"Ybor Speaks," is a public art project created to celebrate the immigrant experience in Ybor City – from the boom town of the 1890s through the creative revival of the 1980s. The City of Tampa, Division of Arts & Cultural Affairs commissioned playwright Sheila Cowley and sound designer Matt Cowley to create a sound installation that welcomes you to Ybor City through immersive soundscapes and audio vignettes, and histories and memoirs read aloud. The Cowleys included local talent from the Spanish Lyric Theatre, faculty and students from the University of South Florida School of Theatre and Dance, stage and screen actors based in Tampa Bay, and many residents. Original music was composed by La Lucha.
The in-person experience at Centennial Park takes you back in time through soundscapes played on speakers at the park. These audio adventures evoke life in Ybor City from the musical calls of street vendors and horse-drawn carriages to busy streetcars and WWII shipyards, from a modern highway slicing through the streets to the festive Artists and Writers Ball.
You'll hear the languages of Ybor then and now – Spanish, Italian, Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, English and Vietnamese. Soundscapes play at the top of each hour from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m., every day except Saturday. The soundscapes run for 20 minutes, followed by music. The 20 minute soundscape track is one continuous MP3 from the 1880s to the 1980s. Each era can be listened to separately below.
Can't make it out to the park? Here are links to hear the soundscapes through each era. Produced by Matt Cowley:
Keep exploring! Author Paul Wilborn arranged for books by many Tampa Bay authors to be included in this project. Experience the vivid sights, sounds, scents and feel of daily life in Ybor through selections read aloud – and audio theatre shorts that explore personal moments in Ybor City history.
"Cigar Workers" Tampa: The Treasure City by Tony Pizzo with Gary Mormino, Read by Bonnie Agan
"Lectores" from Once Upon a Time in Tampa: Rise and Fall of the Cigar Industry by Wallace Reyes, Read by Stephanie Roberts
Audio Theatre: Experience a moment in 1890s Ybor life: Linda’s a young woman from Cuba looking for work as a cigar roller. Mario’s a streetcar driver fresh from Spain who gives her a surprising tour of Ybor City’s busy factories, bustling social clubs and fiery support for the Cuban revolution.
Voices in the street are speaking Spanish, Romanian, Russian, a bit of Italian and fleeting moments of English. We hear a Yiddish lullaby, a lector reading Don Quixote in Spanish to the cigar workers, and Black Cuban activist Paulina Pedroso rallying a crowd. Two recent immigrants, Rita and Florinda, are thrilled to make it to Ybor.
Original story written by Sheila Cowley, featuring local actors, JL Rey (Mario) and Mary E. Hughes Gonzalez (Linda). Directed by James Rayfield and Sound Designed by Matthew Cowley.
Listen to Audio Book Highlights! These book excerpts provide descriptions of bolita betting, strolling merchants and Ybor neighbors from books by Jack Espinosa, Scott Dietche and Wallace Reyes PhD.
"Bolita" from Cigar City Mafia by Scott M. Deitche, Read by David Waterman
"Charlie Wall" from Cigar City Mafia by Scott M. Deitche, Read by David Waterman
"Neighbors" from Cuban Bread Crumbs by Jack Espinosa, Read by Mary Rachel Quinn
“Ybor Merchants” from Once Upon a Time in Tampa: Rise and Fall of the Cigar Industry by Wallace Reyes, Read by Stephanie Roberts
Audio Theatre: Experience a moment in 1920s Ybor life
Mario’s family came from Italy – he’s the first to go to college, thanks to his dad getting work as a bootlegger. On a quick trip home he marvels at the cars on 7th Avenue as Linda, a Romanian Jewish woman whose family has a shop on 7th, assures him that rumors of “air conditioning” are true at Tampa Theatre.
We hear the calls of strolling vendors selling collards, devil crab, fish, piruli candy and furtive bolita bets. The voices on the street are speaking Spanish, Italian, English and Romanian, while a lector now reads Don Quixote in English to the cigar workers. Rita and Florinda chide Mario for sitting too close to Linda, then order devil crabs through the streetcar window.
Listen to Audio Book Highlights! These audio book excerpts by Ferdie Pacheco, Jack Espinosa, Gary Mormino and George E. Pozzetta, go into Ybor streetcars, Cuban bread, baseball and the vivid scents of Ybor from books.
"Cuban Bread" from Cuban Bread Crumbs by Jack Espinosa, Read by Mary Rachel Quinn
“Streetcars” from Ybor City Chronicles: A Memoir by Ferdie Pacheco, Read by David Waterman
“Smells of Ybor” from Ybor City Chronicles: A Memoir by Ferdie Pacheco, Read by David Waterman
“Baseball” from The Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and Their Latin Neighbors in Tampa,1885-1985 by Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta, Read by David Waterman
Audio Theatre: Experience a moment in Ybor life during WWII
Mario’s grandparents came from Italy – he’s in Ybor City for one day before he ships out to fight in Europe. He’s hiding his Italian heritage, pretending that he’s Cuban to slip off to Ybor and find an Italian restaurant. On the streetcar, he sits next to Linda, a Spanish-Cuban-Romanian woman working at the nearby shipyards. The restaurant is closed, but she invites him home for Sunday lunch, and to an Ybor baseball game.
Almost all the voices in the street are speaking English. We hear the echo of a Yiddish lullaby. Rita and Florinda are cigar rollers, enjoying their wares and offering the soldier a cigar.
"Street Life" from The Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and Their Latin Neighbors in Tampa,1885-1985 by Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta, Read by David Waterman
Audio Theatre: Experience a moment in Ybor life during Urban Renewal in the 1950s-1960s
Mario and Linda are Ybor natives with a rich blended heritage, who don’t want to leave their family home – but their street is being bulldozed to build the freeway. With a construction crew waiting, they’re joined by former neighbors who come to help. All agree that none of them would be here if their grandparents hadn’t come from all over the world to work in Ybor.
We hear houses collapsing, bulldozers and pile drivers pounding in the concrete pilings for I-4. Rita and Florinda bring guava pastries and come to help shout ¡Viva Ybor!
Relive the 80s! Hear stories of the neighborhood’s artistic revival in the 1980s from a book by Paul Wilborn, narrated by actor, Eugenie Bondurant.
"Quarter Moon" from Cigar City: Tales from a 1980s Creative Ghetto by Paul Wilborn, Read by Eugenie Bondurant
"Apprentice" from Cigar City: Tales from a 1980s Creative Ghetto by Paul Wilborn, Read by Eugenie Bondurant
Audio Theatre: Experience a moment in Ybor life during the 1980s Artistic Revival
Linda’s an artist, about to move to an abandoned Ybor storefront. She and Mario are lost in the chaos of the Gasparilla Night Parade, searching for the Artists and Writers Ball. Mario doesn’t know why anyone would live in Ybor City, but they both know it’s not easy to be gay in Palma Ceia in the ‘80s. All they know of Ybor is not really listening to their parents and grandparents’ stories.
We hear a street singer, a street poet, partying artists, rowdy pirates from the Gasparilla floats – and as Ybor quiets down again, Rita and Florinda are cops wrangling traffic and speaking Spanish, lighting an Ybor cigar as the voices of current USF students greet you in many languages.
Ybor Speaks Audio Vignettes
Written by and voices edited by Sheila Cowley
Sound design by Matthew Cowley
Main character voices directed by James Rayfield
Photo Curator: Robin O'Dell
Mario – JL Rey and Linda – Mary E. Hughes Gonzalez from Tampa’s Spanish Lyric Theatre
Florinda and Paulina Pedroso – Fanni Green
Rita and The Lector – Dora Arreola from the University of South Florida School of Theatre and Dance
Spanish Voices – Patricia León, Catalina Perea, Gladys Restrepo, Ana Maria Vasquez
Newcomer Learning Spanish – Jim Wilson
Italian Voice – Ivan Nouli
Rumanian Voices – Cristina Vățulescu, Cristian Pop-Elecheș, Teodora Vățulescu-Elecheș and Veronica Vățulescu-Elecheș
Russian Voices – Martin Daughtry and Emily Daughtry
Yiddish Lullabies – Elizabeth Gelman
Jewish Ladies – Elizabeth Gelman and Paula Kramer
The Devil Crab Guy, Street Poet, Pirate, Uncle Grandpa – Dave Waterman
Fish Vendor, Street Singer – Stephanie Roberts
Collard Greens Vendor – Bob Devin Jones
Pirulí Man – Martin Daughtry
Young WWII Voices – Ben Daughtry, Joey Daughtry, and Nora Daughtry
Baseball Announcer – Gary Bass
Baseball Fans – Gary Bass, Matt Cowley and Dave Waterman
Neighbors, Dancers, Friends, Shipyard Workers, Protestors, Partygoers, and Artists performed by students at the University of South Florida School of Theatre and Dance
Que-Phuong Jacqueline Do
Makmal Mnarbek Kyzy
Many thanks to Theatre USF and Professors Dora Arreola and Fanni Green
Original Music by La Lucha
Original music composed and performed by Tampa Bay’s award-winning band, La Lucha – featuring Alejandro Arenas on bass, John O’Leary III on piano, and Mark Feinman on drums.
The main theme is our composition entitled "Pasodoble De Ybor.” Ona Kirei, who just moved here from Spain about three years ago, wrote beautiful Spanish lyrics for the 1890s traditional pasodoble version. Here is a loose translation. . .
Pasodoble De Ybor
I hold in my heart
Memories of my land
So that my vibrant soul
Doesn’t get lost while wandering
The Arabic tiles tell the story of an ancient journey
The flowers are a fragrant balm of the heart
This new land of sun and storms will be my home
With my dreams and strength I will sow the notes of a new song
- The 1890s Pasodoble features voice and guitar in an intimate setting (Ona Kirei and Alejandro Arenas)
- The 1920s version has a Cuban feel featuring clarinet, tres, piano, bass, and percussion (La Lucha + Austin Vickrey)
- The 1940s Big Band still has a Spanish flare, but with a swing feel and a little nod to Duke Ellington on the piano (La Lucha + James Suggs and Austin Vickrey)
- The 1960s a capella version is sung and arranged by Ona Kirei
- The 1980s version is the product of La Lucha with a Flock Of Seagulls hairstyle going out to party with Duran Duran.
Many Thanks to
Special thanks to the authors of the books featured in our Ybor Speaks audiobook recordings, whose work inspired these vignettes.
Scott M. Deitche
Cigar City Mafia
Read by David Waterman
Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta
The Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and Their Latin Neighbors in Tampa,1885-1985
Read by David Waterman
Once Upon a Time in Tampa: Rise and Fall of the Cigar Industry
Read by Stephanie Roberts
Cigar City: Tales from a 1980s Creative Ghetto
Read by Eugenie Bondurant