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Malena Kuss*

Traditions and genres: Música jibara; Bailes de bomba; Fiestas de la Cruz de Mayo; Danza puertorriqueña; Plena; The coexistence of tradition and modernityThe academic traditionStructure of life: Institutions; Education; Prof Music and state; Creativity and composition; Preservation and research; Music and mediaA historical sketch


COLUMBUS NAMED THE ISLAND San Juan Bautista and claimed it for the Spanish Crown in 1493, during his second exploratory voyage to the New World. At the time, the island was populated by some 30,000 Arawakan-affiliated Tainos, who called it “Borikén” (also Boriquén and Borinquen). Puerto Rico remained a Spanish possession until 1598 when, as a result of the Spanish-American War, it was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898). The U.S. military government initially forced upon Puerto Rico was succeeded by forms of civil rule that gradually broadened the self-governing powers of island residents and brought forms of internal governance closer to those practiced at the state level in the United States. As a result of new federal legislation in 1950, Puerto Rico was authorized to draft a constitution for the government of the island’s internal affairs, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico came into existence on July 25, 1952. For most official purposes, particularly regarding citizenship, currency, foreign relations, defense and military affairs, immigration, postal service, and the financing of specific federal programs, Puerto Rico is treated as a state of the federal union. Native or naturalized residents of the island are U.S. citizens and have most of the privileges as well as obligations of their counterparts living in any of the fifty states, yet they are denied participation in U.S. elections as well as ultimate contro! over the results of sporadic plebiscites polling the population on the question of status, which requires approval by the U.S. president and Congress. Culturally, however, Puerto Rico shares its colonial history and demographic components with its neighbors, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as with other Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas and with the growing Hispanic population of the United States, a considerable proportion of which emigrated from Puerto Rico. The island’s present cultural matrix can be described, then, as a richly layered configuration of dynamic creole traditions of Hispanic and African roots, shaped by an ethnically mixed population for whom music became a powerful emblem of self-identification and resistance, as well as a means of symbolic liberation. In recent decades, this cultural matrix also has been affected by heavy urbanization, economic development, advanced systems of communication, and constant contact with patterns of U.S. urban life.

* This overview of Puerto Rico’s cultural wealth is deeply indebted to Donald Thompson, who sketched the sections on art music and institutions, and to his enormous contribution to research on Puerto Rico in general. | am very grateful for his generous advice and, most of all, for our long friendship. I am also indebted to Ricardo Alegría for sharing with youthful enthusiasm his many years of experience with traditions in Loíza; to José M. Aponte Poventud for contributing the perspective of an experienced and talented performer; to Edwin Colón Zayas, Victoria Eli Rodríguez, and Marisol Berríos-Miranda for enlightening conversations; and to Ángel Quintero Rivera for writing a penetrating sociology of music in Puerto Rico.


Basically distinct processes of traditional musicmaking in Puerto Rico can be traced to the Iberian Peninsula and to the cultural practices of African slaves who provided labor for mining and agriculture from 1513 until slavery was abolished in 1873. The Arawakan-affiliated Taino population was virtually obliterated during the first decades of Spanish rule, but vestiges of its culture are found in myths, place names, food crops, cuisine, and instruments such as the maraca and perhaps also the güiro or güicharo, a gourd scraper. Although this Antillean idiophone easily could have been brought to the island by African slaves, Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly assign this instrument to their Taino legacy, which, exulted as “native,” has been integrated into the construction of a tri-ethnic national identity. Only through the presence of a “Taíno” güiro that provides the rhythmic foundation in ensembles performing the emblematic seis and danza, for instance, can tri-ethnicity be claimed for these musical symbols of sociohistorically defined constructions of the idea of nation. Presently the güiro is found accompanying all sorts of ensembles, including jíbaro groups, guitar trios, and in dance orchestras, as well as in many scores composed in Puerto Rico and abroad, including Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps and Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur le toit. The provenance of Stravinsky’s güiro is unknown, but Milhaud first saw the instrument in a San Juan market in 1918 (Milhaud 1953: 91).

Música jíbara

Four centuries of Spanish rule left an indelible mark on Puerto Ruico’s traditions of music and dance. Introduced by Spanish settlers, these traditions were preserved and creolized by a rural population defined in counterposition to plantation culture and configured—principally but not exclusively in the mountainous interior—around an axis of “escape” from various forms of oppression, among which slavery on coastal plantations and the fortified centers of colonial military power were the most blatant (Quintero Rivera 1998: 208-209). This population of peasants or jíbaros, who were mostly subsistence farmers and more ethnically mixed than hispanophilic writers up to and beyond Antonio A. Pedreira’s classic Insularismo (1934) were willing to admit, appropriated the art of singing improvised poetry to the accompaniment of chordophones based on décimas, cuartetas, romances, and other forms of popular poetry from the Spanish cancionero. As in other kinds of traditional performing arts, an implicit system of orally transmitted practices established a set of stable principles capable of assimilating regional, local, and individual characteristics. Among these poetic forms, the décima is the most cherished oral tradition of Hispanic ancestry and carries “emblematic significance as a representative mode of Puerto Rican poetic expression down to the present” (Flores 1993: 30). The term décima refers to a ten-line stanza of octosyllabic verses rhyming abba ac cddc, a pattern of two redondillas linked by two verses formalized by Vicente Martinez Espinel (1550-1624) and therefore qualified as espinela. For the ten-line stanza of hexasyllabic verses adhering to the same rhyming pattern Puerto Ricans use the term decimilla, a diminutive of décima. In El cantar folklórico de Puerto Rico, one of the most authoritative analyses of archetypical themes in oral poetry written to date, Marcelino Canino Salgado concludes that octosyllabic poetry outweighs the significance of hexasyllabic forms in the Puerto Rican cancionero (1974: 245). The same order of significance is assigned to the seis and aguinaldo, the traditional and respective univocal means of delivering décimas and decimillas in Puerto Rico.

The semantic field of the seis, which the eminent folklorist, composer, and cuatrista Francisco López Cruz characterized as “the spine of Puerto Rico’s rural music,” exceeds the boundaries of genre in the totality of its vocal and choreographic manifestations. (Cuban musicologists would use the concept of “cluster,” or “complejo del seis,” for this multigeneric expression.) One of the oldest and most significant traditions of Hispanic lineage, the seis as dance, described in 1849 by Manuel A. Alonso, involved the participation of six or more couples in line formation who, facing each other, performed choreographic figures that included zapateo (footwork) and a waltz-like ending (López Cruz 1967: 4). The seis also has been linked to religious festivities in Cádiz (Canino Salgado 1974: 262), and to dances performed at Vespers during celebrations of Corpus Christi at Seville Cathedral. The practice appears to have been continued by free mulattoes in Puerto Rico until 1684, when it was banned by the Church (López Cruz 1967: 3; Campos Parsi 2001: 987). In El gíbaro (1849 in 1974), a landmark in the history of national literature written in an implicitly self-censored modality of discourse (Flores 1993: 28), the early costumbrista writer Manuel A. Alonso (1822-89) categorized the seis among other bailes de garabato, or “native dances not accompanied by drums,” to distinguish them from the contradanza and waltz he called “echoes of Europe” favored by the upper classes, along with the rigodón, polka, and mazurka (Thompson 2002: 14–20). (In this context, the term “garabato“— literally “hook” and, by extension, “scribble’—refers to jíbaro dances. Quintero Rivera [1998: 208, citing León 1984: 73 and Álvarez Nazario 1982] offers a somewhat contrived explanation linking a stamping hook or palo—substituting for the drum and used to perform Bantu toques in Cuba—to bailes de garabato in Puerto Rico. He speculates that bailes de garabato initially must have been those accompanied by palos in Puerto Rico, and that the expression gradually assumed its meaning in counterposition to the African-based plantation culture from whence it came, defining dances not accompanied by drums and, by extension, those of the jíbaros who—ironically—adopted the bongó in the twentieth century.) In his chapter on correlations between poetic and musical forms, Canino Salgado (1974: 262–63) categorizes the seis among “compositions that can be danced” (composiciones bailables) and singles out the type of seis called bombeao, or con bomba, as an exceptional case in which the text surfaces only during interruptions of the dance. This “bomba”—an intoned strophic verse that can exchange love or scorn between partners or address “a verbal missile” to others present—is delivered independently from the danced instrumental music during interruptions responding to the call for a “¡Bomba!,” occasionally leading to long dialogues followed by resumptions of the dance, in the tradition of the creole relaciones.

The semantic field of the multifaceted seis—which was and continues to be the main musical vehicle for the singing of décimas accompanied by chordophones and güiro—spawned countless “versions” in the course of several centuries, among which López Cruz characterized twenty-eight as the most popular (1967: 3–43).  Within a shared tradition of interreferential codes, each of these versions exhibits stylistic differences that define either a favorite means of delivering improvised décimas, or a choreography, as well as a region, locality, or poet/composer by tunetype, harmonic and rhythmic elaboration, tempo, and variants in performance style. In turn, the names of these versions summon their generic characteristics and function as means of regional, local, or personal appropriation. Some names refer to choreographic types (seis chorreao, bombeao, sonduro or zapateao, enojao, amarrao, vaiseao, and matamoros), others to accessories (as in the seis del pañuelo, or handkerchief, and seis del sombrero, or hat), and a few suggest mimetism (as in the lively seis de la culebra, or snake). Other types of seises are named after their town or region of origin (fajardeño, viequense, llanero, bayamonés, de Comerío, de Humacao, del Dorado, de oriente), and still others memorialize their creators or most famous interpreters (as in Andino, Pepe Orné, Mapeyé, and Villaran). Just as the seis bombeao is not sung (its text instead exchanged between partners during interruptions of the dance), the seis con décimas is not danced. Trovadores favor the seis con décimas because its slow tempo gives them time to improvise their poetry (Recorded Ex. 1). The sets de controversia that engages two singers in a duel of wits or in a philosophical argument anchored in the ancient art of poetic improvisation, is named after the agonistic premise itself. Its appellation does not imply, as most other names do, a generic set of musical characteristics. Instead, the seis de controversia can be sung to the stock music of the seis chorreao, when the singers broach a theme whose décimas they have learned in advance, or to the stock music of the seis con décimas, when they decide to improvise, and “there are only a few who can meet this challenge.” López Cruz defines traditional practice in the clearest of terms when he says that “seises do not have titles,” explaining further that, “when a series of décimas is sung on the theme of jealousy, for instance, the topic does not alter the generic name of the seis. The trovador asks the musicians to play a seis fajardeño, then proceeds to sing about any theme of his/her choice, and the seis still is called fajardeño” (López Cruz 1967: 16, 66–67; Escabí 1970; González Rodríguez 1980; Homar and Campos Parsi 1999: IV, 352; Núñez and Guntín 2002: IX, 912–13). Other appellations reflect the influence of popular styles from Argentina (as in the seis milonguero, seis tango,  and seis gaucho), Venezuela (in the seis joropo and seis Hanero), and Cuba (in the seis guaguanco, seis montuno, and seis habanero), among others (Vega Drouet 1998: 939).

The unofficial, parallel oral history that the themes of these décimas captured over the course of several centuries can be recovered in a rich corpus of literature. Beginning with the pioneering work of John Alden Mason (1918), who recorded and transcribed 373 folk songs in 1915, and with María Cadilla de Martínez’s La poesía popular de Puerto Rico (1933), which served as a point of departure for later studies and also covers other poetic genres, such as the romance, the pathbreaking research of Francisco López Cruz (1953 and 1956), as consolidated in La música folklórica de Puerto Rico (1967) and later essays (I972 and 1976), went on to seize the inextricable bond between poetic and musical delivery from the perspective of an experienced performer. Other surveys include Ivette Jiménez de Báez’s La décima popular en Puerto Rico (1964), which neglects regional characteristics but addresses repertoire, improvisational practices, and performance styles, also devoting a chapter to the ubiquitous love theme in Puerto Rican décimas; Eloísa Rivera Rivera’s La poesía en Puerto Rico antes de 1843 (1965); Cesáreo Rosa Nieves’s Voz folklórica de Puerto Rico (1967); and several seminal publications by Marcelino Canino Salgado—such as El cantar folklórico de Puerto Rico (1974) and the volume subtitled Folklore in La gran enciclopeaia de Puerto Rico—wherein the inseparable semantic fields of the décima and seis, as well as other folk traditions of music and poetry, are approached from the perspective that “all traditional Puerto Rican poetry must be studied taking into account the music with which it is performed” (1976: XII, 331). These Surveys overlapped with and were followed by regional and local studies, such as Pedro and Elsa Escabi’s La décima: Vista parcial del folklore de Puerto Rico (1976), which documents this poetic expression aS preserved and practiced in the municipality of Morovis; and Eduardo González Rodríguez’s “Sociologia del cantar folkloérico en Guayanilla, Puerto Rico” (1960), in which the author provides a penetrating analysis of the attitudes of some trovadores and cantautores in this particular town, while also addressing themes, rhetorical devices, meter, regional language, and other aspects of this local repertoire of sung décimas (Thompson and Thompson 1991: 186–238).

The singing of décimas requires mastery of literary strategies and constraints. For instance, in décimas con pie forzado (or fixed last verse), a copla or cuarteta might precede a concatenation of four décimas, each of which must end in the corresponding four verses of the copla (Nuñez and Guntín 2002: 912). Over time, the trovadores accumulated a vast repertoire of rhetorical figures and rhymes to which they resort when faced with difficult situations. How trovadores solve these challenges, in addition to the poetic imagery they weave into their improvisations and the themes for which they are known, among many other signatures of their styles, singles them out as unique carriers of a tradition on which they imprint their individual creativity, and whose imprint in turn shapes the character of the tradition. The reliance on the décima tradition also is evident in the terms folk bards use to explain poetic license, which they rationalize in reference to the model of the strict décima espinela rhyming abba ac cddc. In the perception of Miguel Santiago Díaz (b. 1946), the founder and director of the group Ecos de Borinquen (1978) who was interviewed by Daniel Sheehy during the production of a landmark 2003 recording of música jíbara, there are two main types of décimas in Puerto Rico: the strict espinela called “consonant,” which is also the most challenging (Recorded Ex. 1); and the criolla or “assonant” that retains a freer adherence to the same rhyming pattern, as when “amor” is made to rhyme with “pasión” instead of “cantor,” for instance. In addition, Santiago Díaz characterizes the décimas forzadas with a total of forty-four verses described above, as well as the décimas libres that give poets far greater freedom in “spinning out texts to fit the situation at hand,” as variants of the two main types (Sheehy 2003: 6–7).

Integral to the timbric identity of rural folk music in general and the seis in particular is the sound of a core ensemble of cuatro, guitar, and güiro or güícharo, which in the past also included other plucked chordophones, such as the tiple (treble) and bordonúa (bass, from bordón or bourdon) (Fig. 1). This ensemble can be traced to the eighteenth century, if not considerably earlier, and the güiro was its only percussion instrument until bongós and, occasionally, claves and congas were added in the twentieth century to reinforce the percussion (Campos Parsi 2001: 987; Núñez and Guntín 2002: 912). Puerto Rican bongó players did not just appropriate the Cuban “martillo” (hammer) pattern, but modified it by “swing eighth notes” that musicians call the “a caballo” or “galloping” style. Among these instruments, the Puerto Rican cuatro—a plucked chordophone whose stringing evolved from four to five double courses of strings—assumed emblematic significance through the virtuosity of master performers who, from the 1920s onward, began to disseminate jíbaro music beyond the contexts of small farms and patron-saint fiestas to which it had been confined (Marks 19809). One of the most influential cuatristas and composers of this expansive phase was Ladislao Martínez, known as “Maestro Ladí” (1898–1979), who is credited with setting the standard for the modern conjunto jíbaro in the 1930s with an ensemble of two cuatros playing in harmony, six-string guitar, güiro, and bongós (Sheehy 2003: 4). As the first cuatrista to perform on radio when the airwaves reached Puerto Rico in 1922, he played a major role in disseminating jíbaro music locally on “Los Jíbaro de la Radio” program and, when he moved to New York, where he lived from 1949 until 1965, on “La Voz Hispana del Aire” program that did much to unite Puerto Ricans at home and in the United States under the banner of música jíbara. If in the past traditional jíbaro dances also included creolized valses, mazurkas, and polkas derived from their 19th-century European counterparts (López Cruz 1967: 123–41), our Maestro Ladí also contributed to reviving them in the repertoire of conjuntos jíbaros, adding not only these dances to the core of seises and aguinaldos, but also pasodobles and that polyvalent danza puertorriqueña which by then had acquired the status of a national music. These gradual grassroots forces met in the 1960s with a resurgence of national pride in local traditions after Puerto Rico attained commonwealth Status in 1952, and this prolific collision found support in initiatives of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (1955), where Francisco López Cruz, the author of the first instruction manual, began teaching the tradition of cuatro performance in the 1960s. Subsequently, a group of performers, researchers, and lovers of the instrument founded the Instituto del Cuatro Puertorriqueña (1972). By that time, Maestro Ladí already had carried the stylistic legacy of the legendary Puerto Rican Grupo Aurora to New York, where he founded the Conjunto Típico Ladí in the 1950s. One of its members, Neri Orta, continued this tradition with his own Conjunto Melodía Tropical and, with Juan González replacing Ladí as second cuatrista when the Maestro retired, they added a third cuatro to the ensemble (Marks 1989).

Puerto Rican guitars

Fig. 1: From left to right, bordonúa, tiple, and cuatro. Photo courtesy of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña.

The cultural significance of the seis and aguinaldo, as companions in the core repertoire of trovadores and cantautores who perform them to the accompaniment of ensembles perceived as tri-cultural and centered on the emblematic cuatro—with the no less symbolic güiro carrying the basic rhythmic pattern and the guitar fulfilling a harmonic-rhythmic role—already had projected these jíbaro traditions onto the larger canvas of sung décimas and aguinaldos across the Americas, when the resilient art of Puerto Rican trovadores, fueled by pride in local traditions and Supportive cultural policies, turned into a movement of national identification with this type of traditional song. Miguel Santiago Díaz, who rose to local fame when he won the title of trovador nacional in 1974 and earned a Grammy nomination in 2004 for Jíbaro hasta el hueso with his Ecos de Borinquen group, describes the degree to which the trova has taken root:

[In the 1950s and 1960s], the young improvisers, when I was growing up, were given little opportunity. It was such an uphill struggie … for us to move upward … There were very few trovadores and musicians who made a living from música típica and the trova. Now … there are groups and trovadores who have devoted themselves [full-time to music-making] and their work, their profession, is to [play jíbaro music]. Many opportunities are Opening up now, at different levels [and] in different settings. Now we, the older improvisers, make sure that the young ones, the children … become familiar with the trova, become familiar with the art form … and schools are opening up for young trovadores. Even the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquefia is promoting a great deal of activity for children among the trovadores. There is much enthusiasm, and not only for the trova, but also for the performance of musical instruments … There are many youth groups following this path. Today jíbaro music is in demand year-round at many events, including activities such as weddings … People want us trovadores to deliver the toast in jíbaro verse … At weddings, the trovador has the advantage of being able to improvise a décima tailored to the wedding couple, or sing a song for those present, or to the godparents … which is something other musical groups cannot do (Santiago Díaz in Sheehy 2003: 5–6).

The Grupo Mapeyé is another leading exponent of traditional jíbaro music. Founded in 1978 by José Antonio Rivera Colón, known as “Tony Mapeyé” (b. 1948), the group issued its first recording in 1980. After working at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña between 1977 and 1993, Tony Mapeyé established the annual Cuatro-Encuentro in 1994, and his group has represented Puerto Rico at events that strengthen links among members of an international community of trovadores throughout the Americas and in Spain, such as the annual International Décima Forum. In Recorded Example 1, the master trovador Juan Pablo Rosario improvises four décimas espinelas with fixed last verse (pie forzado) on the theme of Christmas to a seis con décimas performed by the Grupo Mapeyé. Singing in formulaic phrases, the poet spins his narrative on the birth of Christ from familiar images of Mary’s virtue, the shining star that guides the journey of the Three Kings and shepherds to the manger, the prophets who announced it, and the season that celebrates it. In this seis, the adherence to binary meter; the continuous reiteration of a “tune” or tonada musical built on a set of interreferential harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic codes, wherein each instrument is assigned a specific role; the melodic phrasing in regular units of two or four measures repeated with or without variation; the reliance on simple harmonic formulas; and the instrumental sections preceding each strophe of the décima, are conventions of the musical tradition as a whole. The role of the cuatro is particularly important in the instrumental introduction because it performs the tune identifying the type of seis on which the trovador will improvise the poetry (Quintero Rivera 1998: 248). López Cruz (1967: 9) describes the role of the instrumental introduction as follows:

The music of the seis begins with a prelude of an indefinite number of bars that is repeated with or without some variation while the trovador prepares the beginning of his [or her] trova. The introduction could be limited to eight measures, that is, the poet could start on the ninth bar. This usually is the case when [he/she] has learned the décimas in advance of the performance. If he for she] has to improvise, the singer needs a longer introduction to find the adequate words for his [or her] rhyme.

Within the framework of traditional codes, the many “versions” or styles of seis are linked to a number of generic traits. For instance, the minor mode, longer introduction, and slow tempo of this seis con décimas are characteristic of this type in general, and trovadores favor it because, as stated above, it affords them more time to elaborate their poetic improvisations. At the level of a particular performance, the shared rules operate as stable restrictions that free the musicians to engage in the possibilities of individualizing their interreferential roles. In this tonada, the guitar unfolds an ostinato bass pattern of descending tetrachords that, implying the I — III — IV — V harmonic formula also characteristic of the aguinaldo jíbaro, emphasizes the major dominant and ends on a Phrygian cadence called “Andalusian”; the plucked cuatros, in turn, reinforce the descending tetrachord in their formulaic melodic elaborations. Consistent with traditional performance practice, instrumental improvisations can take place in the introduction and interludes, in this case engaging the cuatros and bongó. When the Grupo Mapeyé made this undated LP recording (probably in the 1980s), it was constituted by two cuatros, guitar, güiro, and bongó, with an additional member that could play cuatro or guitar. The improvised text of four décimas on a fixed last verse, sung by Juan Pablo Rosario to a seis con décimas, is transcribed below (Recorded Ex. 1).

En un pesebre en Belén
fue que nació el cristianismo,
en medio del paganismo
que existía en Jerusalén.
Nació para obra del bien
de toda la raza humana
pura limpia casta y lozana
María Virgen lo encarnó
y de su vientre nació
nuestra tradición cristiana.
La estrella de paz brilló
en lo alto del firmamento
y a ver a aquel nacimiento
a jos tres reyes guió.
Dicen que un gallo cantó
en aquella hora temprana
y llegó una caravana
de pastores con gran fe
que también son parte de
nuestra tradición cristiana.
Lo anunció el profeta Elías
lo anunció el angel Gabriel,
que del pueblo de Israel
iba a nacer el Mesías.
Según esa profecía
en una ciudad pagana
una Virgen soberana
con el amor más profundo
iba a traer para el mundo
nuestra tradición cristiana.
Le lamamos Navidad
al nacimiento del Niño
que trajo paz y cariño
a toda la humanidad.
Él trajo la cristiandad
que sólo de Dios emana
y en mi patria borincana
orando al Dios verdadero
desde diciembre a enero
nuestra tradición cristiana.

As a living tradition of rural dance, the seis began to fade toward the end of the nineteenth century. It reemerged more recently with changes linked to the process of folklorization in the context of public performances and through initiatives of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (1955) aimed at recovering and promoting the island’s intangible heritage. By contrast, the trova, with its many styles of seises and aguinaldos, along with those dances supposedly incorporated by Maestro Ladi into the repertoire of conjuntos jíbaros, not only continues to symbolize “a vital, self-sufficient, and independent Puerto Rican culture” (Manuel 1995: 58) on the island and in the fluid patria borincana of New York, but also has joined the global village of “traditional world music,” the category under which “Jíbaro hasta el hueso”: Mountain music of Puerto Rico by Ecos de Borinquen (2003) was nominated for a Grammy award in 2004. In recognition of this accomplishment, the 2004 Certamen Nacional de Trovadores, which is Puerto Rico’s oldest institutionalized competition (1968), was dedicated to Miguel Santiago Díaz, founder and director of Ecos de Borinquen.

In the minds of young virtuoso drummers like José M. Aponte Poventud, director of the Latin Jazz Ensemble at the University of North Texas, the legacies of famous cuatristas can be represented in terms of their respective generations. Among them, Tomás “Maso” Rivera (1927–2001) was as beloved as Ladi, and Yomo Toro (Víctor Guillermo Toro Vega, b. 1933) pioneered the incorporation of the cuatro in salsa. Prominent exponents of a younger generation include Pedro Guzmán (b. 1956), the cuatrista and guitarist who founded the group Jíbaro Jazz in 1987; Edwin Colón Zayas (b. 1965), a virtuoso who also recreated Maso Rivera’s style in two CDs honoring older masters (Recorded Ex. 2) and was the featured soloist in Ernesto Cordero’s Concierto criollo for cuatro and orchestra (1986); Eligio Claudio, known as “Prodigio”; and Emma Colón Zayas, the founder and director of the group Son del Pueblo who stands as the first musician to have received national honors as both güirista and cuatrista in 1982 and 1986, respectively. Other famous güiro players are Cándido Reyes and Patricio Rijos, known as “Toribio.” Honoring past masters is a cherished tradition, and famous cuatristas often are memorialized in songs. In 2002 the Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades and the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities co-sponsored an ambitious series of homages to masters of the cuatro. The first issue, dedicated to the work of Maso Rivera, gathers forty pieces illustrating the protagonism of the cuatro in instrumental performances of dances ranging from valses and mazurkas to pasodobles and fox trots (see Homenaje a Maso Rivera under Discography). In “Descarga Maso” (Recorded Ex. 2), Edwin Colón Zayas displays his own virtuosity as he recreates Maso Rivera’s style of rhythmic improvisation on one of the older master’s themes.

Christmas celebrations and the aguinaldo.

Trovadores sing “a lo humano” or “a lo divino,” two thematic categories blurred when they sacralize the secular or secularize the sacred. The themes of songs “a lo divino” range from the conception, birth, life, passion, and death of Christ, to biblical subjects, the lives of Saints, and songs of praise (alabanzas). Thematically, then, our Recorded Example 1 illustrates a seis con décimas sung “a lo divino,” although Nativity themes are more closely associated with villancicos and aguinaldos.

In Spain, aguinaidos are songs with regional characteristics customarily sung by children on Christmas Eve and at Epiphany while roaming the Streets and collecting gifts (aguinaldos) to the accompaniment of a small ensemble of traditional instruments. This practice spread across Latin America, but took root with particular strength in Venezuela, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Campos Parsi defines the aguinaldo as a type of villancico sung by groups or parrandas that go from house to house soliciting gifts during the Christmas season, from December 16 to Christmas Eve, or until the celebration of Epiphany on January 6, or Día de Reyes, a feast that carries great significance in Puerto Rico (1999: 123). Instead, López Cruz suggests that the terms villancico and aguinaldo carried very similar meanings in the sixteenth century, parting ways as jíbaros appropriated the aguinaldo and, in the process, imbued it with generic characteristics that also defined differences between the two terms (1967: 183-99). Stylistically related to the seis, aguinaldos are sung in binary meter, display an abundance of syncopation and triplets, and traditionally were accompanied by an ensemble of cuatro, guitar, and güiro. Instead of the décima espinela associated with the seis, trovadores rely on cuartetas or hexasyllabic decimillas to spin their poetry on devotional and secular themes. Although associated with Christmas, aguinaldos also are sung throughout the year in other contexts. Mode and harmonic formulas further define two subtypes of aguinaldos: the cagüense is in the major mode and follows a IV — I — V7 — I harmonic pattern, while the jíbaro, in the minor mode, relies on the I — III — IV — V harmonic formula; the IV — I — V — I sequence is also common. By contrast, the villancico, understood simply as a Christmas song in the popular vein, could take on a variety of musical shapes. According to Canino Salgado (1974: 207–212), traditional Christmas aguinaldos also involve a game of entreatment and response to gifts received or denied that is absent from villancicos, which are conceived more as offerings to the newborn Jesus or to friends. The vitality of contemporary aguinaldos is well represented in “Jíbaro hasta el nueso”: Mountain Music of Puerto Rico by Ecos de Borinquen, a landmark recording of songs by Miguel Santiago Díaz produced by Héctor Vega Drouet and Daniel Sheehy in 2003 for the Smithsonian Folkways series also headed by Sheehy.

Bailes de bomba

Traditional dancing “with drum” was integral to the African-based culture of plantations and sugar mills concentrated on the island’s coastal plains. Héctor Vega Drouet (1998: 936), a scholar who has researched Puerto Rico’s neo-African heritage in general and the northern tradition of bomba in particular (1969 and 1979), and before him Manuel Álvarez Nazario (1961: 284), trace the first written description of a dance bearing this name to the travel chronicle of French botanist André Pierre Ledru (1810 in 1971), who witnessed it at a “party in the farmhouse of Don Benito… on November 11, 1797.” Also documented by Vega Drouet is a request by the “King of Blacks of the Congo Nation” Ciriaco Sabat—dated October 9, 1840, and preserved in the Reports of the Spanish Governors of Puerto Rico—“to perform bomba dances in the plaza during the religious feasts of St. Michael on September 29 and Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7,” adducing the argument that such permissions had been granted annually “since time immemorial.” In addition, from his fieldwork in the north-coast municipality of Loíza and its annual fiesta of Santiago Apóstol (1979), Vega Drouet contributes the important information that people in this area trace their drum-dancing tradition they call seis de bomba (not to be confused with the seis bombeao or con bomba mentioned above in the context of jíbaro dances) to the series of seises danced at San Juan Cathedral since the 1600s. It also appears that the expression “seis” de bomba was restricted to drumdancing in some areas of the North (such as Loíza and Santurce), while “son” de bomba was used for its counterpart in the South (Dufrasne González 1994: 38).

In coastal areas populated by a majority of African descendants, bailes de bomba were performed at weddings, birthdays, christenings, observances of Catholic feasts, and festivals associated with the agricultural cycle, such as the end of harvest (Vega Drouet 1998: 936–37). Before Abolition in 1873, gatherings under the guise of bailes de bomba also were used to plan rebellions. In the 1930s López Cruz observed performances on Saturday nights in the southern Puerto de Jobos in Guayama (1967: 48). In Ponce, one of the main centers of sugar production in the nineteenth century and the site of significant slave uprisings between 1826 and 1848, as well as in other areas of the South, these secular dances were performed during patron-saint celebrations and as scheduled events in dance halls. Bomba performances still take place at El Senado, a hall located in Guayama’s Puerto de Jobos (Dufrasne González 1994: 1–2, 37).

Once more, in El gíbaro (1849), Manuel A. Alonso’s class-driven construction of mid 19th-century customs titled after his pen name, he records the presence of African-based dances almost by omission when, in addition to bailes de garabato and salon dances, he summarily adds a third type, “Those of the blacks from Africa and those of Curaçaoan creoles [also blacks] that do not deserve inclusion under the title of this panorama because, although they are found in Puerto Rico, they have not become generalized” (Alonso 1849 cited in Quintero Rivera 1998: 208). The African legacy to the island’s musics would have to wait another century—if not longer—for the architects of master narratives on Puerto Rican identity to exult it. This process can be traced from the hispanophilic bias in Antonio S. Pedreira’s classic Insularismo (1934) and his characterization of danza as “the exclusive pillar of national music” (Flores 1993: 31), which was challenged by Tomás Blanco in “Elogio de la plena” (1935), and through Juan Flores’ Divided Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity (1993), to Ángel Quintero Rivera’s ¡Salsa, sabor y control! Sociología de la música tropical (1998).

Like the term seis, bomba carries a surplus of meaning. It denotes a communal event, a performance involving drumming with call-and-response singing and dancing, as well as the drum itself. Bomba traditions with regional characteristics are known to have developed in coastal areas of the South (from Guayanilla to Arroyo, through Ponce, Santa Isabel, Salinas, and Guayama), the West (in Mayagüez, as well as Moca and San Germán), the East (in Humacao and possibly Naguabo), and the North (in Vega Baja, Toa Alta, Dorado, Cataño, Santurce, San Juan, and Loíza). Still practiced are the traditions of drum dancing in the North and South, which differ considerably. According to J. Emanuel Dufrasne González, who has studied them comparatively (1982, 1985, 1994), the fact that the type of bomba practiced in the northern district of Loíza near San Juan has attracted wide attention through televised performances, traveling groups, and the publicized fiesta of Santiago Apostól in Loíza (Alegría 1954 and 1956; Vega Drouet 1979; Manuel 1995: 59–63), should not eclipse the continuity of the southern practice, however tenuous, in areas of Guayama, Ponce, and Salinas, among others (1994: 2). In addition to sporadic performances of traditional bomba by elders in Guayama’s Puerto de Jobos, the southern practice has been reinvigorated by two sroups, Bambalué and Paracumbé (the latter directed by Dufrasne González), and by two workshops in Salinas established to teach bomba and plena to youth.

The drumming is performed on at least two barrelShaped, single-headed and hand-beaten goatskin drums, to which the cuá—a steady timeline beaten with one or two sticks or palillos also called cuás, either on the body of the lower-pitched drum, on a separate barrel without membrane, or on a small box—adds an idiophonic layer that also can be underscored by a maraca. In this neo-African practice, the larger and lower-pitched drum or segundo carries the generic type of rhythmic pattern that identifies the son or toque de bomba, while the higher-pitched membranophone (called primo) improvises elaborations on it and interacts with the dancer(s), establishing a direct type of reactive communication with his or her gestures. Quite frequently bomba is performed with two segundos and one primo. In essence, a tri-layered and interreferential timbric band is created by the functions of two membranophones and an idiophone. Other names given to the drums are sonador, guiador, or buleador for the segundo, and repicador for the primo. The rum barrels from which drums are made in the South are larger than the pork containers used in the North, and the playing positions also differ. In the southern tradition, the drums lie on the floor, with the drummer straddling the instrument closely behind the membrane; by contrast, drummers in the North, sitting on a stool, hold the instrument between their knees, but when the dancing heats up they also might sit on the barrels. A characteristic of northern drums not found in the South is a sympathetic string occasionally placed atop and across the drumhead’s diameter. In the southern area between Guayanilla and Arroyo, only women sing bomba. Doña Ruth Fernández (b. 1919), a famous Puerto Rican singer interviewed by Dufrasne González in 1983, recalled that the female singer alternating with the chorus aiso played a maraca (1994: 5, 9, 12). As illustrations of bomba’s composite texture in general, López Cruz (1967: 52–62) transcribed the timbric layers of three sones de bomba (a leró, cocobalé, and gracimá), including the vocal call and response, the generic rhythmic pattern played on the lower-pitched drum, the cuá timeline, and the maraca underscoring the cuá pattern, only omitting the higher-pitched drum whose elaborations are improvised. According to William Archevald López (1908–91), a renowned drummer and dancer from Ponce interviewed by Dufrasne González in 1988 (1994: 3–4, 8, 13), eight generic types of sones or toques de bomba were performed in the South. These types of rhythmic patterns were the güembé, leró, holandé, calindá, yubá, belén, cunyá, and mariandá, although in the 1990s only five had been retained and the most frequently performed were the leró and güembé.

Styles of dancing also set the northern and southern traditions apart. With singing participants encircling the drummers in most traditional performances, the principle of conceptualizing choreographic gestures as a challenge to the rhythmic elaborations on the higher-pitched drum (repicador) in order to “subdue it” and “reduce it” to the role of following—instead of leading—the dancer, applies to both traditions. In the northern tradition that includes Loíza, this challenge is performed by a solo dancer, male or female, who “breaks” away from the circle of participants to engage in a form of direct communication with the repicador, followed by another dancer who respectfully signals permission to enter the circle by waving a handkerchief (Fig. 2). In the South, by contrast, bomba is danced by one or several couples, retaining the principle of challenging the drum in that only one couple at a time can engage in a choreographic dialogue with the primo. Furthermore, the character of southern dancing differs considerably from the more ageressive and soloistic embodiment of rhythmic elaborations in the North. Campos Parsi regards the southern style as a reinterpretation of the quadrille (2001: 988), and Ruth Fernández, who characterized southern bomba as “the minuet of black people,” described it as elegant and demure, with alluring gestures of the shoulders and movements devoid of explicit voluptuosity, also adding that the various types of toques were danced differently (Dufrasne González 1994: 5, 15). Vega Drouet (1998: 937), qualifying a more general statement by López Cruz (1967: 47–48), suggests influences from cultural practices of slaves who migrated with their owners to Puerto Rico from the French islands of Martinique and Haiti before and during the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), as well as parallels with the Cuban tumba francesa of Haitian origin, in bomba traditions of the South, West, and East. The names of some types of sones de bomba, such as leró (“le rose”), for instance, suggest such French Creole influence. This mediation is not discussed by Dufrasne González (1994: 1–31; 36–48), who conceptualizes the neo-African tradition of bomba in Puerto Rico as a set of core principles with regional characteristics in four main geographic areas. As recontextualized in the twentieth century, bailes de bomba have retained their currency mostly in the North and to a lesser extent in the South, where most scholars situate the contested genesis of plena in the early 1900s.

Puerto Rican traditional dance

Fig. 2: The Cepeda family group, renowned carriers of the northern tradition of bomba, performing at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Photo courtesy of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña.

Bomba song texts, some of which were recorded on cylinders in 1915 by John Alden Mason (1918), are modeled after forms of popular Spanish poetry, including coplas (any type of strophe) and cuartetas (a stanza of four octosyllabic verses rhyming abab). Mostly in Spanish, some contain words in African languages whose meanings are known only to a few, if any, bomba practitioners (Quintero Rivera 1998: 205). Most importantly, Dufrasne González appears to be signaling the presence of camouflaged meanings in otherwise innocuous texts—a remnant of communication strategies among slaves living under repressive conditions—when he defines them as forms of Spanish poetry that “do not conform with European aesthetic canons.” This difference, however, “should not make bomba texts less valuable than décimas and decimillas” (1994: 36–43). The triadic contours of the songs’ melodies appear to be a feature that the southern and northern traditions share (see examples in Dufrasne González 1994: 5–7).

Among the most prominent carriers of the northern tradition of bomba on the island are the Ayala and Cepeda families (Fig. 2). The Ballet Folklórico Hermanos Ayala was constituted in the late 1950s by performers from Loíza brought together by the legendary musician and vejigante mask maker Castor Ayala for the purpose of bringing bomba to television audiences, and since then has participated in prestigious international events. Rafael Cepeda Atiles (d. 1996) founded the Ballet Folklórico de la Familia Cepeda in the early 1970s and his contributions were recognized in 1983 by the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award; upon his death, his descendants established the annual Festival de Bomba y Plena “Rafael Cepeda,” which is held in Hato Rey. In Viento de Agua: Materia Prima Unplugged, the New York-based group Viento de Agua founded by Héctor “Tito” Matos Otero (b. 1968) in 1997 introduces “a contemporary approach to tradition which, like the ‘wind of water’ itself [ushering in the rain], won’t stay still but dynamically reinvents itself. Materia Prima is intended primarily as an ethnographic document, a faithful record of popular music practice as an expression of lived social experience” (Matos Otero cited in Flores 2004b: 4). The “Cucú” in this recording, featuring Tito Matos on the primo, recreates traditional bomba as represented in a composition by Rafael Cepeda that juxtaposes the initial güembé drumming pattern to the faster holandé (Recorded Ex. 3). Traditional bailes de bomba, the oldest neo-African expression in Puerto Rico, figure prominently in the week-long fiesta of Santiago Apóstol, which has been celebrated by a population of African descent in the northern coastal municipality of Loíza for more than four centuries.

The Fiesta of Santiago Apóstol. According to Spanish legend, St. James the Apostle came to the assistance of Christians in the guise of a heavenly knight descending from the sky on a white horse during a decisive 9th-century battle in the wars waged by Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms to reclaim for Christianity. the territories occupied by Muslims between 711 and 1492 (the Reconquista). As the confrontation between two faiths raged, the Christian kingdoms seized the mythification of Santiago in response to the power of belief wielded in the name of the Prophet Muhammad, transforming the apostle into Spain’s patron saint and enshrining him in the present-day site of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where his remains were believed to have been buried in the ninth century. Soon thereafter Santiago Apostól began to be called Santiago Matamoros (St. James, the Moorslayer) and was represented as a warring Spanish knight mounted on a white horse with a Moor’s head at its feet. As the emblem of faith that rallied troops, unified kingdoms, and justified conquest, the cult of Santiago became forever linked to the spirit of predestined holy wars waged against “infidels.” In Spain, the first victories over the Moroccan invaders were celebrated at court with elaborate pageants reenacting battles between Moors and Christians called bailes de moros y cristianos. From their courtly origins documented in the thirteenth century, these representations moved to marketplaces and plazas, where street actors and musicians performed them for townspeople. By the sixteenth century, the ¡Santiago! war cry had crossed the Atlantic with Spanish troops, who continued to summon his divine intervention in their campaigns against Indians, and representations of moros y cristianos had traveled with missionaries who, dispuising them as entertainment, used them to indoctrinate indigenous populations with a message proclaiming the power and authority of Christianity (Yurchenco 1998: 1). Reinterpreted as confrontations between conqueror and conquered, and as forms of struggle between Good and Evil, these symbolic battles spawned countless versions throughout the Americas.

For Puerto Ricans of African descent in the northern coastal municipality of Loíza who have been celebrating the feast of Santiago Apóstol on July 25 since the 1600s, the image of Santiago Matamoros as the saint of war and also the “son of thunder,” capable of destroying the enemy by sending heavenly fire, must have been identified with Changó (Shango), the Yoruba warrior-like spiritual entity of lightning and thunder, according to Ricardo Alegría, the author of a pioneering ethnography (1954) of the observances he also filmed for the University of Puerto Rico in 1948. The life of the town began with colonizers plundering the gold on the Loíza River banks in an area heavily populated by Taínos, and peaked in the midseventeenth century with plantations densely populated by Africans. By the nineteenth century, Loíza had become a relatively isolated village that, inhabited by free blacks and mulattoes whose families had lived there for several generations, saw little change until roads and a bridge linked it to surrounding urban centers in the late twentieth century. According to Alegría, these conditions favored the retention of a unique local tradition of ancient vintage found nowhere else on the island (1956: 124–25).

A wealth of submerged meanings lurks in the religious and secular elements intertwined in this week-long celebration. In Loíza’s version of Santiago’s cult, the saint is embodied in three images defined by age groups and gender: St. James of the Men (Santiago de los Hombres), St. James of the Women (Santiago de las Mujeres), and St. James of the Children (Santiago de los Muchachos, or Santiaguito). Santiaguito, the only image venerated until the others were added, probably in the nineteenth century, is believed to have appeared miraculously near a rubber tree in Medianía and also was known to have performed miracles. The presence of three images of the saint defines the structure of the religious ceremonies. Each Santiago has his individual guardian or caretaker (mantenedora), is honored on his own day by a Mass and a procession, and is represented by an emblematic banner carried by the guardian who, as the high-ranking member of each of the three confraternities organizing the event that vie for pride of place in the fiesta, also leads the procession. The privilege of carrying the saint’s banner can be granted by the guardian to the faithful during the ceremonial horse racing that takes place after the procession halts at the site in Las Carreras (Medianía) where the image of Santiaguito is believed to have appeared. In this traditional ceremony, masqueraders portraying Spanish knights (caballeros) on horseback request permission from the guardian to run an 800-meter race holding the banner of the Santiago to whom they are devoted (Alegría 1956: 120).

One of the most striking aspects of the observance are the costumes worn by the townspeople who begin formal preparations for their most important annual event on July 1. Masqueraders take on the roles of four archetypical characters: the caballero, vejigante, viejo, and loca. The masked caballero portrays a Spanish knight on horseback who, dressed like the saint, stands for Good against Evil and for Christianity against paganism. According to Alegría (1956: 130), this role required a circumspect demeanor and was assumed by townsmen “of superior means” who could afford a horse. The caballeros’ antagonist is the vejigante, whose most striking feature is his spiked coconut mask representing Evil, the devil, and the Moors. Vejigantes, carrying air-filled bladders (vejigas) mounted on a stick with which they would strike passersby, used to roam the streets on foot with a retinue of children singing traditional call-andresponse songs. According to Castor Ayala, who was interviewed by Henrietta Yurchenco in 1967, these masks and the vampire bat-like costumes once were worn by Spaniards to startle and defeat the Moors (1998: 2). Although symbolic confrontations were not observed by Ricardo Alegría in Loíza when he studied this observance in the late 1940s, he speculates that pantomimes with caballeros and the saint on the one side and Moors or characters symbolizing Evil on the other must have taken place in the past (1956: 130).

Musicians are associated with indigence in the figure of the viejo, an old man in rags impersonated by people who cannot afford another costume. The only female figure is la loca, a crazed street sweeper who collects alms and was portrayed only by males until quite recently. The agonistic relationship between caballeros and vejigantes resonates in the confrontational structure of dance and drumming in bomba, which is performed by viejos challenged by la loca. When Alegría studied this fiesta in the late 1940s, viejos and locas performed most of the versions of bomba and plena danced characteristically in the Streets after processions, and the instruments integrating the respective ensembles ranged from bomba drums and palillos (wooden sticks) to bongós, panderetas de plena (frame drums), güiro, maracas, and guitar (1956: 131). In addition to the four archetypical characters, there are other masqueraders who more recently can be seen wearing any type of “K-Mart costume” (Manuel 1995: 60). Although banned from entering the church, masqueraders follow the saint in street processions, dancing to the music of bands playing from moving trucks. Often characterized as “pagan revelry,” the dancing that subverts the introspection of Catholic religiosity also can be interpreted as displaying an African sensibility of the sacred. From the perspective of the Spanish-born priest Yurchenco interviewed in 1967, on the one hand, Loizans were half-Christian and half-pagan, and the Santiago festival more like a carnival than a religious celebration. Although he felt an obligation to perform Mass, most likely for a fee, other priests refused to do so or closed their churches during the week-long fiesta (1998: 3). For Loizans who own this tradition and even appropriated Santiaguito through his miraculous appearance under their tree, on the other hand, there is no polarization between the religious and secular aspects of a celebration they perceive as a “harmonious body of beliefs shared by the whole village” (Alegría 1956: 133). Although it may be an understatement to assert that secularization has tipped the balance in the 1990s (see, for instance, Peter Manuel’s snapshot of events in 1991 [1995: 59–63]), Alegría, writing in the 1950s, underscores the religious significance of the festival, stressing the importance of nine nights of prayers and singing before each image of the saint (novenas), the fulfillment of vows, the offerings of small gold and silver replicas of parts of the body healed through the Saint’s intercession, the four Masses performed during the week, the three processions, and the many christenings and marriage ceremonies that also take place. Rather than pagan revelry or excessively secularized religious observance, what Puerto Ricans of African descent constructed in Loíza is another coherent “fragment of epic memory” (d’aprés Derek Walcott). This they did from a forgotten holy war between Christians and Muslims whose vestiges inspired folk pageantry in two continents, and from a cast of reluctant priests and costumed pilgrims worshiping a likely syncretized saint, with courtly caballeros vying for the privilege of racing their horses with emblematic banners, satanic vejigantes singing their call-and-response songs, and indigent viejos and locas spontaneously performing their bombas and plenas. The excess of cultural capital in this once remote village no longer belongs just to Loizans and now showcases traditional rumba alongside bomba, modern plena groups, a great deal of salsa, and especially merengue for the thousands who sustain the island’s tourist industry.

Fiestas de la Cruz de Mayo

The devotion to the Holy Cross, also an ancient tradition of Spanish origin, has inspired many forms of popular religiosity throughout the Americas. In Puerto Rico, Cruz de Mayo is a particularly significant Catholic observance that starts on May 3 and involves a wealth of vocal and instrumental music in popular style. According to oral tradition, this observance gained popularity in 1787, when a powerful earthquake shook Puerto Rico on the eve of the feast of the Holy Cross, and people began promising novenas if they were spared. Since then, and facing an altar for nine consecutive nights, sung rosaries (rosarios cantados) are offered to the Cross in fulfillment of vows.

In the Roman Catholic liturgy, the rosary is a pious exercise involving fifteen decades of Hail Marys, each recited while summoning one of the fifteen mysteries that recall the incarnation, martyrdom, and glorification of Jesus through events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, as observed in the Proper of the Time and Proper of the Saints, two unequally ranked and simultaneous liturgical calendars. A circular string of 59 beads marks only a third (tercio or chaplet) of the entire cycle and, consequently, three chaplets are required to complete a rosary. Each chaplet begins with an Our Father, three Hail Marys, and a Glory Be to the Father (5), and each of the decades (50) is followed by a Glory Be to the Father (4), totaling 59 prayers. In Puerto Rico, the sung rosaries offered to the Holy Cross are the most festive. Rosaries also are sung in fulfillment of promises to saints, including the Virgin Mary, as well as for the dead. Rosarios de promesas and rosarios para los muertos differ considerably from those for Cruz de Mayo. According to López Cruz, the music for rosaries dedicated to a Saint and for the dead is more closely identified with jíbaro traditions. In the former, the altar displays an image of the saint to whom the rosary is dedicated, and in both types the rosary might be sung unaccompanied or to music performed by traditional instruments. Moreover, both require an entire rosary comprising three tercios per evening, and these can be recited, sung, or sung and recited in alternation. In rosarios de promesas it is also customary to intersperse devotional songs—such as aguinaldos, villancicos, hymns, and coplas—between each of the rosary’s three chaplets or between mysteries. Most Significantly, the texts of sung rosaries for the saints and for the dead are those of the rosary’s prayers sanctioned by the Church, such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary (Padre nuestro and Dios te salve, María). Also associated with death is the baquiné or baquiní, a ritual held for a black child that involves a sung rosary and canticles more frequently in call-and-response style accompanied by rhythmic instruments. The baquiné tradition is centered on the belief that angelitos or young souls are free of sin and become guardian angels protecting those they leave behind after their deaths (Garrido 1952: 185–89; Rosa Nieves 1967: 79–81; López Cruz 1967: 145–72).

The sung rosary tradition is not unique to Puerto Rico. The devotion to the Holy Cross became deeply rooted in several regions of Venezuela, for instance, where folk songs are sung after each decade of Hail Marys. In Puerto Rico, this tradition was defined by López Cruz as “a garland of praises to the Holy Cross” that also extends to other themes and is performed by a duo or a soloist and chorus. “Although observances throughout the island coincided in a number of aspects, each community celebrated the rosary in its own way. For instance, songs and prayers alternated In some communities, while in Ponce the rosary only was sung” (1967: 147–48). The Ponce tradition involved a total of nineteen canticles, of which eight were dedicated to the Cross, six to the Virgin Mary, two to the month of May, and one was a litany. The example of a litany reproduced by López Cruz (1967: 156) is a tune for the Greek text of the Kyrie from the Ordinary of the Mass, which in its liturgical context consists of nine acclamations, the number of evenings in a novena. The devotional texts of the canticles are set to tunes in the style of festive marches, guarachas, and waltzes that reveal a strong preference for triple or duple compound meter (Lépez Cruz 1967: 100, 147). After the cycle of prayers and songs was completed, the Fiesta de la Cruz ended with dancing to popular music and refreshments. As in the case of sung rosaries, the choice of popular genres, aS well as the beverages and sweets served during the secular part of the fiesta, differed from region to region.

The altar, with nine levels representing the steps toward heaven and the Holy Cross placed at the top, is decorated with candles, flowers, and ribbons. The nine nights of the novena can be marked by building each step successively, or by moving the candles up a step each night. Moreover, each step or set of evening prayers has its own sponsor, who is responsible for the decorations and refreshments. Although this religious observance takes place completely outside ecclesiastical contexts, only after the rosaries have ended and the Cross has been removed can those in attendance engage in courting and dancing to popular music.

Traditionally, these observances were held in the intimacy of a home and sponsored by an individual or a family, and the singing was accompanied by cuatros, guitars, and güiros, the core instruments of jíbaro ensembles. In Ponce, however, where the rosary only was sung, the ensemble also differed, including instruments such as violin and flute (López Cruz 1967: 147). Now institutionalized and secularized by the impact of modernization, the fiesta has been reinterpreted as a display of folk traditions whose continuity strengthens a sense of community. Organized and sustained by civic clubs and branches of government, it takes place at public sites, and younger musicians are more likely to play electric guitar and bass, conga drums, bongé, the omnipresent guiro, and occasionally violin, clarinet, and flute (Davis 1972: 39, 50). An interesting stylistic discordance between singers and instrumentalists representing respectively older and younger generations was observed by Martha Ellen Davis in the Fiesta de la Cruz she witnessed in 1969. According to Davis,

Professional activities of some singers and the oldest instrumentalists, most of whom have recently died, consist of presenting sung rosaries on contract or playing with a  . . typical ensemble of cuatro, guitar, and güiro. However, many of the younger instrumentalists cater to the entertainment market … and actually consider themselves salseros, that is, their musical interest … lies in improvisatory jam-session treatments of New York-Puerto Rican pop music adapted to Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Thus, due to the age difference, there is a disparity in musical background and taste between the singers and instrumentalists … The vocal line is similar to the traditionally … tense and ornamented vocal style of Hispanic music, [while] the accompaniment, structured by the types of instruments as well as by the musical taste of the musicians, incorporates techniques and rhythms characteristic of Latin American and U.S. pop music (1972: 53).

Danza puertorriqueña

The Cuban contradanza, an adaptation of the French contredanse creolized by residual rhythmic strands of African ancestry, already had taken Havana by storm in 1809, when notices in local newspapers began to censure the dance as “lascivious, inciting concupiscence, and exuding a French libertinism diametrically opposed to Christian decorum” (Carpentier 1946: 106). In binary meter, the danced model was structured in two 5-measure sections (AB), each of which was repeated. The first part was characterized by a moderate tempo, and the second, in which the creolized features initially were concentrated, was livelier. The accompanying rhythm generally conformed to what was known as “tango rhythm” (ritmo de tango) and later as ritmo de habanera (dotted eighth-note and sixteenth, followed by two eighth notes), which in the Puerto Rican countryside was called café-con-pan. Moreover, contradanzas published in Cuba under the name of contradanzas cubanas in the nineteenth century began to be called contradanzas habaneras when republished abroad, or just simply habaneras. In Cuba, the idea of nationhood became identified with the paradigmatic contradanzas for piano by Manuel Saumell Robredo (1817–70), and later with the danza, based on the same model and epitomized in the exquisitely crafted and flexibly structured forty danzas by Ignacio Cervantes (1847–1905). The prolific Cuban contradanza that spawned the danza, danzón, and danzonete served as framework for the creation of nineteenth- and early 20th-century salon pieces for piano as well as songs. Sung habaneras span the nineteenth century, from their appearance in the 1830s and the first score to be published, “El amor en el baile” (1842), to the paradigmatic example that made them famous, the habanera “Tú” (1892) by Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes (1874–1944).

According to the distinguished Puerto Rican composer Amaury Veray (1959 in Thompson 2002: 66), danced habaneras reached Puerto Rico with the retinue of General Aristegui in 1844 and “immediately found a place in our social framewor As developed in the southern port city of Ponce by San Juan-born Manuel Gregorio Tavárez (1842–83), Juan Morel Campos (1857–96), and José Ignacio Quintón (1881–1925) from its origins in the Spanish contradanza and the Cuban habanera in the mid-to late nineteenth century, the danza puertorriqueña has been read by some as the perfect musical reflection of the island’s plantocracy, by others as the voice of a plebeian artisan class, and by most as symbolic of Puerto Rican society and culture in general. Postulating that cultural phenomena—rather than “representing” a specific social class (a static concept)—form part of relationships or conglomerates of relationships, Quintero Rivera argues that the danza cannot be considered either as a product of the planter class, or simply as an expression of the artisan class, but as a mediation between them shaped by their relationship, itself conditioned by the complex historical dynamics at play in 19th-century Puerto Rico (1986 and 1998). While stressing the supremacy of Ponce in three phases of stylistic change associated respectively with Tavárez, Morel Campos, and Quintón, Veray also addresses the types cultivated by composers in San Juan, and prominently among them the danzas by Braulio Dueño Colón (1857–1934).

From a superfluity of literature on the polyvalent Puerto Rican danza (Thompson and Thompson 1991: 250–72), Veray’s “Vida y desarrollo de la danza puertorriquefia” (1977: 23–37) stands as one of the clearest historical accounts to date. In this essay, developed from a lecture he delivered at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquefia in 1959, Veray establishes distinctions between the figured Spanish contradanza of the early nineteenth century and the newer and livelier couple-dance style of the Cuban habanera. Furthermore, in “La misión social de la danza de Juan Morel Campos” (1959: 35–38 in Thompson 2002: 64–71), Veray associates the innovations and creativity of the same three generations of Ponce composers to the construction of Puerto Rico’s collective identity and emerging psychological profile in the second half of the nineteenth century. Thus linked to the idea of nationhood, the danza became one of the most significant genres of 19th-century salon and concert music, extending its influence well into the 1930s. Notated in binary meter, the choreographic form consolidated as danza puertorriqueña was structured in two parts: a repeated first eight-measure section or paseo reminiscent of the stately contradanza’s paseo and described as an introductory parade around the room by couples; and a livelier second section subsuming four repeated subsections of eight measures each, danced by couples and called “merengue,” but with no known connection to the Dominican namesake, although Emilio Rodríguez Demorizi (1971: 125–26) noted parallels between the genres that “were to become banners of nationhood in their respective homelands” (Quintero Rivera 1998: 286). In the Puerto Rican context, the term “merengue” often was applied to the complete dance. The second section was a couple dance whose sensuality stirred heated exchanges of the class-driven variety, as exemplified in the “early skirmish” published in El Ponceño of August 24 and 29, 1853 (Thompson 2002: 57—62) that some assigned to a mischievous editor. Here, a lady of means objects to “gentlemen who, forgetting their obligation to us, their mothers, their sisters, and their relatives, are pleased to attend dances of grisettes, where they will certainly not find any understanding of the concerns that correspond to their own station, education, and class,” after offering a definition of class structure worthy of citation in full:

As I see it, society can be compared to the steam engine on Father’s plantation, whose various parts, each functioning separately, are never hindered in their respective motions except for the contact and the friction necessary to attain the general result … Well, as in the case of my father’s machine, each rank and class of the society in which we live, each circle of our social sphere, moves within determined limits beyond which the individual should not and indeed cannot venture without risking a clash with unknown bodies. These foreign bodies, as they do not move within the same orbit as ourselves, cannot harmonize their movements with ours, and would merely serve to introduce discord and disorder where nature wishes only order and concord. Accordingly, then, we should all attempt to remain within the specific social circle to which we belong and not seek more contact with others than is required for the proper functioning of the social machine of which each one of us forms a part (Thompson 2002: 59).

Needless to say, the grisette in question replied with righteous indignation, claiming virtue for those “light-hearted working girls” and arguing that, because her father happened to be an artisan and she was a seamstress, their place in the engine was no less important than any other.

This caricature of class relations, however, resonates in the dynamics that would elevate a cultural product of the artisan class to the stature of a national symbol in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, as argued by sociologist Ángel Quintero Rivera in “Ponce, la danza y lo nacional: Apuntes para una sociología de la música puertorriqueña” (1986: 5–21 in Thompson 2002: 71–84). Ponce, the southern city where the danza emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, was one of the strongholds of an autonomist plantocracy at odds with the concentration of colonial power in San Juan, as well as the bastion of abolitionism and reform movements that, paradoxically and contradictorily, idealized the Puerto Rican family as inclusive of the island’s “honorable sons of toil” while also relegating them to the lower echelons of the social scale. As the island’s alternative capital, Ponce was the urban center of “a rural world that embraced Puerto Rico’s three main agricultural elements: the slave-holding plantation, the manorial hacienda, and the independent peasantry.” Aspiring to dominance, plantation owners (hacendados) were developing a mercantile economy based on the capitalist model while maintaining “servile and semifeudal” types of exploitation of labor. In Quintero Rivera’s interpretation, it was no coincidence that the first musical form identified with the idea of nationhood would emerge from Ponce, the city to which most innovative composers moved, “weary of composing military and ecclesiastical music for San Juan. And in the 1880s, the decade of the consolidation of the Autonomist Party through which planters would pursue their struggle for power, the danzas of Juan Morel Campos, the product of Ponce’s greatest composer, flourished” (Quintero Rivera 1986 in Thompson 2002: 71–81; Quintero Rivera 1998: 252–99). The city’s population, in addition to planters, merchants, and functionaries, included skilled craftsmen, most of whom were mulattoes. “It was from the world of the Ponce artisans, and naturally througn their relation with other social classes, that the danza arose” (Quintero Rivera 1986 in Thompson 2002: 75). Racially discriminated by the stigma of slavery, this working class would become radicalized at the turn of the nineteenth century, but initially claimed its dignity and social recognition in terms defined by the plantocracy.

In great measure, the danza is a music of artisans, but produced for hacendados; the music thus forms part of the relation between the two classes. It is an authentically popular expression that nonetheless bears the stamp of the hacendado hegemony. In the danza, several folk elements drawn from the seis of the countryside and the bomba of the plantation, while also receiving obvious Cuban and Spanish influences, become transformed into a sophisticated kind of salon music that the hacendados might smugly dance in their exclusive casinos [nightclubs]. The institution of the bastonero—the cane-wielding dancing master who dictated the steps and figures of the old contradanza—disappeared during the early development of the danza. In this way, each dancing couple enjoyed a great degree of freedom. However, the danza also retained something of the formality of the older figured dances, thus manifesting the bourgeoisie-aristrocracy tension that marked the hacendados’ contradictory campaign (Quintero Rivera 1986 in Thompson 2002: 76).

The danced type was performed by small ensembles of one or two violins, flute, clarinet, two or three euphoniums, a string bass, and güiro. Somewhat later, during the peak of popularity of the danced form, the paradigmatic orchestra of Juan Morel Campos—who played the euphonium and composed some of the best-known danzas for piano—consisted of four violins, two clarinets, cornet, two euphoniums, string bass, a small kettledrum (timbalito), and güiro. The role of the euphonium in this context is particularly significant because, in a trilayered instrumental texture, it unfolds a rhythmic ostinato between the syncopated melody and the also syncopated harmonic bass line. In turn, this rhythmic ostinato has been interpreted as a timbric substitute for the cuá timeline in neo-African bomba that adapts an African strain in the danza to the timbric taste of plantocratic consumers (Quintero Rivera 1998: 288–95). Dufrasne González (1994: 46), for instance, points out that the ostinato sections for euphonium in “La Borinqueña” correspond to the cuá rhythmic pattern in the güembé type of son de bomba. These types of substitutions in turn suggest analytical Strategies to explain a mediation between open and closed forms associated respectively with African and European concepts of music-making, beyond the level of timbric substitutions of rhythmic formulas, and at the background level of meter. By aligning all the parts in a danza (actually the folk version of “La Borinqueña”), a seis Mapeyé, and a very popular plena (“Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres”), Quintero Rivera (1998: 60–72), adducing the work of Luis Manuel Álvarez (1992), argues that the implicit metric underpinning in each of these unfolding syncopated textures responds to the so-called clave 3/2 type (3+3+2+2+2+2+ 2), a 16-pulse cycle of nonlinear and irregularly subdivided values that replaces the experience of time in regular subdivisions of units inherent to the binary meters in which these forms are notated. In other words, that what the musicians internally are “beating” as they spin their syncopated lines is this non-linear “cycle” of irregularly accented pulses, instead of “syncopating” regularly subdivided binary meters. The former is a “very African” way of experiencing time in performance, while the latter is an inherently Western way of conceptualizing time. In this manner, then, an internalized rhythmic pattern that propels a performance also integrates an African concept of time with the closed formal structures of the danza, seis, and—to the extent that it repeats an eight-measure structure—plena. Although these types of retentions represent a loss of the ontological function they carried in traditional contexts (see Argeliers León, “Music in the Life of Africans and Their Descendants in the New World,” in this volume), this theory of metric substitution represents an invaluable contribution to an understanding of processes of creolization, not only in Puerto Rico, but elsewhere in the Caribbean and throughout Latin America. According to the composer and ethnomusicologist Luis Manuel Álvarez (cited in Quintero Rivera 1998: 259), the instrumental conception of the danza most commonly was disseminated in “condensed” published versions for piano, which, added to the vast repertoire of salon danzas conceived idiomatically for the instrument, have resulted in an extant legacy of mostly piano scores.

As in the case of the Cuban danzas by Cervantes, the miniatures for piano composed by Morel Campos defy generalization. Each displays a wealth of harmonic resources and a rhythmic imagination that the renowned Puerto Rican pianist Jesús María Sanromá (1902–84) codified into 66 basic patterns with almost 200 variants. Morel Campos, one of the towering figures of the nineteenth century and the first to join the pantheon of paradigmatic Puerto Rican composers, received the danza’s legacy from Tavarez and, in turn, created a “school of danza composition” represented by Domingo Cruz, Juan Ríos Ovalle, Olimpio Otero, Rafael Duchesne, Simón Madera, and Jaime Pericás. According to Héctor Campos Parsi, another member of the same pantheon, Morel Campos’s “widespread popularity and great professional success cast the ideal image of the late 19th-century composer in Puerto Rican society: he was expected to be serious as well as high-spirited, hard-working, romantic, and disciplined” (2000: 790). In 1957 the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña organized a series of events commemorating the first centenary of Morel Campos’s birth and also sponsored the publication of his aganzas in a five-volume set (1958). According to Sanromá and Campos Parsi, who oversaw the edition, these danzas generally are differentiated by their character. Some are written in an intensely romantic vein, while others are more festive, brief, and ingeniously playful. Among Morel Campos’s most Deloved danzas are “Laura y Georgina,” “Alma sublime,” “Tormento,” “Vano empeño” (Recorded Ex. 4), “La Julianita,” “Influencia del arte,” and “No me toques,” also the title of a danza by Cervantes. One of the danza’s characteristic features—also present in bomba, seis, and aguinaldo—is the quarter-note triplet set against the framework of the “notated” binary meter that Puerto Ricans call “the elastic triplet.” No interpreter could do more justice to the subtleties in Morel Campos’s danzas than Jesús María Sanromá, the masterful performer of Puerto Rican works who also championed the cause of American composers worldwide and played under the batons of internationally renowned conductors. After studying at the New England Conservatory of Music and with Alfred Cortot in Paris, he became a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky for two decades. In 1980 Sanromá began to record Morel Campos’s complete works for piano for the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. The mastery of rubato in his rendition of “Vano empeño” (Recorded Ex. 4), no doubt influenced by the genius of Cortot, reminds us that “the work’ is the performance when it is informed by the assimilation of intangible codes, in this case stemming as much from vernacular performance practices as from famous renditions of Chopin mazurkas.

Among the composers who brought the danza into the twentieth century are Luis R. Miranda (1879–1945), Jesús Figueroa (1878–1971), José Ignacio Quintón, and Héctor Campos Parsi (1922–98). After periods of neglect and enthusiastic revival, it still was carrying its quintessentially Puerto Rican stamp—constructed on the idea of a Hispanic-based creole nation whose African heritage, if not totally suppressed, surfaces in the “implied clave 3/2 type” spinning those redolent and elegantly timed syncopations—when “La Borinqueña,” one of the most beloved danzas, was chosen in 1952 as the official anthem of the newly-established Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Deliz 1957; Gaudier 1959; Veray 1977; Villarini 1979; Thompson 1986; Quintero Rivera 1998: 252–67). The choice was not fortuitous because, for almost a century, this song had been identified with struggles for independence and with the “Grito de Lares” (1868) in particular.

The uncertain place of origin of “La Borinqueña” and its contested authorship fueled debates and kindled myths of appropriation. Given that versions of the same song surfaced in Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, and that the texts of the Cuban, Peruvian, and Puerto Rican versions display striking similarities, Puerto Rican scholars, not coincidentally in the mid-to-late 1950s, set out to search for the anthem’s Ur-form (Babín 1958). Folklorist Monserrate Deliz produced a well-documented study postulating its Puerto Rican origin (1957), while Martín Gaudier (1959) traced it to a Peruvian habanera, attributing more significance to its reception on the island than to the source (Quintero Rivera 1998: 252–55). Also contested, among proponents of the Puerto Rican genesis, is its authorship. The official version attributes the music to Félix Astol y Artés (1813–1901), a Catalunian opera singer who settled on the island and is believed to have written it in 1867 or 1868, while opponents of the idea that their national song could have been composed by a foreigner invoked the figure of a guitarist from San German named Ramirez. As the story goes, Ramírez was a creole who, fearing the consequences of defying colonial powers with a patriotic song, gave it to Astol on the assumption that a Spaniard would be less likely to attract suspicions. Elaborating on the elements of place, timing, and characters converging on this myth of appropriation, Quintero Rivera adduces the significance of San Germán, imaged in 1797 by Ledru (1810 in 1971) as “the place in which Puerto Rico’s oldest and most distinguished families settled,” and the popularity of a song named “La almojábana” that began to be called “La Borinqueña in the second half of the nineteenth century, “just when we can construe this sociohistorical conglomerate as an incipient nation” and only months before the quelled “Grito de Lares” declared independence in 1868 (1998: 256–57, 261). Also symbolic is the surname “Ramírez,” a possible reference to Cofresi, a pirate and first national hero:

It is not by chance that the foundational myth surrounding Puerto Rico’s national anthem would attribute authorship to characters with very significant symbolic associations. Some attribute it to a nomadic thesbian who was an immigrant (Catalonian no less, since we cannot forget the symbolic importance of Catalonia in the struggle for autonomy waged in Spain by ethnic nations, the same struggle waged by Puerto Rican intellectuals who found inspiration in the also Catalonian Francisco Pi y Margall). Others assign [the national anthem] to a bohemian guitarist … from San Germán who, also surnamed Ramírez (like Cofresí), felt compelled to evade or “escape” (cimarronear) authorship (Quintero Rivera 1996: 261).

Also significant is the fact that the martial arrangement for band by Ramón Collado (Cruz 1966), which was commissioned by the Commonwealth and is sung on official occasions, failed to interpellate a population that continues to sing and play “La Borinqueña” as a danza (Ex. 1) (Quintero Rivera 1998: 255–67).

la boriquena music

la boriquena music
Ex. 1: “La Borinqueña,” a danza adopted in 1952 as the official anthem of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, with music attributed to Félix Astol y Artés (1813–1901) believed to have been composed in 1867 or 1868, and text officially attributed to Manuel Fernández Juncos (1846–1928). This piano-vocal version was published in the collection of Canciones populares edited by Allena Luce (Boston: Silver, Burdett, y Cia., 1920).

In the ever-changing process of identity construction, other unofficial symbols of the idea of nation have overlapped with, if not yet officially displaced, “La Borinqueña.” When the popularity of the danza began to fade in the 1930s, giving way to the plenas of a working class “no longer camouflaging drums” that confronted, rather than deferred to, the dominant classes, the danza assumed new meanings when played by ensembles of música jíbara, as stated above in reference to Maestro Ladí. In this new context, “Verde luz”—a patriotic song in the style of danza by Antonio Cabán Vale, “El Topo” (b. 1942), a prominent exponent of the politically engaged and pro-independence nueva trova—has become for many the contemporary Puerto Rican anthem and is performed in a number of different arrangements (Quintero Rivera 1998: 266, 298–99).


The danza is a hothouse plant. Transplanted and acclimated, it acquired its regional modifications by grafting; its foliage and its flowers were cultivated at the cost of its stem and roots … The plena, on the other hand, is a wildflower, with roots intertwined deep in the subsoil. For this reason the plena displays vigorous vitality while the danza, from the beginning, has displayed an idiopathic languor” (Blanco 1935 cited in Thompson and Thompson 1991: 191).

Thus spoke Tomás Blanco in “Elogio de la plena” (1935), a celebrated essay counterbalancing the hispanophilic bias in Pedreira’s classic Insularismo, published a year earlier.

As the neighborhood’s journal, plena is Puerto Rico’s most popular form of social commentary. Through improvised or learned poetry, most commonly cuartetas and octosyllabic or hexasyllabic sextillas set to eight-measure units repeated indefinitely in responsorial style, historical memory is recorded in song. Rather than “accompanied” by instruments, the sustained timbric band defined by the singing establishes an interlocking relationship with the timbric band centered on membranophones. The themes of plenas range from local and international events to historical landmarks, crimes of passion (“Cortaron a Elena”), natural disasters (“Temporal,” a plena by Rafael Hernández), the arrival of a functionary (“Mamita, llegó el obispo”), political parody, recipes, gossip, social protest, advice, and no small dose of sentencious wisdom. López Cruz offers the following refrain as an example of “popular philosophy” (1967: 66), actually an aphorism excerpted from the classic “Las dos linternas” by the Spanish poet Ramón de Campoamor (1817–1901), in switched order of paired verses:

Todo es según el color
del cristal con que se mira;
en este mundo traidor
nada es verdad ni es mentira.
In this treacherous world,
nothing is true nor deceit,
all is tainted by the lens
through which we shape our conceits.

This author/editor learned it in her youth in Argentina, in the version given below:

En este mundo traidor
nada es verdad ni es mentira;
todo es según el color
del cristal con que se mira.

Often delivered with satirical intent, the plena shares its narrative function with a number of other American expressions whose historical roots can be traced to the Spanish romance, such as the Mexican corrido.

Dufrasne González (1994: 16) places the presence of the earliest pleneros between 1915 and 1921 in the city of Ponce, among them Mario Rivera, “Bachiche,” and “Pacharo,” and by 1924 Julio Cepeda González (1905–83) had heard plenas in Santurce. In the late 1920s or early 1930s Manuel “Canario” Jiménez (1895–1975) began to disseminate them through recordings for RCA Victor in New York and with his Canario y su Orquesta Puerto Rico (1932). The legendary Rafael Hernández (1891–1965) was beginning to feed the international market with memorable boleros, but the spirited plena—perceived as quintessentially Puerto Rican and erupting precisely during the Depression—carried the potential for invoking tradition as well as innovation, and therefore establishing a broad range of “interactions and intersections with social classes, racialized groups, and diasporic locations” (Flores 2000: 29), the conditions it fulfilled and have kept it “contemporary” throughout its history.

According to López Cruz (1967: 69), early plenas were sung only to the rhythms of panderos, but Don Malaquias González Ruiz (b. 1913), interviewed by Dufrasne González in 1977, described the Ponce ensembles of early plena as including one pandereta (frame drum), guitar, cuatro, sinfonía (button accordion), and a singer. To these, traditional ensembles added güiro and marímbula. Panderetas de plena or panderos are frame drums whose roles in plenas replicate those of the drums in bomba, with the larger instrument carrying a basic rhythmic pattern and the higher-pitched requinto improvising elaborations on it. Some types of bomba patterns, and in particular the binary güembé, belén, and cunyá, were reinterpreted for panderetas de plena (Dufrasne González 1994: 20). In the course of time, more panaeretas were added to enrich the characteristically complex timbric-rhythmic texture, and a set of three became the norm. The cuatro performed plucked melodies, and the sinfonía or accordion, an instrument that in the Dominican Republic replaced chordophones, could play the principal melody or accompany it. The large Antillean marímbula, a modification of the African mbira, played a harmonic-rhythmic bass (Thompson 1975–1976). Traditionally, learned or improvised coplas were sung by a male soloist (the inspirador) in alternation with choral responses involving the participation of women. These responses could be sung in unison or doubled at the octave, in parallel sixths (López Cruz 1967: 90), and in thirds. In addition, melodic instruments such as the cuatro and sinfonía, as well as the highest-pitched requinto de pandereta, could engage in improvisations. Hip movements characterize the couple dance popularized in Ponce in the 1920s, “with a step forward and a step back’:

Yo te doy un pasito pa lante,
tú me das un pasito pa tras;
eso es lo que a ti te gusta, mi negra,
pasito pa lante y pa tras  (López Cruz 1967: 82).
I give you a step forward,
You give me a step back,
that’s what you like, my negra,
one step forward and one back.

The significance of the plena, originally associated with a racially mixed working class concentrated mostly in coastal areas and urban suburbs, no doubt stems from its synthesis of already creolized neo-African and jíbaro elements, that is, of components no longer identified as either “African” or “Hispanic.”

Summarizing various speculations on the plena’s contested origin, Dufrasne González (1994: 23–26) adduces Vicente Astacio Morales’s theory that plenas emerged from bomba when the heavy drums were replaced by lighter and more portable panderos. “This idea is not too unreasonable because sones de bomba can be plenas and, in fact, have become plenas,” linking a güembé to both expressions. However, substantive dissimilarities set bomba and plena apart, as they are sung, played, and danced differently (Dufrasne González 1994: 24). Other scholars suggest that plena emerged from the Ponce neighborhood of Joya del Castillo, which was heavily populated by English-speaking African descendants from the eastern Caribbean at the beginning of the twentieth century (Vega Drouet 1998: 939). Rather than favoring any particular theory of origin, Dufrasne González proposes a synthesis of home-grown styles, with bomba as matrix for a fecund blend of the seisaguinaldo pair and guaracha. As in the case of the danza, most writers associate the emergence of plenas with the city of Ponce, and this notion is perpetuated in popular refrains like the copla cited by López Cruz (1967: 63), who only ventures to say that the dance was popularized in Ponce:

La plena que yo conozco
no es de la China ni del Japón
porque la plena viene de Ponce
y es del Barrio de San Antón.
The plena I know
neither from China nor from Japan,
comes from the city of Ponce
and from the barrio of San Anton.

Empiricists like López Cruz also have adduced the presence of earlier songs whose textual, melodic, and rhythmic characteristics were very similar to those that came to be known as “plenas” in the early 1900s (1967: 69–81). For Dufrasne González, writing several decades later, the stylistic characteristics of plenas most likely were consolidated under the cultural influence of Ponce:

[These included] the responsorial relationship between soloist and chorus, the singer’s improvisations between refrains, the use of panderetas de plena, the couple dance, the types of rhymes and sung poetic forms, the idiosyncratic harmonies, and other aspects of performance … It is entirely possible that the genre was defined in Ponce and the rest of Puerto Rico recognized its own image in the sound of this music (1994: 22).

Most importantly, López Cruz sees the character of plenas as quintessentially Puerto Rican: “playful, with their polyrhythmic panderetas and witty messages, joyfully displaying their unsuppressed and candid spontaneity” (1967: 85). Identifying a “liberated” working class on the move, the power of plenas to interpellate different sectors of the population up to the present fulfilled the prophetic words of Tomás Blanco, who wrote in 1935 that the danza, and not the plena, would face extinction as a living form (cited in Flores 1993: 31). It is also significant that panderos de plena are used to accompany many other types of songs, from the coplas sung at strikes and protests, to seises, guarachas, Cuban sones and Mexican rancheras (Dufrasne González 1994: 26, 29).

Unlike bomba, which remained more confined to its traditional domain until the 1950s, plena assimilated influences from other popular styles and modernized its instrumentation, thereby crossing boundaries of class, race, and location. As in the case of famous trovadores and cuatristas, older pleneros continue to be celebrated by younger generations. Joselino “Bumbún” Oppenheimer (1884–1929), whose compositions are still in the repertoire of modern ensembles, is remembered as the leader of one of the earliest groups and as “the king of pandereta de plena.” Manuel “Canario” Jiménez (1895–1975) rose from the sugar mill and tobacco factory where he worked before he was 14 to leader of his Canario y su Orquesta Puerto Rico (1932) in New York, leaving a considerable legacy of recordings that include “Temporal” (1928) and the nostalgic “Lamento borincano” (1929) by Rafael Hernández, as well as a classic of plenas issued by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña in 1964. From Hernández, the wandering bard who rose from poverty to the status of a national hero with nostalgic songs interpellating feelings of deterritorialization, came timeless plenas like “Temporal.” By the 1950s, Rafael Cortijo (1928–82) had created “a veritable revolution” in Puerto Rico itself when he modernized bomba and plena with his Cortijo y su Combo (1954-62) and, with “el Sonero Mayor” Ismael Rivera (1931–87), “challenged long dominant and elitist, Eurocentric assumptions about black Puerto Rican music … , thrusting the expressive ways of poor black folk onto the center stage of national culture” (Flores 2004 a: 1–2). Some influential pleneros lived in New York temporarily or periodically, among them “Canario,” César Concepción, Rafael Cortijo, and Mon Rivera; others, like Víctor Montañez and Matías Pérez, lived there exclusively. Marcial Reyes played a major role in grounding the plena tradition in New York’s Puerto Rican barrios, not only as composer and pandereta player, but also by teaching the craft of instrument-making and the practice of drumming and singing. He also organized groups, such as the Víctor Montañez y sus Pleneros de la 110, and was one of the founders of Rincón Criollo, the hub from which Los Pleneros de la 21 emerged in 1983 (Flores 2000: 67–68). “El León” (Recorded Ex. 5), one of the plenas included in Viento de Agua: Materia Prima Unplugged (2004), is a recreation of a classic of the traditional repertoire by Tito Matos with his group, Viento de Agua (1997). The percussion arrangement, requinto performance, and lead vocals in this recording are by Tito Matos.

The coexistence of tradition and modernity

In the popular music domain, the so-called “fusions” in the mid-to-late twentieth century—and the emergence of salsa in particular—coincide with postmodern intertextuality in art music, as epitomized in Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (1968); and with what Roberto González Echevarría has called “archival fiction’ in Latin American literature (1998), as epitomized in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). The conception of the present as “history,” or as (Foucault’s) “Archive,” is adumbrated in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (1824), wherein a reference to the concerto principle (the orchestra and chorus) and a vocal style (recitative) frame an interpenetration of concatenated and superimposed instrumental genres whose deterritorialization “contributes to a reduction in their capacity to act as codes” (Treitler 1989: 19–45, 95–156). In the figurative “Archive,” which is at once Library, Encyclopedia, History, and Sediment, “modalities of discourse” in texts, genres, styles, and/or practices from different historical periods and geographic locations coexist in a dehistoricized present that also divests them from meanings they carried in their presumably natural habitats. “The Archive is not so much an accumulation of texts as the process whereby texts are written: a process of repeated combinations, of shufflings and reshufflings ruled by heterogeneity and difference.” The Archive disassembles, it does not canonize. It is also antithetical to the construction of national myths, and “its cumulative fuction  semiotic [only insofar as] sorting out the vestiges of previous mediations and displaying them” (González Echevarría 1998: 24, 37, 175). The coexistence of different modalities of discourse in González Echevarría’s “archival fiction” (1998) subsumes and corresponds to Quintero Rivera’s “combination of practices” in salsa (1998). “Performing history,” then, in the sense of summoning the past in a dehistoricized present, can be said to be as relevant to Berio as it is to salsa. It was no coincidence that the Fania All-Stars took shape as a group in 1968, after the founding of Fania Records in 1964, and that the landmark salsa concert of the Fania All-Stars under Johnny Pacheco at New York City’s Cheetah took place on August 26, 1971.

The semantic field of salsa has been defined as a movement rooted in traditions from the Spanishspeaking Caribbean which, galvanized by musicians of different nationalities that included a substantial number of Puerto Ricans, and grounded on the centrality of a modernized Cuban son, was shaped by the experience of migration in the caldron of the mixed New York neighborhood. Quintero Rivera (1996: 17, 21–22) conceptualizes it as a process defined more by a “combination of practices” than by content, and relying particularly on dynamic tensions between complementary opposites:

Varied, free, and unpredictable … , the open character [of this entelechy] was captured in the early slogan, ¡Salsa y control This “call” to expressive intensity summons many of its internal dialogues: unbridled [and aggressive] expression vis-à-vis its polite afinque; rhythmic descarga [release] and controlled ostinato; improvisation and tradition … ; [“flavor” and control]; among so many others.

Conceptualizations can be marred by the uncritical reception of regulative concepts from the received hegemonic discourse of European music historiography. Among them, “genre,” if defined according to “old musicological theories of genre” (Fabbri 1982: 137), proves to be particularly unyielding when indiscriminately applied to our cultural domain. The Cuban musicologist Juan Manuel Villar Paredes convincingly calls salsa “a multigeneric Style,” and we propose “semantic field” for the “Doundary buster” that subsumes and transcends Franco Fabbri’s definition of genre as a “system of values establishing a hierarchy within the principles of the genre,” each of which is codified differently by different communities (1982: 142–43). Because salsa defies the expectations of structural thinking implicit in “old musicological theories of genre,” Quintero Rivera tells us that even authoritative voices in Puerto Rico went as far as to deny the existence of salsa on the basis of its lack of “formulas” associated with “genre” (1998: 21–22). Transcending boundaries in its free combination of practices associated with various types of expressions, salsa also became defined by its potential to interpellate the narrative plots of a heterogeneous, often deterritorialized and marginalized population, beyond the allure of fads and fashions. The convergence of engaged lyrics, multiple practices, improvisation (in the vocal soneos and instrumental descargas) counteracted by the “polite” afinque that grounds the dancing, and the creativity of individual composers, arrangers, and performers united by a common experience, forged a collective “Latino” identity strengthened by a sense of cultural empowerment. For Quintero Rivera, the controlled freedom in salsa performs democracy; for Marisol Berríos-Miranda, a scholar who has written penetratingly on the subject from the perspective of Puerto Ricans (1999 and 2004), it performs liberation.

In volume four of this series, which covers transnational musics of the twentieth century, including the more recent reggaeton, several authors explore the sociological and stylistic dimensions of salsa from different perspectives, as well as the protagonism of towering figures and groups—among them Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso (1926–2003), Rafael Cortijo (1928–82), Ismael Rivera (1931–37), Rafael Ithier and El Gran Combo, and Willie Colón (b. 1950)—in the shaping, projection, and reception of this semantic field. According to Donald Thompson, the relation between contemporary art music in Puerto Rico and current trends in Europe and the Americas applies to the island’s commercial-popular music as well, where changing styles in vogue parallel those in the United States. It is also noteworthy that recent renditions of songs that carry cultural density, like Rafael Hernández’s “Lamento borincano” and Antonio “El Topo” Cabán Vale’s “Verde luz,” appear to have become homogenized by the internationalized styles of instrumentation and delivery favored by pop stars.


Musical life in San Juan Cathedral dates from the early sixteenth century. By the late 1800s, cathedral music had reached a high level of development, with a permanent orchestra and the frequent performance of newly composed Masses, Te Deums, Salves, and other types of religious music, much of which was composed by the versatile Felipe Gutiérrez y Espinosa (1825–99) (Callejo Ferrer 1915; Stevenson 1978; Mendoza de Arce 1988a).

The earliest known performers of civic music came from bands attached to Spanish military units, and these musicians also contributed to the development of secular institutions, particularly in San Juan. Many contexts for performance of secular and devotional music before the nineteenth century were associated with public ceremonies, including patron-saint observances and official celebrations decreed from Madrid that extended throughout the Spanish Empire (Asenjo y Arteaga 1868; Thompson 1989). A philharmonic society was established in San Juan in 1823. This society and its successors organized orchestras, founded music academies, and sponsored the production of operas and zarzuelas during the remainder of the nineteenth century.

The first operas composed in Puerto Rico were written by Felipe Gutiérrez y Espinosa. His Guarionex (1865?), on a libretto by Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, was the first opera based on a native subject. Macías, his third opera, “proved the equal of any Spanish romantic opera of its century when first performed, on August 19, 1871, at the refurbished Teatro Tapia in san Juan” (Stevenson 1980: VII, 857; see also Kuss 1987: II, 623–24; and Thompson 1992a: II, 585; and III, 133). Other compositions by Gutiérrez y Espinosa include concert overtures, vocal music, a sonatina for violin and piano, and a considerable quantity of religious works (Batista 1982).

Art music in 20th-century Puerto Rico, in all of its manifestations, remained closely aligned with trends in urban centers of Western Europe, the United States, and Latin America, although mainly for economic reasons some of the most significant developments took place in the latter part of the century. During the 1950s, and beginning with music written for educational films produced by the government-sponsored DIVEDCO Program (1945–91) (Thompson 2005), composers began to incorporate explicit rhythmic and melodic elements from Puerto Rican folk traditions in works for the concert stage. As in the domains of traditional and popular music, the successful negotiation of commonwealth status in 1952 functioned as a symbolic substitute for independence, with its concomitant revalorizations of national traditions. Among innovators of this period were Jack Délano (1914–97), Héctor Campos Parsi (1922–98), and Amaury Veray (1922–95). Délano’s Burundanga for chorus, soloists, and orchestra (1988, premiered 1990) very successfully molds Puerto Rican and more generalized Antillean folk rhythms into a large-scale work. In a similar vein, Campos Parsi’s orchestral Divertimento del sur (1953) and his ballet Juan Bobo y las fiestas (1957) represent the same kind of synthesis, as does Veray’s music for the ballet Cuando las mujeres [quieren a los hombres] . . . (1958–67), based on a popular plena. The reliance of melodic and rhythmic elements from rural and urban popular musics in the works of these iconic composers also extended to performance practices, establishing a basis for the various types of intersections between academic and popular traditions of composition and performance that would characterize the poetics of several younger composers. Critically restructuring preexistent compositional hierarchies, they experimented with the timbre and function of traditional instruments, melodizing rhythms and rhythmicizing melodies in intertextual contexts that, beyond references to themes and rhythms, drew upon free combinations of principles and practices (Quintero Rivera 1998: 342–63). Composition from the 1970s onward also integrates the Puerto Rican experience in New York, captured in the design for the cover of a CD dedicated to the chamber works of William Ortiz Alvarado (b. 1947), which was issued in San Juan in 1990 and shows “a topographic map of the island in green placed between the dark contours of buildings in New York” (Quintero Rivera 1998: 357).

In the 1970s, the decade of the salsa boom, Willie Colón brought the sound of música salsera into the domain of ballet, and Rubén Blades, in collaboration with Colón, produced an opera. In the case of Colón’s Baquiné de los angelitos negros (ca. 1975), which Fania recorded in 1977, the general referent is the observance of the death of a baptized black child that had inspired El velorio (The Wake) by Francisco Oller, a landmark in the history of painting in Puerto Rico, as well as the antiracist poem “Píntame angelitos negros” by the Venezuelan Andrés Eloy Blanco, which, popularized as a bolero by the Cuban singer Antonio Machín in the 1940s, was the source of Colón’s Baquiné. Set in urban Nuyorico, the ballet does not recreate the ritual, conjuring up instead an amalgamation of references that include salsa, archetyped Puerto Rican traditions, and Latin jazz through an array of unorthodox and complex timbric combinations (Quintero Rivera 1998: 343–45). Salsa is summoned by the heterogeneity of its Afro-Caribbean styles and a strong percussion section engaging in its characteristic descargas, set in alternation with “the protagonism of the cuatro as symbol of the campesinado”; brass instruments, also references to the sound of salsa, and trombones with trumpets in particular, are interlaced with violins and violoncelios, the latter creating an association with the academic domain; and “instruments identified with jazz, such as the alto and baritone saxophone, are given important roles” (loc. cit.). Quintero Rivera calls the results of this experiment “mixed,” but attributes considerable significance to the expressive potential of its novel timbric combinations. The symbolic role assigned to the timbric elements intersecting in Baquiné de los angelitos muertos contrasts with the realism of Rubén Blades’ Maestra vida, an opera composed in collaboration with Willie Colón in the late 1970s and recorded by Fania in 1980 that draws upon the experience of living in New York’s Latino neighborhoods (loc. cit.).

“Social signifiers” also surface in very successful works for small ensembles by William Ortiz Alvarado (b. 1947), among them Graffiti Nuyorican (1983), Housing Project (1985), and Ghetto (1987) (Ortiz 1988). In Abrazo for four guitars, recorded in 1990, urban chaos progresses toward an “embrace” symbolized in the common ground of Rafael Hernández’s beloved “Lamento borincano” (Quintero Rivera 1998: 357). Composers also invoke the protagonism of instruments that carry cultural density in a number of solo works. In Subway for trombone (1985), for instance, Ortiz summons the significance of this instrument in salsa. The composer and guitarist Ernesto Cordero (b. 1946), born in New York and trained academically at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico and in Europe, on the other hand, explores the symbolism of chordophones. The protagonism of the guitar surfaces not only in the number of solo works he has composed, among which his Mapeyé (1972) is one of the most successful, but also is displayed in works for guitar and voice, or guitar and voice with other instruments. As occasional examples of melodic subversion to enhance the role of the guitar, Quintero Rivera (1998: 352–53) adduces “Samba para una sola nota,” whose speech-like setting of the voice underscores the rhythm of words against the protagonism of harmonies on the guitar; and “Era mi dolor tan alto” for voice, flute, and guitar, published in 1997, in which monotonic sections also rhythmicize the role of the voice. In Quintero Rivera’s interpretation, the subversion and exchange of conventionally assigned rhythmic and melodic functions is central to Cordero’s work, as exemplified in the Nana para dormir a una negrita for solo guitar (1985) and Dinga y Mandinga for guitar, flute, violoncello, and bongós. Among Cordero’s large-scale works are four concertos for guitar and orchestra, among them his popular Concierto antillano (1983), and his idiosyncratic Concierto para cuatro y orquesta (1988), which was recorded in 1997 with Edwin Colón Zayas as soloist. The cadenza in the final movement is a virtuosic display of rhythmic improvisation that, engaging the cuatro and bongó on a basic pattern established by congas, at once evokes this timbric combination in the floreos of the traditional seis (Recorded Ex. 1) and the descargas in salsa (Quintero Rivera 1998: 358).

The younger Roberto Sierra (b. 1953), while retaining references to traditional music, uses them in extremely distilled forms and as purely compositional materials in a manner reminiscent of some of Alberto Ginastera’s (1916–83) abstract works. Sierra’s opera El mensajero de plata (1985, premiered in 1986) is an example of this type of assimilation. A close identification with the international avant-garde is evident in the music of Rafael Aponte-Ledée (b. 1938) and Francis Schwartz (b. 1940). Characteristic of Aponte-Ledée’s aesthetics are Streptomycine for chamber ensemble (1969) and Impulsos for orchestra (1967). The work of Francis Schwartz is overtly experimental, often incorporating the participation of concert audiences. In scope, his works range from pieces for solo guitar, such as Fantasías amazónicas (1979), to the “musicalization” of an entire university campus involving hundreds of participants as well as international telephonic communication in Cosmos (1980). The most versatile composer active in Puerto Rico in the early twenty-first century is Raymond Torres Santos (Db. 1958), whose extensive catalog represents contributions to a great variety of genres and media. His vast output comprises works for solo instruments, choral and chamber music, popular songs, film scores, and symphonic poems, as well as electronic and computer music. The coexistence of oral and written modalities of discourse as processes once associated with specific social groups in compositions from the last three decades,

relativizes thematicism and, by subverting the masterstory, is antithetical to the construction of national myths. It is not so much an accumulation of texts as the process whereby texts are written; a process of repeated combinations, of shufflings and reshufflings ruled by heterogeneity and difference … Its cumulative function is semiotic [only insofar as] sorting out the vestiges of previous mediations and displaying them” (González Echevarría 1998: 24, 175).



One of the earliest institutions to sponsor musical activities in Puerto Rico was the Sociedad Filarmónica, founded in 1823 and reorganized in 1845 by Alejandro Tapia y Rivera. San Juan’s Teatro Municipal (now called Teatro Tapia), with 800 capacity, was inaugurated in 1832 and since that time has served almost continuously as an important site of concert, opera, and ballet performances (Pasarell 1951–67). The Ateneo Puertorriquefio, founded in 1876, sustained visits by performers of international Stature throughout the first half of the twentieth century and stimulated composition through competitions held as part of its Festival de Navidad. The Universidad de Puerto Rico’s theater, which seats 2,400, was for many years the only space available for large-scale opera productions until the 1981 opening of a new governmental Centro de Bellas Artes whose three theaters offer facilities for all kinds of large and small productions of plays, ballets, operas, and concerts. The La Perla Theater, located in the island’s second largest city of Ponce, is also the site of many musical and theatrical activities. Within recent years, the theaters of some of the island’s university campuses (at Humacao, Bayamón, Ponce, and Arecibo in particular), have been used as concert halls. In addition to concerts held at universities by local and touring artists, the privately financed Sociedad Pro Arte Musical, established in 1932, organizes a vigorous annual series of concerts and solo recitals.

The Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, one of the initiatives of Governor Luis Muñoz Marín (1898-1980), was founded in 1955. Since then, it has engaged in ambitious programs of preservation, research, dissemination, and promotion of the island’s arts, history, and literature. It has encouraged the publication of works by local composers and sponsors performances and recordings of traditional and academic music. The Institute’s music section offers a weekly concert series and also organizes special events, among them the Semana de la Danza, the Jornadas Musicales de América y España, and the Fiesta de la Música Puertorriqueña that has invigorated the art of the trovadores through competitions and concerts of jíbaro music. Since 1987 the Instituto also sponsors the publication of the Revista Musical Puertorriqueña.


Elementary and intermediate musical training is provided in the studios of innumerable private teachers and in music stores throughout Puerto Rico, with some general instruction also offered through the public school system. The Escuelas Libres de Musica, a network of junior conservatories founded in 1948, offer more specialized instruction at the secondary school level. The Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in Hato Rey, which opened its doors in 1960, is one of the most prestigious institutions for the training of professional musicians.

University-level programs in music are offered at the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico in San Germán, at the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, and at the Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico in Ponce. To a high degree, professional musicians who pursue careers in the fields of popular or academic music are products of one or another of these institutions of postsecondary training. These academic programs maintain student or studentfaculty performance ensembles; in addition, the universities also sponsor concerts by island-based and touring artists that include traditional music ensembles and dance groups.

Professional ensembles

The Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico was founded in 1958 and several stable chamber ensembles have been formed by instrumentalists associated with it. The Coro Filarmónico de San Juan is one of the most prestigious. The Banda Sinfónica de Puerto Rico, created in 1964 and conducted by Jack Holland and Donald Thompson, brought together the best musicians on the island. This initiative was followed by the establishment of the Banda de Puerto Rico (1966), whose first director was Ralph Sánchez. Established dance companies range from the emphasis on folk traditions of the Areyto group to the varied repertoires of the Ballets de San Juan and Ballet Concierto companies. A number of long-standing traditional music ensembles, such as the Grupo Mapeyé and Ecos de Borinquen, both founded in 1978, with their iconic counterparts in the Ayala and Cepeda family-based groups performing plena and bomba, have assumed the character of institutions sustaining the transmission of valued oral traditions at home and abroad.

Puerto Rico’s long tradition of opera performances began—as in Buenos Aires (1825) and Mexico City (1627)—with an 1835 San Juan performance of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, followed in 1842 by the Italian company of Stefano Busatti that also brought the Catalonian tenor Félix Astol y Artés to the island. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Teatro Municipal in San Juan and La Perla in Ponce offered opera seasons. Notable in the twentieth century were the initiatives of the Sociedad Pro Arte Musical, which sponsored the D’Andria company for the 1940–41 seasons; the short-lived Círculo de la Ópera in the 1950s; the 1954–58 seasons organized by Alfredo Matilla and José Gueits under the sponsorship of the Universidad de Puerto Rico, with soloists and instrumentalists from New York’s Metropolitan Opera House and the Coro de la Universidad de Puerto Rico; Ópera 68, a company founded in 1968 by soprano Camelia Ortiz de Rivero that premiered Felipe Gutiérrez y Espinosa’s Macías (1871) in 1977; the Ópera de Puerto Rico group, created in 1971 at the initiative of Alfredo Matilla and Manuel Fernández Cortines that brought stellar singers; the Teatro de la Ópera company that presented seasons with guest artists and local talent; and the Agrupación Puertorriqueña de Teatro Lirico (APTEL), created in 1973 and directed by tenor Jesús Quiñones Ledesma, which organized concert performances. More recently, the opera workshop of the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico has added 20th-century works to the standard repertoire. The Ópera de Cámara, created in 1977 by Luis Pereira under the umbrella of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña and sustained mostly by private funding thereafter, pioneered the production of foreign operas in Spanish and brought lyric theater to cultural centers throughout the island. One of the most important productions undertaken by this group was the 1986 première of Roberto Sierra’s El mensajero de plata (Campos Parsi 2001: 985–86).

The popularity of zarzuelas in Puerto Rico was challenged only when sound film displaced them as a favorite type of entertainment in the I940s. The first professional company arrived in 1857 and, from 1861 until 1895, Spanish and Cuban groups presented an average of four zarzuelas per year. Those staged during this period included works by Spanish composers on Puerto Rican themes as well as zarzuelas by Puerto Rican composers, among them Don Mamerto (1881) by Juan Morel Campos. Since 1898, when the Compañía Puertorriqueña de Zarzuela Artística Juvenil presented its first performance, a number of local companies kept the tradition alive and continued to stage works by Puerto Ricans. Among the most recent are the Fundación de Zarzuela y Opereta, created by Elsa Rivera Salgado, Ignacio Morales Nieva, and Rosalía Gutiérrez in 1972, which is presently known as Fundación Lírico-Teatral “Elsa Rivera Salgado” and staged its first production in 1973; the Teatro Lírico group founded by Cuban baritone Pedro Gómez that performed less familiar works and premiered El juramento by Puerto Rican Manuel González in 1991; and the Teatro del Sesenta company that, in 1990, produced a play on the popular subject of Cofresí with incidental music by Pedro Rivera Toledo (Campos Parsi 2001: 986–87).

One of the most powerful forces in the musical life of the island was the presence of Pablo Casals (1876–1973), whose mother was born in Mayagüez. Among Casals’ students in Prades in the 1950s was young Marta Montañez, a talented cellist and member of a Puerto Rican musical family. This fact, added to Casals’ desire to visit his mother’s birthplace, brought the legendary Catalonian cellist to Puerto Rico from December 1955 to March 1956 and resulted in two events of the greatest importance: his marriage to Marta Montañez in 1957, and the establishment of his home in Puerto Rico. Beginning in 1957, San Juan would serve as the hub of a new series of endeavors to which Casals would devote the rest of his long life with characteristic energy and dedication. In 1957 he launched the Puerto Rico Casals Festival with the help of the Russian-born violinist Alexander Schneider (1908–93)—first violinist of the famed Budapest Quartet and founder of the Albeneri Trio and Schneider Quartet—who took charge of organizing the Casals festivals in both Prades and Puerto Rico. Initially sponsored by a group of Casals’ admirers, the festival was taken over soon thereafter by a government branch specifically charged with its management. In addition to attracting prominent artists and a flow of music lovers, this annual festival also sponsored grants for young musicians who performed in a separate series within this stimulating context. Among Casals’ other contributions were the creation of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra in 1958, and the establishment of the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in 1960 (Thompson 2002: 106–108). Marta Montañez, now Marta Casals Istomin, proceeded to play a prominent role in the musical life of the United States, first as artistic director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (1980–90) in Washington, D.C., and most recently as president of the Manhattan School of Music in New York (1992–2005).

Music and state

since 1952 the Commonwealth government has pursued a vigorous cultural policy that supports and promotes the island’s cultural wealth. This conforms to models established elsewhere in Latin America and differs radically from the United States, one of the few countries in the world opposed to establishing a national cultural policy. State-sponsored policies can be traced back to the enlightened governorship of Rexford Tugwell (1941–46), the last U.S.-appointed official who favored self-governance and called for the elections won in 1948 by Luis Muñoz Marín.

In the late 1940s, and partly to counterbalance some of the stressful effects of its program of industrial development (called “Operation Bootstrap” for promotional purposes), the insular government began to conceive and sponsor programs designed to enrich and help stabilize the lives of a mainly rural population migrating in massive numbers to urban centers. The umbrella term, “Operation Serenity,” later came to be applied to these programs. In 1946, during Rexford Tugwell’s final year as U.S.-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, a Division of Community Education was created and later became an important source of commissions for film music (Thompson 2005). The Escuelas Libres de Música opened at three island locations in 1948. An educational radio station commenced operations in 1949 and acquired a television section in 1955. Three influential institutions were created in rapid succession: the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (1955), the new Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico (1958), and the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico (1960), which maintains its own orchestra. The Administración para el Fomento de las Artes y la Cultura (AFAC) was created in 1980 to manage the orchestra and conservatory, as well as other governmental initiatives in the arts, and was succeeded in 1985 by the Corporación de las Artes Musicales (CAM). At that time, the management of the Centro de Bellas Artes, which had opened in 1981, was transferred from the Administración para el Fomento de las Artes y la Cultura to the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña.

Several influential agencies of the Commonwealth government regularly sponsor concert series, music festivals, recordings, films, and the production of educational videotapes on aspects of Puerto Rican musical culture. The two largest agencies are the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña and the Corporación de las Artes Musicales. Support for many of these activities and projects is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which are programs of the U.S. government.

Creativity and composition

The Commonwealth government commissions the composition of new music through a number of its arts agencies. In addition, commissions occasionally are extended by individual music patrons, by such special organizations as the San Juan-based Fundación Latinoamericana para la Música Contemporánea, by banks, and by other commercial establishments. Together, all of these factors account for a flow of newly commissioned music for symphony orchestra, chamber ensemble, ballet, and, in one recent case, an opera (El mensajero de plata [1985] by Roberto Sierra). Composition of a high order of skill also is found in the creation of “jingles” for Puerto Rico’s sophisticated advertising businesses. In addition, the island’s composers and arrangers of popular music find work in the preparation of new pieces for salsa bands, dance orchestras, recording orchestras, and as vehicles for television and nightclub performers. There is considerable “crossover” between the various professional fields of music-making in Puerto Rico.

Preservation and research

The Archivo General de Puerto Rico, located in metropolitan San Juan, with more than 5,000 manuscripts and published editions, is a prime repository of music by island composers (Thompson 1986). Other important collections of music materials are found at the Biblioteca de Música of the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras (with 30,000 items of various kinds), at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in Hato Rey, and in private hands (Dower 1977). The Museo “Pablo Casals” in Old San Juan, a subsidiary of the Corporación de las Artes Musicales, maintains a collection of videotapes and other materials connected with the Puerto Rico Casals festivals held annually since 1957.

The principal research facility for music and related subjects in Puerto Rico is the library system of the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, principally the Music Library, the Puerto Rican Collection, the Caribbean Regional Library, and the Latin American Collection of the Biblioteca General “José Lázaro.” Other repositories, of less general accessibility and mainly useful for specialized research, include the Archivo General de Puerto Rico at Puerta de Tierra, the Archivo Histórico of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Juan, and the San Juan Cathedral archive.

Music and Media

Radio reached Puerto Rico in 1922. In 1985 Puerto Rico was being entertained by 23 television stations, 54 AM radio stations, and 36 FM radio stations, a total that probably has increased since these figures were reported (Toro Sugrañes 1985). In addition, the island is saturated with television broadcasts from the United States via cable and satellite links. The music disseminated through these commercial channels is aligned with the same general types heard on the continent, but the island stations place greater emphasis on “Latin” music. This includes an entire range of styles, from boleros and love songs of the 1930s to salsa, Latin rock, and Latin disco of more recent vintage.

Noncommercial stations include the Commonwealth government’s radio and television facilities at San Juan and Mayagüez, the Universidad de Puerto Rico FM station at Río Piedras, the radio station of the Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico at Ponce, and the television station of the Fundación “Ana G. Méndez,” whose facilities of higher education include the Universidad Metropolitana (San Juan) and other institutions at different island locations. These noncommercial stations often broadcast concert music, jazz, and traditional music from Puerto Rico and elsewhere, as well as educational programs dealing with specific repertoires. The Universidad de Puerto Rico station, for example, dedicates some eight to ten hours daily to these types of programs.


Three epochs define the island’s history after Europeans wrested Boriquén from its native population of Arawakan-affiliated Taínos: from Columbus’ arrival in 1493 and the beginning of Spanish colonization by Juan Ponce de León in 1508, until 1898, when Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States; an uncertain half a century marked by social change and renewed steps toward selfdetermination up to 1952, when the island negotiated commonwealth status; and from 1952 to the present, a period of reaffirmation of identity on several expressive fronts that also shifted values and repositioned the heritage of marginalized African descendants at the center of a “revolution in Puerto Rican musical culture that… both modernized the traditional vernacular forms of bomba and plena and at the same time forcefully reestablished their African and working-class roots …, infusing modern-day salsa in its formative period of the 1970s” (Flores 2004a: 1–2). Although Puerto Rico never has been fully independent, the establishment of the Commonwealth appears to have triggered cultural responses of comparable strength to those in island-nations, circumventing the ambiguity of internal politics on the unresolved question of permanent status that no longer appears to support independence as an option. Although in the early twenty-first century the population appears to be divided almost evenly between commonwealth and Statehood supporters, with a small fraction still actively seeking independence, the complex forces at play have continued to sustain the commonwealth status.

During the early centuries of Spanish colonization, the island was no more than a strategically placed possession over which European empires occasionally struggled, as well as a pawn in the larger quest for power and riches that the island could not offer. When gold deposits were exhausted in the early 1530s, settlers turned to a subsistence economy. Sugar was introduced in 1512 and the first mill operated until 1523, but production could not compete in the international market, causing landowners to switch first to ginger, then to tobacco and cacao in the seventeenth century, and to coffee in 1736, which did not acquire importance until the nineteenth century (Briggs Kent 1996: IV, 493). By comparison with non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands, the sugar plantation system in Puerto Rico was established relatively late, between 1795 and 1850 (West-Durán 2003: 159).

Spanish governance did not become stabilized until 1564, when the island’s status was raised to a captaincy and ruled by a captain-general, by which time the native Taíno population virtually had been eradicated by forced labor, diseases, and rebellions. san Juan was occupied and burned twice, first by the English in 1598, and later by the Dutch in 1625, a siege that compelled the Spanish Crown to fortify the city and build the famous wall around “Old” San Juan, which was not completed until the end of the eighteenth century (Briggs Kent 1996: IV, 493). In addition, trade was affected intermittently by pervasive contraband, one of the conclusions reached by Field Marshal Alejandro O’Reilly, who was sent to Puerto Rico by the Bourbon king Charles III to assess military defenses in 1765, but also reported on the precarious living conditions of the island’s population, which he divided into free (blacks and whites, 39,846) and enslaved (5,037) persons (Briggs Kent 1996: IV, 494).

The weakening of the Spanish Empire after the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808 and the first declarations of independence led by Venezuela in 1811 fueled what can be considered Puerto Rico’s first attempt at self-determination. An emerging creole nationalism forced a temporary end to the unlimited powers of governors and Spain created for Puerto Rico a separate intendancy, appointing Alejandro Ramirez y Blanco to the post. With unqualified success, he turned the island into a self-sufficient colony between 1811 and 1816 by reforming the tax and trade systems (Briggs Kent 1996: IV, 494). The Spanish Crown acknowledged his accomplishment by liberalizing immigration, taxation, trade, and naturalization laws through the Real Cédula de Gracias issued by Ferdinand VII in 1815, which subsequently enabled the first U.S. incursion into Puerto Rican politics (1819). Although the young United States had been importing sugar intermittently since the late eighteenth century, the Real Cédula of 1815 made possible a permanent trade treaty (1819) whereby the United States secured the right to purchase most of the island’s sugar. Under these circumstances, the first U.S. official envoy, John Warner, visited the island and, according to historian Jacquelyn Briggs Kent, “U.S. Government officials began to talk of the value of the island to their country” (loc. cit.). (It is interesting to note that the United States considered annexation of the Dominican Republic in 1869, but the measure failed in the U.S. Senate by one vote.)

The factions that would become the autonomist, annexionist, and separatist political parties in twentieth-century Puerto Rico under U.S. control were foreshadowed in the early nineteenth century under Spanish dominion, when migrations of spanish loyalists fleeing the newly independent Spanish-speaking American nations began to swell the ranks of colonialists in Puerto Rico, while others took autonomist or annexionist positions, and a third group continued favoring independence. As the wars of South American independence raged, Spain also rescinded its short-lived liberalizing policies and restored controlling measures that fueled greater unrest met Dy increased repression. Puerto Rican creoles, united in their quest for self-determination but divided between autonomists and separatists, fueled the internal forces driving events during the tumultuous nineteenth century. Slave revolts starting in 1822 were quelled by executions, and one of the responses to unrest was the establishment of an Audiencia de San Juan in 1831 that could administer justice at the local level. Puerto Rico, with Cuba and the Philippines, lost its creole representation in spanish Parliament between 1837 and 1864, and the 1538 civilian uprising in San Juan led to persecution of its leaders, among them Ramón Emeterio Betances (1827–98), a noted Puerto Rican abolitionist and revolutionary who spent most of his life in exile. In 1867 he organized a rebellion that, under the military command of Manuel Rojas, took the town of Lares on september 23, 1868, and declared Puerto Rico’s independence. Its proclamation, the “Grito de Lares,” became “the symbol of independence ..  under both Spanish and United States sovereignty” (Briggs Kent 1996: IV, 494). Although this rebellion was quelled easily, some of its consequences were the establishment of a provincial government and the creation of the first political parties in 1870, followed by abolition of slavery in 1873 and the formation of the Autonomist Party in 1887. These measures strengthened the move toward autonomous status under Spanish sovereignty that was about to materialize in 1898, when the Spanish-American War erupted at the eleventh hour to disrupt the assumption of office by Autonomist Party leader Luis Mufioz Rivera (1859–1916), the first elected governor-general under the Autonomic Charter who held the post for less than six months. As Antonio S. Pedreira put it in Insularismo (1934: 168 cited in Flores 1993: 20), “Just aS we were preparing for the jubilant cry of ‘Fatherland in view,’ a warlike hand smashed our rudder to pieces, leaving our ship adrift at sea.” Thus, a conflict triggered at the surface level by a dispute over Cuba, rather than Puerto Rico or the Philippines, affected the political destinies of all three former Spanish possessions when American “liberation” turned into an exchange of control under the unilateral terms of the Treaty of Paris dated December 10, 1898, and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1899.

With Puerto Rico under U.S. sovereignty, Luis Muñoz Rivera continued to fight for another version of the autonomous cause. In 1899 he founded the Federalist Party (Partido Federal Americano) and, as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, D.C. (1910–16), he played a crucial role in drafting the jones Act (1917) that granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and a bill or rights. A poet and journalist, he was also the father of Luis Muñoz Marín(1898–1980), who was born only a few months before his father’s hopes were crashed by the SpanishAmerican War. As the charismatic figure who dominated Puerto Rican politics for over three decades, Muñoz Marín stands as the architect of significant social and economic reforms from the 1940s onward, and as the first governor elected by Puerto Ricans. During his four consecutive terms in office (1948–64), he also proved to be an active supporter of the arts by galvanizing the creation of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña in 1955, stabilizing the infrastructure of the Casals Festival that the famous Catalonian cellist had instituted in 1957, and facilitating the establishment of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico in 1958 as well as the foundation of the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in 1960 (Thompson 2002: 106–108). It was also on his watch that the island negotiated commonweaith status in 1952.

The early years of U.S. occupation were arduous and fraught with problems of administrative incompetence, cultural incompatibility, and economic inequality. Neither the military governments installed after 1898 nor the civilian governors and officers of the court who were appointed by the U.S. president after the U.S. Congress passed the unpopular Foraker Act of 1900 appeared to have been enlightened (Briggs Kent 1996: IV, 495). To add insult to injury, the Foraker Act provided for a locally elected Chamber of Deputies, but the U.S. reserved the right to override any legislation passed by this Cámara de Diputados. Language was and continues to be a strongly divisive and symbolic issue, beginning with a 1902 law that equalized Spanish and English as official languages of the island, and continuing with vigorous attempts by U.S. governments to impose English as the language of instruction until 1930. Met by strong resistance, this policy evolved into a bilingual solution, with Spanish as the basic school language. The hotly debated issue of official language remains unsettled, with a pro-commonwealth government passing legislation that established Spanish as the official language in 1991, and a pro-statehood government restoring the equal status of Spanish and English in 1993.

The socioeconomic conditions under U.S. administration were equally detrimental to the island. Between 1900 and 1930, for instance, the distribution of wealth went from a somewhat ethnically diversified agricultural economy with low absentee ownership (7 percent), to the concentration of over half of the island’s wealth into three absentee sugar corporations (59 percent) (Briggs Kent 1996: IV, 495). These factors and the effects of the Depression fueled new efforts at independence by the Nationalist Party (founded in 1922) and its then leader Pedro Albizu Campos (1891–1965), the emblem of separatism in the twentieth century whose life tells a story of uncompromising tenacity by the Ponce-born and highly educated illegitimate son of a black mother and white father. While at Harvard pursuing a law degree on scholarship, his studies were interrupted by the draft, an obligation attached to U.S. citizenship since the Jones Act of 1917 that he fulfilled as a member of a segregated regiment. In the 1920s he reenergized the question of colonial power among Latin American leaders, and by then he had committed himself to ending U.S. domination through the use of force, a stance that kept him in and out of prison for the remainder of his life. One of the pivotal events was the 1936 retaliatory murder of a U.S. chief of police by a paramilitary arm of Albizu Campos’ Nationalist Party of which he was accused, resulting in his conviction and imprisonment for sedition. This triggered a protest in Ponce by his Nationalist Party members in 1937 that turned violent from a combination of defiant behavior and excessive police force (Martínez Vergne 1996: I, 42). Known as the “Ponce Massacre,” this demonstration carried special significance because, with the leader’s imprisonment, the hopes of the Nationalist Party also faded, while the Popular Democratic Party founded by Luis Muñoz Marín in 1938 proposing social reforms and industrialization under U.S. sovereignty emerged as the thriving force that was to dominate Puerto Rican politics for the next three decades.

In this climate of urgency for a resolution to the still unsettled question of Puerto Rico’s political destiny, an enlightened U.S.-appointed governor of Puerto Rico switched the balance of power at a crucial juncture in the island’s 2oth-century history. Rexford Tugwell (1891–1979), a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s inner circle who went on to occupy prominent positions in U.S. government and was the last federally appointed governor of Puerto Rico (1941–46), supported self-determination for the island and called for the local election of governors. This election, held in 1948, was won by Luis Muñoz Marín, a writer like his father and an ardent supporter of independence in his youth who later favored the retention of U.S. involvement to implement social and economic reforms. In addition to founding the Popular Democratic Party in 1938, he became president of Puerto Rico’s Senate in 1941 and, in this capacity, launched a series of vigorous measures to reform land tenancy, protect natural resources, improve transportation, and, most of all, focus on education (Fleming 1996: IV, 134). After Muñoz Marín took office as governor in 1949, the events leading to the establishment of the Commonwealth followed in rapid succession. In 1950 the U.S. Congress passed Public Law Goo, calling for a referendum to place the choice between commonwealth status or independence in the hands of Puerto Ricans and, on July 25, 1952, Muñoz Marín declared Puerto Rico an Estado Libre Asociado that would be governed by the United States-Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act, granting the island full autonomy in internal affairs while sharing currency, defense, market, and citizenship rights with the United States (Briggs Kent 1996: IV, 496). In 1953 the United Nations changed its classification of Puerto Rico to self-governing territory and the island still retains this rank, although its political status continues to be debated in international forums. Although plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998 have continued to maintain the commonwealth status, the results of these referenda are not binding because, according to the U.S. Constitution, the ultimate governing authority rests with the U.S.
Congress and president. The futility of the exercise played itself out in the 1998 plebiscite, which was held under the control of a pro-statehood government and in the context of profoundly divisive events commemorating the first centennial of the U.S. invasion. Intended to manipulate results by dividing the pro-commonwealth vote, five options were listed on the ballot: commonwealth as it stands; revised commonwealth with rights to binding vote; statehood; independence; and what Juan Flores has called “the famous fifth option,” “none of the above,” which subverted results by gaining a majority with 50.2 percent of the vote. While each of the defeated factions claimed its own version of victory, the “hegemony [continues to be] maintained, and challenged, largely in the cultural field” (Flores 2000: 222–23). In “The Puerto Rican Paradox: Colonialism Revisited,” Emilio Pantojas-García writes:

The fact is that there is an ambivalence among Puerto Ricans vis-à-vis the United States, and among Americans vis-à-vis Puerto Rico … Thus, the Puerto Rican status question is caught in a quagmire: neither independence nor statehood with Spanish as the main language (“Creole statehood”) is acceptable. Therefore commonwealth lingers on as the only viable—albeit less optimal—alternative (2005: 165).



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Homenaje a Maso Rivera, vol. 1 in Homenaje a los maestros del cuatro, featuring performances of Maso Rivera’s works by cuatrista Edwin Colón Zayas with Bill Colón Zayas (guitar), Jaime Colón (bongó, maracas, bombo legüero, and percusión de zambas), Nelson Cintrón (congas), Neftali Ortiz (güiro), and Richard Ríos (timbal). Produced by Edwin Colón Zayas and Zuleica Sella Juarbe. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades; Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Humanities, 2 CDs, ECZ 2002-001MR (2002).

“Jíbaro hasta el hueso”: Mountain music of Puerto Rico by Ecos de Borinquen, produced by Héctor Vega Drouet and Daniel Sheehy, with liner notes by Daniel Sheehy. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, SFW CD 40506 (2003).

Para todos ustedes: Bomba y plena desde Nueva York featuring Los Pleneros de la 21, produced by Juan Gutiérrez and John Santos, with liner notes by Raquel Z. Rivera and Juan Gutiérrez. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW CD 40519 (2005).

Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, mi tierra natal, with performances by the Conjunto Melodia Tropical and Los Pleneros de la 21, with liner notes by Morton Marks. 1 CD, Shanachie SH-G5001 (1989).

Viento de agua unplugged: Materia prima, produced by Héctor “Tito” Matos and Daniel Sheehy, with liner notes by Juan Flores, Daniel Sheehy, and Héctor “Tito” Matos. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW CD 40513 (2004).



Plena, canto y trabajo / Plena is work, plena is song. 1 videocassette produced by Pedro Ángel Rivera and Susan Zeig. New York: Hunter College, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, City University of New York—Cinema Guild (1989).



1. Traditional seis con décimas. Four improvised décimas on the fixed last verse, “Nuestra tradición cristiana,” sung by trovador Juan Pablo Rosario with the Grupo Mapeyé, in Mapeyé… sabe a tradición, produced by José A. Rivera. 1 LP, Producciones Mapeyé. Used by permission from the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña.

2. “Descarga Maso” in Homenaje a Maso Rivera, vol. 1 in Homenaje a tos maestros del cuatro featuring performances of Maso Rivera’s works by cuatrista Edwin Colón Zayas with Bill Colón Zayas (guitar), Jaime Colón (bongó, maracas, bombo legüero, and percusión de zambas), Nelson Cintrón (congas), Neftali Ortiz (güiro), and Richard Ríos (timbal). Produced by Edwin Colón Zayas and Zuleica Sella Juarbe. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades; Washington. D.C.: National Endowment for the Humanities, 2 CDs, ECZ 2002-001IMR (2002). Used by permission from Edwin Colón Zayas.

3: “Cucú,” a recreation of traditional bomba composed by Rafael Cepeda that juxtaposes the güembé and holandé drumming patterns, in Viento de Agua: Materia prima unplugged, featuring Viento de Agua with Tito Matos on the primo and singer Sammy Tanco. Produced by Héctor “Tito” Matos and Daniel Sheehy, with liner notes by Juan Flores, Daniel Sheehy, and Héctor “Tito” Matos. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW CD 40513 (2004). Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, © 2004. Used by permission.

4. “Vano empeño,” danza for piano by Juan Morel Campos, in Danzas de Morel Campos interpretadas al piano por Sanromá, vol. 4 in Antología de la danza puertorriqueña. LP, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña AD15. Used by permission from the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña.

5. “El León,” a classic of the traditional plena repertoire, as recreated by Tito Matos with his Viento de Agua group, in Viento de Agua: Materia prima unplugged, produced by Héctor “Tito” Matos and Daniel Sheehy, with liner notes by Juan Flores, Daniel Sheehy, and Héctor “Tito” Matos.
C.: Folkways Recordings SFW CD 40513 (2004). Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, © 2004. Used by permission.