La Bomba is one of the main Puerto Rican musical genres with cultural influences from West Africa, Tainos, Spain as well as other Caribbean islands. Bomba is described as a dialogue between dancer and drummer and is a dance of extreme elegance and deliberate steps. " Hijos de Agüeybaná" (Children of Agüeybaná) is the ambassador of this genre of Puerto Rican music today. Although they mix Bomba with other genres such as Salsa, and Jazz, they never lose sight of its indigenous African roots.
Bomba y Plena Although usually grouped together, Bomba y plena are actually two entirely different types of music that are coupled with dance. Bomba is pure African in origin and was brought over by black slaves who worked on the island s sugar plantations in the 17th century, commonly attributed to the regions of Mayaguez, Ponce, Santurce, Loiza, Guayama, Arroyo and Catano. This rhythmic music is played on barrel-shaped drums covered with tightly stretched animal skins, played by hand. Bomba is played using one large drum (barril-Primo) plus a smaller drum called a subidor. It is with the large drum that the dancer communicates. The drums are accompanied by the rhythmical beating of sticks and maracas to create a swelling tide of drumbeats, in which fans can hear drummers bang out a series of responses one to another. Bomba is described as a dialogue between dancer and drummer. It is as if the drummer were challenging the dancer to a rhythmic duel. The dance can go on for as long as the dancer can continue. Although critics are uncertain about the exact origin of Bomba, it is divided into different rhythmic backgrounds and variations, such as the Euba, Cocobale, and Sica. The most purely African version of this music and dance are thought to have come from the northeastern coast town of Loiza Aldea. La Bomba is much more than merely a dance - it is a musical rituality which acts like the warp in a fine weaving, bringing communities together and inspiring young people to gain a knowledge of not only the fundamentals of dance and music, but also the history of the people within their community. Whereas Bomba is of purely African origin, plena blends elements from Puerto Ricos wide cultural backgrounds, including music that the Taino tribes may have used during their ceremonies. This type of music first appeared in Ponce about 100 years ago, when performing the plena became a hallmark of Spanish tradition and coquetry. Instruments used in plena include the güiro, a dried-out gourd whose surface is cut with parallel grooves and, when rubbed with a stick, produces a raspy and rhythmical percussive noise. The Tainos may possibly have invented this instrument. From the guitars brought to the New World by the Spanish conquistadores emerged the 10-stringed cuatro which is also played in plena. To the guiro and cuatro was added the tambourine, known as panderos, originally derived from Africa. Dancing plena became a kind of living newspaper as singers recited the events of the day, often satirizing local politicians or scandals. Sometimes plenas were filled with biting satire; at other times, they commented on major news events of the day, such as a devastating hurricane. Bomba y plena remain the most popular forms of folk music in Puerto Rico today and are commonly performed throughout the island.
Creating a familial ruckus since the early 2000s, the eight-piece Hijos de Aguëybaná (or Sons of the Great Sun) are among Puerto Rico's foremost preservationists of the Afro-Latin percussion-based folk music known as bomba. On their debut album, the Hijos bookend several examples of traditional bomba with "Saludo al Sol" ("Sun Salute"), whose yogic title reflects the track's dreamy, flute-laced, and psychedelic-lounge phasing, and "Te Invito" ("I Invite You"), a jazz take on a bomba tune heavily reminiscent of the New Orleans classic "Iko Iko."
Traditionally an intimate conversation between a spirited dancer and the ensemble's lower-pitched "buleadeor," bomba is performed on large and small drums fashioned from rum barrels and accompanied by other sticks and scrapers. "Agua del Sol" ("Sun Water") celebrates the liquor's dancefloor-lubricating properties, with the chorus chanting "Oye si lo quieres ver" - "listen if you want to see it" between director Otoqui Reyes's verses. The rhythms may vary but the call-and-response bomba form which triangulates influences from Spain, Nigeria and the island's indigenous Taino culture doesn't vary much from track to track. Like so many dance albums of yore, it's a self-reflective advertisement for bomba and the community of which it's an integral part. "The pride I feel for my bomba is brutal," Otoqui sings in "Orgulloso," a sentiment that resonates loud and clear.
by Richard Gehr (at eMusic)
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