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Puerto Rico music is rich in history and diversity. After all, how many cultures can say they have created so many lasting musical styles? In Puerto Rico’s case: Salsa, Danza, Bomba, Plena, and Reggaeton. The musical genres are the result of time and the mix of cultures over the centuries.
Bomba and plena are often talked about together, although they are two distinctly different musical styles. While similar in that they are percussion driven and are driven by the African heritage of Puerto Rico, they are in fact distinguished by the rhythm, lyrics and instruments.
Bomba dates back to the early European colonial period in Puerto Rico. It comes out of the musical traditions brought by enslaved Africans in the 17th century. To them, bomba music was a source of political and spiritual expression. The lyrics conveyed a sense of anger and sadness about their condition, and songs served as a catalyst for rebellions and uprisings. But bomba also moved them to dance and celebrate, helping them create community and identity. The music evolved through contact between slave populations from different Caribbean colonies and regions, including the Dutch colonies, Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Haití. As a result, bomba now has sixteen different rhythms. The rhythms mark the pace of the singing and dance. Bomba instruments include the subidor or primo (bomba barrel or drum), maracas, and the cuá or fuá, two sticks played against the wood of the barrels or another piece of wood.
Plena developed from bomba music around the beginning of the 20th century in southern Puerto Rico. Plena lyrics are narrative. They convey a story about events, address topical themes, often comment on political protest movements, and offer satirical commentaries. Plena has only one basic rhythm, in contrast to bomba´s sixteen rhythms. Plena instrumentation has changed greatly over the years, but the one indispensable and defining element is the pandereta, a round hand drum that comes in different sizes. In its quintessential form, plena is an informal, unpretentious, simple folksong genre, in which alternating verses and refrains are sung to the accompaniment of the pandereta.
There are many videos to be found on You Tube of both vintage and modern bomberos and pleneros! Check them out.
Thanks to the following websites for sourcing information: