Puerto Rican Music and Its Significance
Although the policies of Americanization and degradation of Puerto Rican culture heritage improved by the United States in Puerto Rico during the early decades of the twentieth century, the utmost concern for the United States was the strategic location of the island for political and economic advantages, not of the people who inhabited it. Puerto Rico, though a poor colony, was a rich cultural spot in an area of dynamic cultural influence of the Caribbean. One aspect of the Puerto Rican culture that was greatly influenced by its location in the Caribbean and by its repossession by the United States is music. Music permeated the daily life of Puerto Ricans (Waxer, Oct. 29). Music was the means of bring Puerto Rican culture to the Diaspora, of establishing social relationships and uniting classes and of understanding and expressing the Puerto Rican history and identity.
Music reflected the political, social, and cultural changes that occurred on the island (Glasser, 1995). As the island became inhabited by other populations and as the Puerto Ricans moved from coast to inland to coast, they took their music with them, adapting and creating as part of their own, the influences of those encountered in their journey and experiences. The three traditional forms of Puerto Rican music created from these experiences are the bomba, the plena, and the danza. The bomba began as a synthesis of musical forms by migrant workers and slaves; slave music which developed on the sugar plantations in the nineteenth century. This music was played on barrels and drums, for which it is named. The use of drums, a great African influence, was often looked upon suspiciously though, by the Spanish. The Spanish were fearful of slave revolts and as a result of their fear, the drums were outlawed because their playing and their sounds were thought to signal hidden messages of plans for revolt. Thus the bomba became known as "talking drums" (Glasser, 1995).
The plena, another typical form of Puerto Rican music, was considered the singing newspaper. It was developed at the turn of the century by a lower class mulato population (made up of Puerto Rican freed slaves and migrants from the English Antilles) on the coast. Themes for the music came from the idiosyncrasies and normalcies of daily life, and was incorporated through a narrative verse taken from the Spanish music culture through "call and response". Call and response, another African influence, is a component of traditional African musical expression in which a phrase is sung (chanted by part of a group of people and that phrase is responded to by a refrain by the other part of the group. Call and response is a component of the bomba, the plena, and the danza and still exists today as an important ingredient of Puerto Rican music. It facilitates dialogue, and encourages a sense of community by enabling more people to join in, which then closes the gaps...