Music of Puerto Rico
This artist has albums available.
|Viento de Agua Unplugged||Plena||$9.99|
|Jibaro Hasta el Hueso||Jíbaro||$9.99|
|Raices Boricuas con Sandra Roldan||Jíbaro||$10.99|
|Tengo Puerto Rico en Mi Corazon||Jíbaro||$9.99|
|Songs & Dances of Puerto Rico||Jíbaro||$9.99|
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.
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.
Folk Music Genres:
Bomba: 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.
Danza: 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.
Décima: 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.
Seis: 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.
Guaracha: A lively and highly danceable music style with lyrics. The guaracha came to Puerto Rico from Cuba in the mid-19th century. 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.
Aguinaldo: 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: 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.
Popular Music Genres:
Salsa: Latin music on the island today is most widely represented by salsa, which in English means sauce. Salsa, which is essentially Bomba and Plena 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 genre with influences from rock music, Cuban son montuno, chachachá, mambo, rumba, Latin jazz and Colombian cumbia. 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 Olivencia, Lalo Rodriguez, 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 music.
Boogaloo: Boogaloo or Bugalu (shing-a-ling, popcorn music) originated in New York City and said to be "the first Nuyorican music". Boogaloo, a fusion of Rhythm such as Blues, R&B and Afro-Cuban music and was popular in the United States in the 1960's. Boogaloo was the first contemporary Latin music form that captured my attention because of its funky sounds, engaging choral chants by the audience, English lyrics, references to symbols of African American culture (“cornbread, hog maws and chitlins”), and background sounds of raucous party goers. Boogaloo was a highly successful crossover musical style, capturing the attention of audiences who were previously not familiar with Latin music.
Boogaloo resonated particularly with African American audiences. Performers such as Jimmy Sabater and Joe Cuba clearly state that Boogaloo was inspired by the interaction between African American dancers and Latin musicians in New York at nightclubs such as Palm Gardens Ballroom. They recount stories of how the structure and tone of Boogaloo songs such as “Bang, Bang” were developed in an effort to appeal to African American dancers who were not responding to their traditional mambos and cha-cha-chás. Many of the Boogaloo musicians report that they were also deeply influenced by the R&B, jazz and doo-wop bands of that era. Music historian Juan Flores, in his seminal work on Boogalu entitled “Cha Cha with a Backbeat, suggests that the song title and refrain “ I Like It Like That” may have some roots in a 1961 R&B tune with the same name composed by Chris Kenner, from New Orleans.
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.
Reggaeton: 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 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.
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.