Arts / African Influence in Puerto Rican Music
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The 20th Century

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Typical Puerto Rican orchestra from mid 20th century
The 20th century, the century of new U.S. imperialism, tied Puerto Rico and its particular racial prejudice to the whirlwind of global capitalism. The occupation of Puerto Rico by the United States put in contact two opposite ways of treating racial differences. The corporate record companies turned the music of the Caribbean islands into merchandise. Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean musical genres expose the survival of African cultural practices in Puerto Rico and their connections within the trans-Atlantic African cultural diaspora. The Puerto Rican guarachas, the seises, the valses, the bomba, and the danzones and danzonetes began an ecumenical relationship with other Afro-Caribbean genres. Afro-Puerto Rican musicians such as Rafael Hernández, his brother, Jesús, Rafael I. Dúchense, Sixto Nieves Benítez, and other professional musicians, actively participated in the domestication of jazz and the Cuban, Spanish and Mexican musical genres that dominated the commercial music that was popular in urban centers such as New York, Paris, Havana, Mexico City and other metropolitan areas, as well as among the European and U.S. tourists that flowed to Havana and Veracruz.

The birth and development of the plena dominated the first forty years of the 20th century. This Afro-Puerto Rican genre was born and developed just at the time when Puerto Rican intellectuals were involved in a redefinition of Puerto Rican national identity. The danza had ceased to be the genre that captured the national imagination and the plena rose, precisely at a time when the cultural machinery of mass communications media had identified urban music and the tourism-drawing music of Cuba as the musical paradigm of the region. The plena captured the Puerto Rican popular imagination – port workers and residents of poor neighborhoods, mostly – and also the tourism entertainment industry fell under its sway. Tourists danced versions of the plena to the big band orchestras of César Concepción and Rafael Berríos.

The problematic Puerto Rican attitude toward the contributions of Afro-Puerto Ricans to the musical culture of the island is seen in the way in which that contribution is identified. The musical combo consisting of black Puerto Ricans Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera, with their new interpretation and re-articulation of the bomba and plena in commercial music, represent a controversial case of Afro-Puerto Rican expression, of what it means to be black and Puerto Rican. Both processes can be seen in the birth and development of salsa in New York City. On one hand, there was no difficulty in recognizing it as an offshoot of the urban and Afro-Cuban tourism genres developed by Puerto Ricans, but it was less readily recognized as an Afro-Puerto Rican genre that was the fruit of the processes of globalization of local practices, as was the origin of the Afro-Cuban genres half a century earlier.

Salsa, rock, the bolero and the ballad show how complex the relationship is between music and the racial imagination in Puerto Rican identity during the second half of the 20th century. Afro-American genres such as rock, rhythm and blues, and rap are adopted with ambivalence. The Puerto Rican diaspora to the United States, which participated in the creation of the hip hop culture, processes these genres born of the African diaspora, makes them their own, and injects them into the current of island creativity. This mix of musical cosmopolitanism and globalization among Puerto Ricans of all social classes since the 1960s is responsible for the Afro-Puerto Rican creations of the late 20th century, such as the rumba (played by youths in the streets of Loiza), reggaetón, and Puerto Rican rock. The role of Puerto Ricans in jazz worldwide, which dates to 1900, reaffirms the survival of the Afro-Puerto Rican musical creativity on the world stage.

The death of Rafael Cepeda closed the era in Puerto Rico in which its plenas by Manuel "Canario" Jiménez and those created and performed by Mon Rivera were an existential part of life. This music’s avatar lies in the provocative and moving interpretations of a new generationgeneration: 1. A group of people who by virtue of having been born around the same time and having received similar education and cultural and social influences react in a similar manner under given circumstances. (The Generation of 1898). 2. A group of people in the arts or sciences whose work shares certain characteristics and who have lived through the same historical events. of Afro-Puerto Ricans such as Vico C, Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee, Calle 13, etc. Along with young Afro-Puerto Ricans in New York, they are retaking Afro-Puerto Rican music from hip hop and reverting it to the Afro-Puerto Rican music of the bomba. These are the bases of the African influence in Puerto Rican music in the 21st century.

Autor: Dr. Noel Allende-Goit
Published: September 11, 2014.

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4,

Version: 06111002 Rev. 1
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