Puerto Rico lies in the southeastern reaches of the Caribbean Sea. This sunny archipelago has a rich musical tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The music of Puerto Rico has been formed by a complex melding of sounds and cultures. From indigenous roots to colonial influences and slave-related migrations, Puerto Rican music embodies the diverse social elements that have shaped this tiny collection of islands.
Many Puerto Rican musical genres employ bongos
The Taíno Indians once inhabited Puerto Rico, though they were virtually wiped out after the Spanish colonized the region starting in 1508. Remnants of the Taíno people mixed in with the Spanish conquerors, and eventually with the African slave population as well. Traces of Puerto Rico’s indigenous past still appear in some of the local music. For instance, the guiro percussion instrument is a gourd played in many popular genres. African rhythms also feature prominently in certain types of tunes. All of these cultural shifts have left a permanent mark on the music of Puerto Rico as it is heard today.
Jíbaro derives primarily from Spanish traditions. Folk ballads from the 17th and 18th centuries evolved into what is now known as jíbaro music. Often related to the pastoral lifestyle of the mountains, Puerto Rican jíbaro oozes with nostalgia. The music itself revolves around the ‘seis,’ a series of melodic motifs that provide the foundation for jíbaro songs. Typical instruments for this genre include the guitar, bongos, guiro, clarinet and trumpet. Passionate vocal improvisation is key to the overall sound.
Bomba and Plena
Bomba and plena music have their roots in Africa. Slaves introduced new rhythms with multiple drums as well as call-and-response lyrical forms. Bomba plays off of the musical energy between percussionists and dancers, sparking a rhythmic showdown of sorts. As for plena, this genre originated in working-class neighborhoods during the 1800s, and has since become concentrated in the coastal regions of Puerto Rico. Plena makes use of tambourines and adds in singers. The genre’s lyrics tend to focus on issues of social justice and community, according to National Geographic.
Cuba may arguably hold the title as the world’s capital of salsa music, but Puerto Rico has every right to challenge for the throne. National Geographic contends that modern salsa music actually emerged in the Puerto Rican barrios of New York City during the 1960s and 70s. Big-band jazz met with Latin rhythms, and salsa music steadily made its way back to Puerto Rico where it cemented its position as one of the island’s flagship genres. Some of the most famous names in Salsa hail from Puerto Rico, including Hector Lavoe, Tito Puente and Mark Anthony.
Reggaeton is the newest musical development to come out of Puerto Rico. This genre blends Jamaican-style dancehall beats with hip-hop raps in Spanish. Reggaeton took Latin America by storm starting in the late 1990s. Immensely popular among young Latinos, reggaeton can be heard blasting out of many of Puerto Rico’s night clubs and bars. Puerto Rico is home to several of the biggest stars in this genre. Major reggaeton artists from Puerto Rico include Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee and Calle 13.
- bongos image by dead_account from Fotolia.com