The music of Puerto Rico has been influenced by African and European (especially Spanish) forms, and has become popular across the Caribbean and in some communities worldwide. Native popular genres include bomba and plena, while more modern innovations include the hip hop fusion reggaeton.
Early history- The history of the music on the island of Puerto Rico begins with its original inhabitants, the Tainos. While very little of their culture is left, perhaps traces of it can be found in some of the percussion instruments currently in use, particularly in the countryside. Some sporadic attempts have been made to revive this native music, but they are neither sustained nor convincing. Taino and African are a main part of their music. Christopher Columbus arrived to the island in November of 1493, but the indelible mark of Spanish culture wasn’t felt until Juan Ponce de Leon 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 guiro aka the Guicharo 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 guiro 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.
Bomba – Bomba is a style of music and dance imported from West Africa during the time of slavery, with its modern development beginning in Loiza 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 belen.
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.
Danza – Danza is a very sophisticated form of music that can be extremely varied in its expression; the Puerto Rican national anthem, La Borinquena, 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.
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 decima 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.
Salsa – Latin music on the island today is most widely represented by salsa, which in English means sauce. Salsa, which is essentially Cuban son and son montuno 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 Cuban music genre with influences from rock music, Puerto Rican plena, Cuban son montuno, chachacha, mambo, rumba, cumbia and Latin jazz. Famous Puerto Ricans in the early years of salsa included such artists as Richie Ray, Bobby Cruz, Papo Lucca, Tommy Olivencia, Hector Lavoe, Bobby Valentin, Luis Perico Ortiz and Tite Curet Alonso.