A Reflection of Puerto Rican Cultural Heritage through Music & Dance

A Reflection of Puerto Rican Cultural Heritage through Music & Dance

As we strive for an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe that the arts have the power to help us heal and come together to celebrate our cultures. Music and dance, in particular, are perfect tools to help us overcome the impacts of this past year. One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic was felt by communities with shared heritage that were unable to celebrate their culture. Across the U.S., many communities who express their identities through the vibrant rhythms, melodies, lyrics, and beats of live music had to find creative ways to uphold these traditions. For individuals linked with diasporic movements, music is not only central to their identities but also a bridge that connects them to their homes of origin and the cultural heritage they share with others.

As we look forward to celebrating Festival Betances on July 17 th , there is no better place tolook than the Puerto Rican diaspora to understand how music can unify our racially and culturally diverse ethnic identity and serve as an expression of its richness and complexities. Puerto Rican music’s blend of Taíno (indigenous people of Puerto Rico), Spanish and West African music and instruments reflects the rich diversity of musical styles and genres associated with and further shaped by the Puerto Rican diaspora, including Bomba, Plena, Salsa and Merengue.

Taditional Folk Music

Bomba and Plena are two traditional forms of folk music that originated in Puerto Rico. Bomba was born from West Africans that were forcefully brought to and enslaved on the island by the Spanish in the early 1500s. The musical style is marked by the use of three instruments: maracas (a hand percussion instrument), cuá (wooden sticks), and bomba barrels (large drums). Bomba is a rhythmic dialogue in which the drummer challenges the dancer to a duel and the dancer challenges the barrel to keep up with them. Puerto Ricans, particularly those with African-Puerto Rican roots, have carried on this vibrant musical style to honor their ancestors and as a form of resistance.

Born from the work songs and musical heritage of African-Caribbean immigrants, Plena has Spanish, African, and Caribbean instrumental influences that include: panderos (hand drums) which originated from Africa, cuatro (small guitar) which emerged from the guitars brought by Spanish conquistadores, güiro (gourd) which is thought to have been invented by the Taínos, and brass instruments such as the trumpet and saxophone. The style has been historically affiliated with its critical role in communicating local news.

Dance Music Styles

Salsa and Merengue are dance music styles with heavy Puerto Rican origins. Salsa was made and popularized by Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians in New York City. The foundation of salsa draws from Cuban and African-Caribbean roots and experiences, harnessing the tradition of Spanish guitar and African call-and-response vocals. Salsa has subgenres that can be slower with softer instrumentals, or faster with longer instrumentals.

Merengue spread to Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries from the Dominican Republic. The traditional style of Merengue uses string instruments, the accordion, conga, and drums. It is also comprised of two forms; merengue derecho is fast-paced, while pambiche is slow.

Once again this year, we are committed to sharing the rich heritage of Puerto Rico through music and dance to unite the Puerto Rican diaspora across the globe. Last year, we held our annual Festival Betances virtually with world-renowned musical and dance performances that drew a multi-cultural audience of 50,000 viewers. This year, we will continue the virtual celebration of Festival Betances with the theme "Latinos Siempre Unidos" (Latinos Always Together) on July 17 th at 7 p.m. Join us to watch amazing performances from Yuba Iré and Oscarito, and dance to the energizing rhythms of Bomba, Plena, and Merengue! To stay up to date on Festival Betances, please follow us on Facebook and YouTube.

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