Rev. Efrain Alicea (photo credit: Eric Mason)
By Tom Campisi
I first met Pastor Joseph Henry Cortese and the Storytellas in 1999 when my wife Christen and I were invited to one of their events at Crossroads Tabernacle. When we arrived in the Bronx, the line was hundreds of people deep on the sidewalks of Castle Hill Avenue.
What followed in the next couple of hours inside the former historic movie theater turned sanctuary was truly remarkable. A Broadway-style apartment building set, stellar lighting and sound, and the Storytellas testifying through rap and “hip-bop” (a blend of hip-hop and bebop music). This was the Good News presented in the manner and genre of “Hamilton,” many years before anyone had heard of Lin Manuel Miranda. At the end of the night, Evangelist Nicky Cruz and Pastor Aimee Cortese preached the gospel, old worship hymns were played, and young people flooded the altar to be saved or re-dedicate their lives to Christ.
For a season during the late 1990s and into the 2000s, Joseph Henry Cortese and the Storytellas hosted several events like that one (Run Baby Run, The Man, 2-Train, Parakletos), led outreaches in parks and on the streets, and provided a soundtrack of music and compelling testimonies to a generation of young people in the Bronx and beyond.
THE LEGACY OF BROTHER E
On Jan. 31, 2023, Brother E, one of the Storytellas and a key player in this unique Gospel movement, unexpectedly passed away at the age of 58. Rev. Efrain Alicea, the pastor of Elements Church in the Bronx, is survived by his wife and co-pastor Erika, and children, Jason Noel and Isabel Rose Alicea.
At the Celebration of Life memorial service at Church of the Revelation in the Bronx on Feb. 6, Rev. Alicea was fondly remembered as a beloved husband, father, grandfather, pastor, church planter, mentor, rapper, and preacher of the Word. He served in a variety of capacities at churches in the Bronx over the years. Most notably, Rev. Alicea was appointed Associate Pastor at Promised Land Church under the ministry of Rev. Michael Carrion. In 2008, Efrain, Erika and a dedicated core team planted The Elements Church in the Bronx.
‘FLOOD YOUR MIND WITH THE WORD’
Bert Bocachica, one of his best friends, hosted his celebration of Life service. Bocachica, of Brothers Inc. 4 Da Lord and The Storytellas, started the evening with a rap:
I wrote this down at the risk of possibly forgetting
But, I remember that I rapped at Brother E’s wedding
In fact, I dropped rhymes at E’s ordination
So it’s fitting that I’d be spitting at his going home celebration…
The rap concluded with an admonition from one of Brother E’s most memorable songs,
Forget what you heard and Flood your mind
The WORD will reveal things every time
Flood your mind and forget what you heard
Flood you mind with The Word.
Speakers at the service also included: Sister Kinah Ventura, Grace House Catholic Youth Ministry Center; Rev. Daniel DeHoyos, Iglesia Sión Pentecostal/Church of the Revelation; Rev. Michael Carrion, Promised Land Covenant Church; Rev. Joseph Henry Cortese, Crossroads Tabernacle; Rev. Howard Burgoyne, Evangelical Covenant Church; and Rev. Daniel Cruz, Lifehouse Community Church.
Bocachica, who pastors El Santuario Church in the Bronx with his wife Alice, said the diverse crowd at the memorial service was a testimony to the wide range of people touched by the ministry and friendship of Rev. Alicea.
“Brother E had an impact on a lot of lives. He reached out across boundaries and genres,” Bocachica said. “He always made sure everyone felt special. If you were around Brother E, it was never about him. He was always an encourager.”
RAP FEST, INC.
Bocachica said that encouragement was especially apparent through Brother E’s work alongside him at Rap Fest, Inc., a free, open-air, annual Gospel Hip-Hop event in the South Bronx that brought together Gospel Rap Ministers from all over the world. He also spent many years as part of the Christian comedy troop “The Bristrous Brothers” at Salem Coffee House with Bert Bocachica, Ely Sotomayor, Mike Bocachica (“Moncho”), Juan Ojeda (“Pepin”), Johnny Oyola, and Ricardo Bocachica (“Cool Cousin Tito”).
Bert Bocachica recalled how much Brother E enjoyed ministering through the comedy of the Bristrous Brothers and noted his influence on Rap Fest, Inc.,—how he served as the assistant director, and how he was the first artist to minister at the inaugural event in 1994 and the last one to speak at the finale in 2014.
In Broadway’s “Hamilton,” President George Washington informs the title character that he would not be seeking re-election in the duet, “One Last Time.” Washington consoles Hamilton with his farewell address, rapping, “We’ll teach them how to say goodbye…”
At the Celebration of Life service, the Storytellas and other artists united to say goodbye to Brother E in a powerful, hip-hop way, assembling on the altar for his signature song, “They Didn’t Rise.” The ensemble included the Joseph Henry Cortese Band, Eric “Eric E” Espinal, Jose “The Lordz Ambassador” Santos, Bocachica, Rodnie “R-Swift” Graham, Randy “Ran” Mason, Damien “Daim” Sanders, Tommy “Urband D” Kyllonen, Richard Dauphin, and Manny “DJ NuMan” Badillo.
The chorus of the song declares how Koresh didn’t rise again, Jim Jones didn’t rise again, Budda didn’t rise again, and Muhammad didn’t rise again. But:
Jesus rose again!
Jesus rose again!
Jesus rose again!
“That was Brother E’s most popular song, because of the message and the intensity and passion he had behind it,” Bocachica said. “We opted to close with this song because everyone knew it. Everywhere he went, he had to play it. He recorded it so many times with different people.”
It was a fitting tribute to Brother E from some of his closest brothers. At the Church of the Revelation, they put their hope in the Resurrection. They mourned, prayed, rapped, and laughed. And for one night—in honoring and remembering the legacy of one of their own—they were Storytellas once again.
SUPPORTING THE ALICEA FAMILY
A GiveSendGo Campaign has been established to help the Alicea family:
Let’s help the Alicea family during their time of grief after the loss of their beloved Efrain. His sudden departure left his family deeply heartbroken. In spite of this tragedy, they are relying on the strength of the Lord and the support of family and friends to carry them during this season…