How to dance bomba y plena

Puerto Rican Bomba and Plena: Shared Traditions — Distinct Rhythms

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Shared Traditions — Distinct Rhythms

Bomba and plena are percussion-driven musical traditions from Puerto Rico that move people to dance. Often mentioned together as though they were a single musical style, both reflect the African heritage of Puerto Rico, but there are basic distinctions between them in rhythm, instrumentation, and lyrics. You can hear the difference in these songs. In "Baila, Julia Loíza" the drums or barriles are lower pitched and form a different rhythmic accompaniment than the pandereta drums in the plena example, "Báilala hasta las dos."

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. Viento de Agua exemplifies gracimá and hoyoemula rhythms in "Mayela" and "Siré-Siré," and Raul and Freddy Ayala perform the yubá or "Juba" rhythm.

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. Tito Matos, leader of the Puerto Rican group Viento de Agua, describes plena as "the newspaper of the people." 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. The smallest of them is the requinto, which improvises over the rhythm of the other drums. The tracks below are classic examples of plena, and for more information on the drums used in plena click on the video demonstration on the right.

Bomba and plena are defining musical sounds of the Afro-Puerto Rican population. Matos says, "In Puerto Rico you go to Black and humble communities and you´re going to find bomba and plena without a doubt." These Afro-Puerto Rican musical traditions have also enjoyed an active life in New York City and other communities in which Puerto Ricans have settled. Pioneer performers such as Los Pleneros de la 21 and Marcial Reyes have succeeded in keeping the styles alive through performing groups and participating in community events. They embrace modern sounds, yet adhere to traditional styles that maintain a sense of pride in their cultural heritage.

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            La Plena is an Afro-Puerto Rican music, “a hybrid musical form that integrates both European and African elements in its’ form and lyrics”, but was first dismissed as la musíca de Negroes. 15 Practiced by both black and mulattoes in the coastal towns in southern and southeastern Puerto Rico, la Plena, like La Bomba, was born on the sugar plantations in the early 1920’s. It, too, had a call and response form. But unlike Bomba, Plena expressed the struggle of the working class and documented everyday experiences and happenings of the town, like a musical newspaper.16 The instruments involved in Plena are: a panderetas, guitar, cuarto, guiro, maracas, bongos, and congos.17

            Plena has a quick rhythm, where couples dance in “social position”, facing each other. The plena drummers do not dialogue, like in Bomba, but they do have solos.18 Traditional clothing of Plena, unlike Bomba, is less conservative. Dresses did not have a neck, were short-sleeved, and had a skirt that came mid-calve. The dresses usually had floral or very colorful print. The male wears white pants with a shirt to match the women’s dress.19




Latin dance part 12 (Puerto Rican bombshell)




| Folk dances

Dances of the peoples of the world

Puerto Rican dance bomba

The various rhythms and lyrics of Puerto Rico's most popular dance, the bomba, have led to the emergence of movements such as yuba, sika and holandes. Each rhythm requires a different dance behavior: majestic, playful, aggressive, respectful, and so on. To summarize, distinctive bomb styles were developed in various parts of the island: Ponce to the south, Mayaguez to the west, Loisa to the north, and Santurce between Loisa and San Juan. nine0004

Puerto Rican dance bomba

Ponce style combines Spanish and African elements. The dancer wears a long ruffled skirt and high heels, reminiscent of European outfits, but her head is wrapped in a scarf and she also uses African jewelry. The dancer is dressed in trousers and a long-sleeved shirt. During the dance, both performers stick out their chests, and the man dances primly, as if imitating a Spanish officer or someone from the Spanish or Creole society of the upper class. Santerce's style is similar to Ponce's. The man keeps his posture, and also almost does not move his arms. At the same time, he dances with sharp weight transfers from one leg to another. Women wear a headscarf and a wide, ruffled skirt over a starched white skirt to dance. During the dance, they hold the hem of their skirts, and also snap their fingers. nine0004

Puerto Rican dance bomba

Bomb style Lois has more African moves; the dancers use hip and shoulder movements, and the style is typically characterized by extensive use of impromptu steps and body shifts. Bomb dancing is the main attraction of the Santiago Loiza festival in mid-July. Entire processions of dancers with images of the saint go through the streets, and they are accompanied by open trucks with orchestras playing waltzes and dances. As the procession moves through the streets, anyone can stop and dance with the drummers. nine0004

Puerto Rican dance bomb

The Puerto Rican musical genre Plena is often used during dances, but its main feature is the lyrics that describe contemporary events from the end of the 19th century. The basic step is a side-to-side movement with a slight turn of the shoulders. Panderos (tambourines), drums, guiiros (scrapers), guitars (especially the type of guitar known as cuatro) and accordions give the music its characteristic sound and buoyancy. At the beginning of the 21st century, it became mainly a pair dance. nine0004

dance, culture, history, Latin America

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