The Rhythms of Bomba

The music genre of Bomba originated in the northeastern regions of Puerto Rico in the 1800s with the import of African slaves to the island. Cities such as Loiza and Fajardo still have a strong African presence as it was in this area that most slaves lived and worked. Bomba became a very unique form of music in Puerto Rico that can still be heard, along with the dances that accompany the music.

For the slaves of Africa, the Bomba was a way to escape their desperate lives, and the moment the first beats of music were drummed the plantations would come alive with song and dance. The Bomba is a purely percussion orientated music genre, with vocalists adding the melody to the song. It is an outdoor festival of dance and rhythms that was created to poke fun at the plantation owners and their wives, or to simply lift the spirits of the oppressed slaves. Bomba was a way to leave the plantation and dream of a life far removed from the cruelty and suffering many slaves were subjected to.

The instruments that are played during the Bomba usually consist of a maraca, cua and drums. A low-pitched buleador drum is used as a supporting rhythm, while the subidor is a higher pitched and smaller drum. Cua’s are sticks that are used to beat rhythms out of a surface and most of the time only one maraca is played during the Bomba. A song opens with a primitive call from a female vocalist, who is known as a Laina. Watching the interaction between the dancers and the drums is a breathtaking sight. The dancers move to the rhythms that are beat out on the drum and dancers will often challenge the drummer, leading to a rhythmic face off.

Since its inception, the Bomba has evolved and grown. It still comprises of its hypnotic beats, but new generation artists have combined the original styled Bomba with reggaeton, to create a sound that is very unique. Puerto Rico has also seen a few very successful Bomba musicians, such as Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera, who revived Bomba in the 1950’s and even more recently the CD “El Rumbero del Piano”, featured many popular Bomba tracks that skyrocketed Eddie Palmieri into instant stardom in Puerto Rico in 1998.

Bomba is a part of the history and the future of Puerto Rico. It is a style of music that will continue to entertain and draw new fans to its enchanting beats. Even if it does change a little, the Bomba will pump through every Puerto Rican for many years to come. It is a tradition and culture that has survived for centuries and is interwoven in the hearts of the locals and the island.