DESCRIPTION

Though Puerto Rican music is often closely associated with Cuba, whose music dominated the Hispanic Caribbean in the mid-twentieth century, it has a distinct history and flavor of its own. The original Puerto Rican folk style was known as jibaro music, named after poor ranchers and farmers who came to develop coffee plantations in the mountainous interior, who infused their music with elements of Spanish folk tunes and European popular music. On the island’s coastal plantations, slaves developed bomba, an indigenous Afro-Rican music characterized by heavy percussion and call-and-response singing.

In the early twentieth century, jibaros and Afro-Ricans moved to the cities looking for work. Out of the mixed race urban working class emerged a style known as plena, which, along with a brass sound acquired from military bands, combined the rhythms of bomba with the jibaro melodic instrumentals. Pleneros wrote lyrics inspired by decima, a popular form of improvisational poetry, and the music served the purpose of spreading news and messages among the lower classes. Although Puerto Ricans today are best known for playing Cuban derived salsa, plena remains an important representation of national unity and cultural expression.