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Latino Corner

Music of Puerto Rico
Music of Puerto Rico
The music of Puerto Rico has been influenced by the African, Taíno Indians and the
Spanish, and has become very popular across the Caribbean and across the globe.
Native popular genres include bomba, plena, and salsa, while more modern
innovations include the hip hop fusion reggaeton

Early history
The history of the music on the island of Puerto Rico begins with its original
inhabitants, the Taínos. The Taíno Indians have influenced the Puerto Rican
culture greatly. Leaving behind important contributions such as their musical
instruments, language, food, plant medicine and art.

Christopher Columbus arrived to the island in November of 1493, but the indelible
mark of Spanish culture wasn't felt until Juan Ponce de León invaded the island in
1508 and established a colony near the current capital of San Juan. The colonists
brought with them the musical instruments of their mother country, notably the guitar,
a love of infectious rhythms and even some of the scales left in the Iberian peninsula
by the Moors.

Musical instruments
The güiro aka the Güícharo is a scraping instrument made out of the nut of the
"cucurbita lagenaria" or bitter marimbo tree. It has found its way into many forms
of Latin music. Some maintain that it is native to the island, created by the
indigenous Taino Indians. Others maintain it originated from South America.
The güiro is played using a scraper called a pua, and produces a rasping sound.
Another Taíno instrument that is still used today is the Maracas its name is taken
from the original Taíno name of Amaraca which is of Araucanian origin. The
maraca is made out of the hollowed shell of the fruit of the "crescentia cujete"
evergreen tree. A piece of wood pierces through the shell as a handle and dried
seeds or pebbles inside rattle when the musicians shake the instrument. Another
Taíno instrument still used today is the Conch Shell Horn which is many times
simply called La Flauta (many times used in Bomba music). Also, a slit drum
called the Mayohavau and/or Mayahuacan is still played by some performers.

The Spanish vihuelas, lutes, guitarrillos and guitars underwent several changes
on the island. This gave birth to the Puerto Rico's native string instruments the
cuatro, tiple, and bordonua. The Cuban Tres also became the Puerto Rican Tres.
Other String instruments commonly used in Puerto Rico are Spanish Guitar and
the Bandurria in Puerto Rico's world famous La Tuna groups.

Puerto Rico also has native drums like the Panderetas which are a type of hand
drums, they are also known as panderos, and are marketed as Pleneras by LP.
There is disagreement on whether the panderetas typically used in Puerto Rico
today are adapted from instruments known in Spain from the time of the Moors
known as an "adufe", or from similar African instruments. There are three different
sizes of Panderettas, which each create distinct pitches. Other native drums are
Bombas, which are like the Cuban Congo drums, but are shorter and wider and
produce a deeper sound. Traditionally rum barrels were used, once some of
their panels were removed to make them narrower so that goat skins could be
stretched across the mouth. Finally, there is the Cua, which is an Afro-Puerto
Rican percussion instrument made of bamboo which is played with sticks.

Others instruments include the Marímbula aka marímbola, Los palitos, Sinfonía
de mano, Flauta de pan and the Bombardino. Improvisation and controversia
The heart of much Puerto Rican music is the idea of improvisation in both the
music and the lyrics. A performance takes on an added dimension when the
audience can anticipate the response of one performer to a difficult passage
of music or clever lyrics created by another. This technique in Puerto Rico is
called a controversia. A similar dialog creates a heightened appreciation in the
classical music of India, or in a lively jam session in jazz


Bomba is a style of music and dance imported from West Africa during the
time of slavery, with its modern development beginning in Loíza and Ponce.
Bomba was played during the festival of St. James, since slaves were not
allowed to worship their own gods, and soon developed into countless styles
based on the kind of dance intended to be used at the same time; these include
leró, yubá, cunyá, babú and belén.

Bomba often begins with a liana, or a female singer who is answered by the
chorus and musicians with a 2/4 or 6/8 rhythm before the dancing begins.
Harmony is not used. Dancers interact with the drummer, who is usually
solo and dance in pairs without touching each other.

The dancers challenge the drummers in a kind of competing dialog, like the
controversia mentioned earlier. The drummers respond with a challenge of
their own. Sometimes one group of dancers will tempt another group to
respond to a set of complicated steps. As the bomba proceeds, tension
rises and becomes more excited and passionate. It's not unusual for a
bomba to end with all the performers thoroughly soaked with perspiration.

The instrumentation is simple: usually the main rhythm is maintained by a
low-pitched drum known as the buleador, while the high-pitched drum
or subidor dialogs with the dancers. More complicated counter rhythms
are created with sticks beaten on any resonant surface. A third set of
rhythms is maintained by a maraca.

Rafael Cepeda and the rest of the Cepeda family have long dominated
the genre, while Paracumbé and others have achieved moderate success.

Danza is a very sophisticated form of music that can be extremely varied in its
expression; the Puerto Rican national anthem, "La Borinqueña", was originally a
danza that was later altered to fit a more anthem-like style. Danzas can be either
romantic or festive. Romantic danzas have four sections, beginning with an eight
measure paseo followed by three themes of sixteen measures each. The third
theme typically includes a solo by the bombardino and, often, a return to the first
theme or a coda at the end. Festive danzas are free-form, with the only rules being
an introduction and a swift rhythm.

The first part of the romantic danza had 8 measures of music without rhythm,
when the men circled the room in one direction, and the women circled in the other.
This afforded young couples the opportunity to face each other, if only briefly, and
to conduct some serious flirting. The second part, called the merengue, grew from
the original 16 measures to 34, in 1854, and up to 130 even later. Here the couples
held each other, in a proper stance and executed turns that looked very much like a
waltz. Like the tango in Argentina, the danza was considered rather naughty and was
outlawed for a time.

While the origins of the danza are murky, it probably arose around 1840 as a sort
of reaction against the highly codified contradanza and was strongly influenced by
Cuban immigrants and their habanera music. The first danzas were immature, youthful
songs condemned by the authorities, who occasionally tried ineffectively to ban the
genre. The first danza virtuoso was Manuel Gregorio Tavarez and his disciple, Juan
Morel Campos. Campos composed more than 300 danzas in his short life. He died
at the age of 37 while conducting his own orchestra.

Although danza composers could still be found in the 20th century, most of them
kept writing in a rather conservative way in terms of melody, harmony and structure.
At the beginning of the 21st century a young pianist and composer Angel David
Mattos (1966 - ) made way for the danza in a project were danza meets jazz.
This CD entitled Danzzaj (2004) enrouted danza again into the minds of a new
generation of danza composers.

The décima has its roots in 16th century Spain and represents the earliest examples
of the combination of native rhythms and the lyrics and melodies from the mother
country. Décima is derived from Andalusian ballads that came to Puerto Rico in
the late 17th century. Décima (meaning tenth) usually consists of ten improvised
lines of eight syllables each; the form quickly became popular among Jíbaros, or
peasants. Note that a décima is also the name of a very specific type of verses
in Spanish poetry.

The rules for the lyrics are complex and particularly difficult to execute since
the lyrics are composed on the spot: The song is composed of 10 lines,
consisting of 5 couplets of 2 lines each Each line of the couplet has 8 syllables
The syllable count is complicated by rules covering adjacent sounds The rhyming
structure has the form: A B B A A C C D D C Vicente Martinez de Espinel was
a Spanish writer and musician who revived the décima, using Andalusian Jíbaro
traditions and medieval Moorish influences. The two varieties are seis,
a dance music, and aguinaldo, derived from Spanish Christmas carols.

The seis originated in the later half of the 17th century in the southern part of Spain.
The word means six, which may have come from the custom of having six couples
perform the dance, though many more couples eventually became quite common.
Men and women form separate lines down the hall or in an open place of beaten
earth, one group facing the other. The lines would approach and cross each other and
at prescribed intervals the dancers would tap out the rhythm with their feet.

The melodies and harmonies are simple, usually performed on the cuatro,
guitar, and güiro, although other indigenous instruments are used depending
on the available musicians. The 2/4 rhythm is maintained by the güiro and guitar.

A lively and highly danceable music style with lyrics, originating in Spain.
Characterized mostly by its rhytm, it is generally played with a bolero section
in 2/4 time and a clave section in either 6/8 or 3/4 time, although the order of
these sections is sometimes reversed. Typically, a guaracha ends with a sensual
rumba section. La Negra Tomasa composed in the 1940's, is an interesting
(only vocals and percussion), example of this genre. Another example is
Corneta sung by Daniel Santos. The guaracha came to Puerto Rico from Cuba
in the mid-19th century, and developed into the jíbaro style that most closely
approaches contemporary Latin dance rhythms.

The Aguinaldo is similar to Christmas carols, except that they are usually sung
in a parranda, which is rather like a lively parade that moves from house to house
in the neighborhood, looking for holiday food and drink. The melodies were
subsequently used for the improvisational décima and seis. There are aguinaldos
that are usually sung in churches or religious services, while there are aguinaldos
that are more popular and are sung in the parrandas.

Types of Aguinaldos include: Aguas Buenas,Aguinaldos-cadenas, aguinaldos-
plenas, aguinaldos-seises, aguinaldos-villancicos, bombas navideñas, cabayos,
cadenas, Cagüeño, Costanero o Costeño, de Trulla, guarachas navideñas,
Isabelino, Jíbaro, Lamento, Manola, Parranda, plenas navideñas, Yabucoeño,
and Yumac.

Plena is a narrative song from the coastal regions of Puerto Rico, especially
around Ponce. Its origins have been various claimed as far back as 1875
and as late as 1920. As rural farmers moved to San Juan and other cities,
they brought plena with them and eventually added horns and improvised
call and response vocals. Lyrics generally deal with stories or current events,
though some are light-hearted or humorous. Manuel A. Jiménez, or El Canario,
is the most highly celebrated of the original plena performers.

In the 1940s and 50s, artists like Cesar Concepción and Mon Rivera made
plena slicker and made some hits internationally, but the music's popularity
sunk drastically by the mid-1960s.

Plena's popularity blossomed in the 1990s, and the revival has survived and
influenced foreign genres from Jamaica, Cuba, Brazil and other Latin and
Caribbean countries. Artists like Willie Colón united plena and bomba with
salsa music to great critical acclaim and popularity, while other important bands
of this revival include Plena Libre (long-time leaders of the genre) and Plenealo.

Son and mambo
Son and mambo are types of Cuban music that became very popular in Puerto
Rico in the 1930s. Puerto Rican migrants soon brought the music to New York City,
where it evolved into salsa music in the early 1950s.

Latin music on the island today is most widely represented by salsa, which in
English means sauce. Salsa, which is essentially Cuban son and son montuno
in both rhythm, stylistic origin, and instrumentation, underwent several stylistic
modifications in El Barrio of New York City, where a large number of migrants
from Puerto Rico settled. In the late 1960s, Puerto Ricans added to and expanded
this Cuban music genre with influences from rock music, Puerto Rican plena,
Cuban son montuno, chachachá, mambo, rumba, cumbia and Latin jazz. Famous
Puerto Ricans in the early years of salsa included such artists as Richie Ray,
Bobby Cruz, Papo Lucca, Tommy Olivencia, Héctor Lavoe, Bobby Valentin,
Luis "Perico" Ortiz and Tite Curet Alonso.

The 1980s experienced the rise of "salsa romantica" and such artists as
Frankie Ruiz, Willie Gonzalez, Tommy Olvencia and Eddie Santiago,
who sang a softer and more romantic version of salsa.

In Puerto Rico, the debate between aficionados of Spanish rock and fans of
salsa music had become part of a class antagonism between the growing middle
class on the island until the arrival of reggaeton.

As to instrumentation, salsa music uses a heavy and varied bass line, with
percussion instruments such as the conga, maraca, bongo, timbales, claves
and a cowbell. Horns and wind instruments also play a very important part in the

Boogaloo or Bugalu (shing-a-ling, popcorn music) is a genre of Latin music and
dance that was very popular in the United States in the 1960s. Boogaloo originated
in New York City among teenage Cubans and Puerto Ricans. The style was a fusion
of popular African American R&B, rock and roll and soul with mambo and son montuno.
Boogaloo entered the mainstream through the American Bandstand television program.

Puerto Rican Pop music
In the 1940s and 50s, the city of New York established itself as a melting pot of
Latinos from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico
and elsewhere in Latin America. The result was a series of big band groups becoming
major stars playing rumba, mambo, Latin jazz and chachachá. The Morales Brothers,
Rafael Cortijo and Tito Rodríguez are probably the best-known Puerto Rican stars
of the period.

Out of Cortijo's band came Rafael Ithier, who formed El Gran Combo in 1963 in
order to create a popular dance music based on Cortijo's plena roots. The band
was successful within a few years when "Akangana" became a major hit.

In the 1970s, Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants in New York City produced
salsa music by adding rock elements to native forms like plena.

Several international pop-stars have come from Puerto Rico or are of Puerto Rican
descent, including Danny Rivera, and Chucho Avellanet, alongside Chayanne,
Jennifer Lopez (although she's a native New Yorker), Luis Miguel, (born in P.R.
although he's of Spaniard and Italian descent and raised in Mexico), Ednita Nazario,
Nydia Caro, Yolandita Monge, Lucecita Benitez, Noelia, Luis Fonsi, Obie Bermudez,
and Ricky Martin. Boy bands like Menudo and Los Chicos also topped charts
worldwide for a period, and began the careers of Martin and Chayanne, respectively.
Menudo has been recognized by many around the world to be history's greatest
boy band; but this title is debatable nowadays, with the success generated by The
Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. Menudo's phenomenal fame reached the United
States, the rest of Latin America, Europe and Asia. During the group's golden era
of the early 1980s, the terms Menudomania and Menuditis were invented

Latin House
In the second half of the 1980s, some the pioneers of house music of
Latin-American descent gave birth to this genre by releasing house records in
Spanish. Early examples include "Amor puertoriqueño" by Raz on DJ International
and "Break 4 Love" by Raze. However, the undisputed queen without a crown
was the American-Puerto Rican singer Liz Torres, who released Spanish versions
of her songs "Can't Get Enough", "Mama's Boy" and "Payback Is A Bitch".

In 1984, Puerto Ricans in New York were beginning their own sound of Freestyle
music. The single that many consider the first true Latin Hip-Hop record (was not
called Freestyle until much later) was Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's "I Wonder If I Take
You Home." The song was originally signed to Personal Records in New York and
not released in the U.S. It was licensed to CBS Records in England and became a
big club record on import. The response the record received from the Latin Hip-Hop
clubs led Columbia Records to pick up the single for U S release where it became an
anthem for teen-age girls. The song reached #34 on the Pop charts in August of
1985 and Lisa Lisa became a role model for young Hispanics all over her hometown
of New York. Then came other Freestyle artists that were Puerto Rican such as
Marc Anthony, Cynthia, George LaMond, La India, Judy Torres, TKA, Lil Suzy and
Lissette Melendez. India and Marc would later get more recognition when they
stopped singing Freestyle music and began singing Salsa.

Afro-Rican jazz
Afro-Rican jazz is an original concept developed by trombonist, composer/
arranger William Cepeda that celebrates the heritage of Puerto Rican music
and its African roots while creating a new shade of jazz with a hip flavor. Steeped
in the jazz tradition (having studied and performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Lester
Bowie, Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, David Murray and Donald Byrd among others),
Cepeda developed this unique artistic expression by incorporating a contemporary
jazz perspective with the musical and cultural traditions of his homeland, Puerto Rico.

There are two existing versions of reggaeton origin: some say that it originated in
Panama, others argue that this musical direction comes from Puerto Rico. That is
actually where the majority of reggaeton singers come from.

Reggaeton actually developed from Jamaican Reggae, but was certainly influenced
by various other musical directions, like for example, North American Hip-Hop
and Puerto Rican rhythms.

But let's first take a look at the Spanish-speaking rap and reggae that have made
an essential contribution to the development of reggaeton.

Reggae developed in the 70's in Jamaica and has gone through numerous changes
since then, having been combined with other sounds and rhythms. Panama was the
first place where Reggae was performed (by Chicho Man) in Spanish, while the first
Spanish rap (performed by Vico C) appeared in Puerto Rico. It all happened in 1985,
and in the years to come this movement arrived in other Latin American countries as
well as in the United States.

During this peak of Spanish-speaking music movement, Vico C managed to make a
breakthrough with his Spanish rap and "merengue house" (a mixture of rap and meregue).

In the 90's, one began talking about typical Panamanian Spanish reggae (commonly
confused with reggaeton). In Puerto Rico one began listening not only to rap but also
to Jamaican reggae, which had a great success there.

The first reggae songs, heard in Puerto Rico were, for instance, "Dembow" by Nando
Boom, "Pantalon caliente" by Pocho Pan, "Dulce" by La Atrevida or also international
successes performed by Gringo Man and El gran General, such as "Muevelo"
and "Son bow".

The first sounds resembling modern reggaeton, appeared in Puerto Rico in "The Noise"
disco between 1993 and 1994, where one listened to the rap of Vico C, containing
Jamaican sounds.

In Puerto Rico, reggaeton was first referred to as " Underground", mainly due to its
often coarse lyrics and unvarnished language and also because it used to be distributed
secretly among young people.

A recent sound known as "Romantikeo", is very similar to American R&B. It is a
fusion of Reggaeton, pop, & R&B, but resembles R&B the most. Many artists such
as Arcangel, De La Ghetto, RKM & Ken-Y, Zion Y Lennox, Don Omar, Wisin Y
Yandel, Jowell & Randy, & more.

Example are Zion featuring Akon song tilte The Way She Moves. Another example is
Calle 13 (band) song tilte Un beso de Desayuno.

A specialized style of rap exists in Puerto Rico that reflects its ambiguous yet evolving
identity as a musical community. Recently, the messages found in underground rap
songs have been provocative and assertive. Rap group El Sindicato and rock band
Fiel a la Vega collaborated in creating the politically-conscious song, "O Luchamos o
Nos Entregamos" (Either We Fight or We Give In).[1] Religious activism can be
found in the song Amor al Rescate song "Somos Hermanos" (We Are Brothers).
Assimilating English into his mostly Spanish song Poesia Subterranea, Puerto Rican
rapper SieteNueve incorporates fundamental aspects of hip-hop into his music video,
such as graffiti and breakdancing, and he also expresses appreciation of his hometown,
Villa Palmeras. As songs such as SieteNueve's are underground, and not too mainstream,
in Puerto Rico, they receive even less attention elsewhere around the world.




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