Traditional and Modern Influences Shaped Puerto Rican Music

The music of Puerto Rico bears strong African and European influences but enjoys a distinct flavor that is pure Puerto Rican. Its popularity is widespread and it can be heard across the Caribbean and sometimes in various communities across the globe. Popular genres include ‘bomba’, ‘plena’ and ‘reggaeton’, though many different music genres exist.

Puerto Rican music really started on the island itself with the Taino Indians who were once the sole inhabitants of the island. Numerous percussion instruments have been found at various archaeological sights on the island but the music once played by the Tainos has completely disappeared from history. Nevertheless, many modern Puerto Ricans do strive to incorporate what little they do know of this early culture into their musical explorations. In November 1493, Christopher Columbus arrived on the island, paving the way for Juan Ponce de Leon to establish a colony near San Juan and to bring with him the Spanish culture which strongly influcenced the culture of the people of Puerto Rico today. Spanish colonists brought a number of different musical instruments with them, as well as a strong love for rhythms and scales and a passion for poems and emotional lyrics. This was later added to by the infectious beat of drums enjoyed by African slaves, as well as the more classical forms of music employed by other European settlers. Puerto Rican’s combined these various elements over the years, creating music styles that are unique to the island.

Bomba is probably one of Puerto Rico’s oldest forms of dance music. It was brought from West Africa with the slaves who arrived on the island to work the sugar plantations and it grew from there. A number of styles based on Bomba have since been developed. Bomba dancers interact with the drummer but not with the singers and harmony is not a feature of this style of music. Dancers usually dance in pairs without physical contact. This genre is energetic and captivating to watch. Danza is a more sophisticated form of music with many rules being applied to it. The national anthem of Puerto Rico is a Danza. Decima is a combination of native rhythm and Spanish melodies and lyrics. It originated sometime during the 17th century and is basically a sort of Puerto Rican ballad which can be very stirring to hear. Seis is basically a form of folk dance music which originated in the second half of the 17th century. It is danced by six couples who form separate lines in the dance area who intersect periodically and tap out the rhythm with their feet.

Aguinaldo is the Puerto Rican form of the traditional Christmas Carol singers, except it is much livelier. Participants will move from house to house in a lively bunch, singing as they make their way and being rewarded by food and drink. Plena originated in the coastal areas of Puerto Rico and can be described as a narrative song which broadcast current events or humorous stories. Salsa is Latin music which was derived from the Cuban ‘Son and Mambo’ that was very popular in Puerto Rico and America during the 1930s. It combined Son and mambo with a number of different Puerto Rican influences to produce a very different but very enjoyable sound. Puerto Rican Pop music arrived on the island during the 1940s and 50s and it has been growing ever since. Several American singers, such as Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin, have brought this style of music to the rest of the world. The Morales Brothers are famous Puerto Rican Pop artists. More recent years have seen a growing acceptance of Reggaeton music. This style of music is derived from Jamaican Reggae but it is fused with Bomba, Plena, Hip-Rap and other genres to produce a distinctly Puerto Rican sound. It is often characterized by the perreo dance form wherein dancers engage in very close and explicit sexually-orientated dancing.

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