Music of Puerto Rico

Music of Puerto Rico

The music of Puerto Rico has been influenced by the Spanish, African, Taíno Indians, France, and the United States, and has become very popular across the Caribbean and across the globe. Native popular genres include bomba, plena, and seis, while more modern innovations include the fusion reggaeton, also puerto rican calypso, reggae, ,and soca.


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 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.

Folk music

Musical instruments

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 flinching is very popular in salsa dancing 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 conga 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.


External audio
You may listen to the "Bomba Puertorriqueña" as performed at the Nuyorican Cafe in Puerto Rico here
Baile De Loiza Aldea by Antonio Broccoli Porto

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 its simaler to calypso and soca.

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.


External audio
You may listen to Graciela Rivera's interpretation of Fernández Juncos' version of the "La Borinqueña"" here.
You may listen to Luciano Quiñones piano interpretation of Tavarez's "Margarita"here
You may listen to Luciano Quiñones piano interpretation of Morel Campos' "No me toque" here
Manuel Gregorio Tavarez

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 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 (b. 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.


External audio
You may listen to "Décima de los Pueblos de Puerto Rico" here.

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.


External audio
You may listen to Luciano Quiñones piano interpretation of Carattini's aguinaldo "Dame la mano Paloma" here
and to Carattini and "Los Cantores" sing "El Amolao" here.

The Aguinaldo from Puerto Rico 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. [1] Tony Croatto was one of the mountain masterminds behind the movement during the 70s/80s era.


External audio
You may listen to a "Potpourri of Plenas" interpreted by Rene Ramos here.

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 its simaler to calypso and soca and dancehall.

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. But also known as the famous singer in Plena Libre from 1922-1954 & loved by his fans.

Popular music

Cuban influence


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 rhythm, 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 1940s, is an interesting (only vocals and percussion), example of this genre. Another example is Corneta sung by Daniel Santos.

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.

Salsa Romántica

External audio
You may listen to a mix of various songs by Frankie Ruiz here.

Salsa Romántica, also known as Salsa Erotica, is a soft form of salsa music that emerged between the mid 1980s and early 1990s in New York City and Puerto Rico. It has been the most commercially successful form of salsa in the last 20 years, despite criticism that it is a pale imitation of "real" salsa, often called "salsa dura." Salsa romantica originated in Puerto Rico while Salsa Dura originated in New York state by Puerto Rican's who migrated to the mainland. This genre is represented by Cheo Feliciano.

The 1980s experienced the rise of "salsa romantica" and such artists as Frankie Ruiz, Willie Gonzalez, Nino Segarra, Tommy Olivencia, Lalo Rodríguez, Tony Vega, and Eddie Santiago, who sang a softer and more romantic version of salsa. Today's famous Puerto Rican salsa singers include La India, Marc Anthony, Víctor Manuelle, Tito Nieves, Jerry Rivera and Gilberto Santa Rosa.

As to instrumentation, salsa romantica 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.

"Corazón Guerrero" was fully responsible for the movement's dawning in 1982.


External audio
You may listen to Joe Cuba's "Bang Bang" here

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 1960s. 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

External audio
You may listen to José Feliciano's "Light My Fire" here.

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 1962 in order to create a popular dance music based on Cortijo's plena roots. The band was successful within a few years when "Acangana" 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), José Feliciano, (folk rock singer and guitarist well-known for infusing Light My Fire into Latin America), Briel & Dagmar, Wilkins Vélez, Nydia Caro, Ednita Nazario, Lucecita Benítez, Obie Bermúdez, Ricky Martin, Luis Fonsi, Yolandita Monge and Noelia.

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 Flex Onee 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". Willie Colón was responsible for producing, remixing, singing, arranging (7:25), performing and engineering Grant's "Amor Verdadero" in 1980 during the release of Can't Stop the Music. La India, one of house music's top vocalist releases new tracks every few years aside from her mainstream salsa albums. La India's most recent track which was released in 2011, titled "Tacalacateo" debuted on Billboards Dance chart.


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 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 Brenda K. Starr, Marc Anthony, Cynthia, George LaMond, La India, Judy Torres, TKA, Lil Suzy and Lissette Melendez. La India, Marc,and Brenda would later get more recognition when they stopped singing Freestyle music and began singing Salsa.

see also

Puerto Rican Rock

"Rock in Puerto Rico has been a product of direct and indirect influence from both American rock music and Latin rock music", and "its fusion with other genres". Throughout history, the genre has suffered ups and downs having a significant peak in the 1990s. During this decade, rock music reached its peak in the island. Rock en Español fully reached the island, and artists like Miguel Mateos, Charly García, Soda Stereo, Hombres G Robi Draco Rosa and others were heard in radio stations. Mattador released the first instance of their album Save Us From Ourselves with guitarist Ramón Ortiz, who would later go on to play with Puya. The band even opened the Iron Maiden concert at the island. On January 4, 1990, John Rodriguez aka. MetalKid, a radio personality launched the first radio program to cater only Puerto Rican artists at La Mega Station 106 FM along with Edgardo "El Bebo" Adames; giving the opportunity to dozens of acts play their music on the radio. Later that year MetalKid created Brutal Noise Music, the first record label to include metal music on their roster. Bands like Crypta, Homicide, Morbid Death, Deathkross and the Christian act Deathless among others were the first metal releases to be available under Brutal Noise. Brutal Noise joined forces with local promoter Albert Morales from ShowNet and produced concerts like Iron Maiden, Pantera, Sepultura, Slayer making the way to promote local acts on their shows. Until today this tradition still alive. In 1994, former Menudo singer Robi Rosa released his first solo album, and Mattador re-released their album, this time with Tito Rodríguez (now with Sol D'Menta) as guitarist. La Secta Allstar is the most commercially successful rock band in Puerto Rico, selling over 250,000 copies from their last album Consejo and reaching platinum. Since their debut in Puerto Rican charts in 1998.


External audio
You may listen to Ivy Queen's "Te he querido Te he Llorado" here.

Although Reggaeton was born in Puerto Rico, it's roots are Jamaican Dancehall Reggae.

Reggae "developed" in the '70s in Jamaica and has gone through numerous changes since then, having been combined with other sounds and rhythms. The first Latin American rap (performed by Vico C) appeared in Puerto Rico 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 and reggae house fusion"and eventually reggaeton.

In Puerto Rico the youth began listening not only to rap but also to Jamaican reggae and dance hall, which had a great success there and eventually evolved into reggaeton.

One of the reggae-dancehall songs that first had major succes in Puerto Rico was, "Dem Bow" by shabba ranks

The first sounds resembling modern reggaeton, appeared in Puerto Rico in "The Noise" disco between 1989 and 1994.

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.[citation needed]

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 but eventually it spread all over puerto rico and had more variety like romantic reggaeton songs.


A recent sound known as "Romantikeo", its similar to American R&B and jamaican dancehall. Its is a fusion of Reggaeton, pop, [and soca]] & 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 & Yandel, Jowell & Randy, & more.

Example are Zion featuring Akon song title "The Way She Moves". Another example is Calle 13 song title "Un beso de Desayuno".

Puerto Rican rap

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.


Merengue originated from the Dominican Republic and rose to popularity during the 1990s.[2] During the decade, singers like Manny Manuel, Gisselle, and Olga Tañón made success in the charts. Elvis Crespo made a major breakthrough with his hit, "Suavemente". Several merengue bands like Grupo Mania, La Makina, and Limi-T 21 also became successful. Merenrap, or meren-rap, is a subgenre of merengue music with rapping. The first merenrap was "Soy Chiquito (No Inventes Papito, No Inventes)", recorded by Santi Y Sus Duendes and Puerto Rican rapper Lisa M in 1990.


"Tropikeo" is the fussion of R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, Funk and Techno Music within a Tropical musical frame of salsa, in which the conga drums and/or timbales drums are the main source of rhythm of the tune, in conjunction with a heavy salsa "montuno" of the piano. The lyrics of the song can be rapped or sung, or used combining both styles, as well as danced in both styles.

Examples are Ivy Queen & Don Omar song title "Robarte Un Beso", the Group 3D Ritmo De Vida song title "Que Siga La Rumba" and the Group Mas Salsa Que Tu song title "Ten Cuida'o".

Electro Flow

A new sound from Puerto Rico is taking the Caribbean, South America, the United States and many other places around the globe by storm. It has yet to be given an official name, but it is starting to be called Electro Flow. It is a spin-off genre of Reggaeton but does not contain the typical dembow beat and focuses on fusing the sounds and styles of Reggaeton, Hip-Hop, Electropop, and Dance-pop. This new sound has produced mega hits such as Síguelo by Wisin & Yandel, Pose by Daddy Yankee, and Virtual Diva by Don Omar.

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.

Classical music

There are two main orchestras, renowned in the Caribbean area. One is the Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico and another is the Orquesta Filarmónica de Puerto Rico. The renowned Casals Festival takes place annually in San Juan, drawing in classical musicians from around the world.

See also


  1. ^ Giovannetti, Jorge L. "Popular Music and Culture in Puerto Rico: Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols." In Musical Migrations: Transnationalism and Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, ed. Frances R. Aparicio and Cándida F. Jáquez, 87-88. New York
  2. ^ Rodriguez, Nelson (September 1998). "A look at contemporary Merengue". Latin Beat Magazine.;col1l. Retrieved August 21, 2010. [dead link]


  • Manuel, Peter, with Kenneth Bilby and Michael Largey. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae (2nd edition). Temple University Press, 2006. ISBN 1-59213-463-7. 
  • Sweeney, Philip. "Not Quite the 52nd State". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 481–487. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

External links

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