Puerto Rican Music in the United States
Music has always been a pervasive symbol of identity. It is a mode of expression that crosses gender, ethnicity and age. One need not understand the lyrics to identify with a musical genre; identification can be found through rhythm, tone of music, as well as other techniques in the music, unrelated to words. For example, most operas are in Italian and obviously everyone that attends an opera, does not speak or understand Italian. However, the audience is moved by the emotion conveyed through tone, facial expressions, and beat of the music. I believe this is relevant to the situation of Puerto Rican forms of music, and its success when Puerto Rican musicians migrated to the United States. Original forms had to be adopted to become popular in the United States, often assuming a heavier dance beat, but when the songs and musicians did become popular, it was not because a majority of Americans understood the lyrics in Spanish. For Americans, it was because the music provided lively background entertainment. However, for the Puerto Ricans, it meant much more. The music symbolized their background and struggles, what it means to be Puerto Rican.
In New York, Puerto Rican musical traditions evolved in accordance with societal change. This was necessary in a society, as Glasser describes “where Puerto Ricans lived among a constellation of constantly changing ethnic groups within a protean social environment”(Glasser, 7). In Puerto Rico there are diverse groups, with different traditions of politics, economics, and music. When Puerto Ricans migrate to the United States, they unite under an identity as “Puerto Ricans” but there is still diversity within. Furthermore, I believe it is the Americans who group them as Puerto Ricans and thusly the identity is assumed. There are the elite, middle class, working class, and poverty stricken, who occupy various parts of the social hierarchy in Puerto Rico and the experiences brought to the U.S. are different for each group.
There are three traditional Puerto Rican musical styles. They are the danza, bomba, and plena. The danza is an elegant, courtly dance, mainly enjoyed by white European culture in Puerto Rico. The bomba and plena, conversely, are sensual Afro-Puerto Rican styles. The bomba developed in 19th century on sugar plantations, contributing to its being termed slave music. It was practiced in coastal regions such as Mayaguez and Ponce, and has strong bass drums lending to the percussive tradition. The plena was developed at the turn of the 20th century in poorer neighborhoods, originating in Ponce. The style, though developed by black immigrants from Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands, also has European elements. The plena is a faster beat than the bomba and both have a call and response method. There is a leader in the chorus and the song is a dialogue creating a basis for social interaction and relationships to develop (Oct. 29: Prof. Lise Waxer). ...