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Puerto Rican Music As Representation Of Their History And Culture

1397 words - 6 pages

Puerto Rican Music as Representation of Their History and Culture


Puerto Rican music is an evolving art form that expresses Puerto Rican culture and identity. The development of Puerto Rican music is also a reflection of their history, both being complicated by several layers. Social, political, and economic conditions are all related to the musical expressions of Puerto Ricans (Glasser, 8). Puerto Rican migration to the United States and the culture clash experienced by migrants is another layer complicating the evolution of Puerto Rican music (Glasser, 199). Musical expression has been affected by every aspect of life for the Puerto Ricans and therefore is an illustration of the Puerto Rican experience.

Economic conditions in Puerto Rico have had great effects on musicians struggling to survive on the island. During the nineteenth century, sugar production was the islands main export crop. African slaves working on sugar plantations have greatly contributed to the multicultural bomba (Glasser, 19). The bomba is a musical form, named after the featured drum, with polyrythmic interlocking patterns and call-and-response interaction between drummers and dancers (Waxer, 11/15/98). Instruments were also developing with access to new materials. Africans created the marímbula, a descendent of the mbira, or thumb piano.5 After hacendados gained legal support of the government, small farmers were forced off their land and became plantation laborers working side by side with African slaves (Glasser, 19). The plena developed out of this interaction as a musical form representative of the lower, mostly mulato population (Glasser, 21) The plena being a descendent from the bomba also featured African percussion styles and call-and-response (Glasser, 22). These Afro-Puerto Rican styles were stigmatized due to the racial and class implications of musical production in Puerto Rico.

One musical form excepted by the upper class is the danza. This form was considered European and was claimed by the upper class as the primary national music of Puerto Rico as an act of protest against Spain; The danza was initially view as a hybrid musical form,

"But with the growth of nationalist sentiment, the 'invasion' of Cuban and North American dance forms, the growing presence of Afro-Puerto Rican popular music from 'below', by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the upper classes had positively sanctified the danza as the national music of Puerto Rico. Overtime and in defensive reaction to rapid social, economic, and political change, the danza became a potent national symbol" (Glasser, 195).

The irony of the elite's claim to the danza is that the musical profession was not considered a respectable occupation and was therefore only practiced by mulatos or negritos, mainly of the working class (Glasser, 58).It was common for Puerto Ricans of color to perform for white-only establishments (Glasser, 58)

For mulatos and negritos, music was a...

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