals, and medicinal herbs. Such traditional arts help maintain the health of the body, spirit, and community. Gladys Bobi Cespedes learned these arts in Havana from her mother, godmother, and godfather.  As a child she attended the local children’s spiritual temple, Angelita’s House.  Bobi was the youngest of 14 children in a family home where everyone was a musician.  By the age of ten, she sang and danced with her family in public and was able to create and recite decimas, an extemporaneous ten-line poem.  Bobi left Cuba in 1959 and settled in New York.  She associated with many of the most significant Cuban music, dance, folklore, and cultural troupes.  In December of 1967, she was initiated as a priestess in the Lucumi religion.  She is a well-respected Agpuon (singer/director of religious ceremonies), a preferred Omo Odo (head cook), and a priestess well-versed in the tradition’s systems of divination.  She is also a sought after performer and leader of folk ensembles in Cuban communities in New York, Florida, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has resided since 1979.

Bobi was a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2011, with her goddaughter and apprentice Amara Tabor-Smith.  Their apprenticeship focused on Omo Odo, or sacred food preparation.  During the apprenticeship, Amara will learn food preparation for Orisa (gods) and Eggun (ancestors), how to organize and run the Yaraise unjen (traditional kitchen), and the oral lore that clarify and inform the methods.

In 2000, Bobi was a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program with her nephew, godson, and apprentice Guillermo Cespedes.  During the apprenticeship, they concentrated on songs involved in extracting the healing property of herbs, ritual music to pay homage to ancestors, and chanting related to divination.