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SPRING/SUMMER 1994
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity:
Creative
Appropriation
of Cuban Sources
from Danza to Salsa
PETER MANUEL JOHN
JAY COLLEGE,
CUNY GRADUATE CENTER
hroughout
the twentieth
century,
the issue of cultural
identity
has been
particularly
controversial and active
among
Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico's
ethnic and
linguistic homogeneity,
the
relatively high political
consciousness
of its
population,
its
large
and self-conscious
emigrant communities,
and
above
all,
its
ongoing
colonial status have
generated,
for over a
century,
a
persistent
and
explicit concern-occasionally
described as an "obsession"-
with national
identity.1
Music has served as one of the most
important symbols
of Puerto Rican
cultural
identity.
With the
growth
of nationalism in the latter nineteenth
century,
when
literacy
was
discouraged by Spanish policy,
it was natural that
creole
music,
rather than
literature,
should come to be celebrated as a
quintessential expression
of island culture. Music is
regarded
as a
symbol
of
identity
even for
Nuyoricans
(New
Yorkers of Puerto Rican
descent)
who do
not
speak Spanish.
The cultural
prominence
of music has continued to the
present,
with the
emergence
of salsa as a
dynamic expression
of Puerto
Rican, Nuyorican,
and
pan-Latin identity,
and one which has been domi-
nated for decades
by
Puerto Rican musicians more than
any
other
group.
Puerto Rican nationalist intellectuals as well as
popular opinion
have
long
embraced salsa-for
example,
as
opposed
to rock-as a characteristi-
cally
(albeit
not
exclusively)
local music.
Nevertheless,
a
significant qualifi-
cation and
potential
contradiction lies at the heart of the
allegedly indigenous
character of salsa and its island
antecedents,
for in
stylistic terms,
most of the
predominant
Puerto Rican
musics,
from the
nineteenth-century
danza to
contemporary
salsa,
have been
originally
derived from
abroad-particularly
from Cuba. This
aspect
of Puerto Rican culture is in some contexts a sensitive
?
1994
by
the Board of Trustees of the
University
of Illinois
249
VOL.
38, NO.
2 ETHNOMUSICOLOGY
250
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
one,
and in others it is taken for
granted.
It
remains, however,
a fundamental
feature of Puerto Rican musical
history,
and
yet
one which in Latin music
discourse is often obscured or
ignored-or,
more
typically,
mentioned in
parenthetical,
often
unclear,
and even
distorting
statements.
The
primary
intent of this
article, however,
is not to
glorify
the Cuban
contribution to
contemporary
Latin
music, especially
since this contribution
is
already recognized by knowledgeable
listeners. Nor is it to
question
the
validity
of the
virtually
unanimous Puerto Rican
conception
of salsa and
danza as local in character.
Rather,
I intend to
explore
the
process by
which
Puerto Ricans have
appropriated
and
resignified
Cuban musical forms as
symbols
of their own cultural
identity.
In some
senses,
the
resignification
of
Cuban music
by
Puerto Ricans has involved distortions of historical
fact,
as
I shall illustrate. More
importantly, however,
it has constituted a social
process
of
appropriation by
which Cuban musical
origins,
however once
crucial in Puerto Rican
culture,
have in fact become irrelevant to Puerto
Ricans and
Nuyoricans.
This
perceived
irrelevance itself is the result of a
complex process
of socio-musical rearticulation which can be seen as a
feature of Puerto Rican culture in
general-a
culture which has
consistently
been conditioned
by
a
complex, overlapping,
and often
contradictory
set of
multiple
identities.
In
entering
the debate on Puerto Rican national
identity,
I am sensitive
to the
dangers
of
inserting myself,
as an
American,
into an extensive and
sophisticated body
of extant discourse on Puerto Rican
identity
in which
American culture is
generally perceived
as the
primary antagonist,
and in
which Yankee
perspectives
are not
necessarily
solicited or welcomed for
their own sake.2 Such considerations
notwithstanding,
I undertake this
article in the
hopes
of
heightening
awareness of the issues
involved,
to
faithfully represent
salient
aspects
of Puerto Rican "emic" discourse
itself,
and to
clarify
issues that have
generally
been treated either
only indirectly
(as in
Duany's illuminating "anthropology"
of salsa
[1984])
or else errone-
ously.
Above
all,
I will
argue
that Puerto Ricans and
Nuyoricans
are
justified
in
regarding
such musics as salsa as
having
been
effectively indigenized,
but
primarily
in a socio-musical rather than historical sense.
Cuban Music as an International Phenomenon
The international
popularity
of Cuban music over the last two centuries
has been
quite extraordinary, especially
in
comparison
to Cuba's
relatively
small size. In the nineteenth
century
the Cuban contradanza
(habanera)
was
widely popular
in
Europe and,
as we shall
discuss,
became the model
for the Puerto Rican danza.
Twentieth-century
Cuban dance music-
especially
the
son-enjoyed
an
exponentially greater
international
vogue.
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
While Euro-American rock and its international derivatives have dominated
much world
popular
music since
mid-century,
it was Cuban music which
came closest to
enjoying
such international
appeal
in the
previous
few
decades.
Thus,
the commercial son of the
1930s
through
the
1950s became
the dominant urban
popular
music in much of Africa and in most of the
Hispanic Caribbean,
while
forming
the basis for the "mambo craze" in the
USA and
heavily influencing
such
genres
as the
mid-century
Haitian
cadence. In the colonial
world,
Cuban dance music
provided
its interna-
tional audiences with a musical
style
that lacked direct associations with
imperialist metropoles,
and that could become a
potent symbol
of
identity
for
modernizing
urban societies. In
Africa,
Cuban music constituted a
significant step
in the re-Africanization of
professional
urban dance
music,
much of which had been
previously
dominated
by thoroughly
Western
genres
like the
waltz, polka,
and foxtrot. At the same
time;
in Africa and
elsewhere, Cuban-style
music came to constitute a new sort of
hegemonic
genre,
which had to be confronted-whether
appropriated, rejected,
or
syncretized-in
the
ongoing process
of
developing
national or ethnic
cultural
identity.
In some
cases,
as in
Africa,
this
process
involved
growing
out of the
dependence
on Cuban
forms,
sometimes with the
explicit
encouragement
of
political
and cultural leaders.3
Elsewhere,
as
among
Puerto
Ricans,
the
process
involved
actively appropriating
Cuban-derived
idioms, subtly transforming
their
style and,
more
significantly, resignifying
them as
indigenous expressions.
Puerto Rican National Music I: The Danza
Cuba
y
Puerto son de un
pdjaro
las dos alas ...
Cuba and Puerto Rico are two
wings
of the same bird ...
(Lola
Rodriguez
de
Ti6)
Cuba and Puerto Rico have
enjoyed
a
special relationship
since the
Spanish
colonial
period.
The most
important tie,
of
course,
was the fact that
they
were the
only remaining Spanish
colonies after the rest of Latin America
gained independence
in the first half of the nineteenth
century. Economic,
political,
and cultural bonds between Cuba and Puerto Rico intensified in the
nineteenth
century,
as
agricultural
workers
migrated
to and
fro,
commercial
and
military
interaction
increased,
and shared anti-colonial movements
forged
a common
socio-political
bond.
It was such nationalistic
sentiments, indeed,
that
inspired
Puerto Rican
poet
Lola
Rodriguez
de Ti6 to
pen
the
oft-quoted
lines
above,
stressing
the
fraternal
solidarity
of the two
aspiring
nations. The two
wings,
of
course,
formed a somewhat
lopsided
bird. Cuba is
demographically
and
geographi-
cally
several times
larger
than Puerto
Rico,
and cultural
exchange
has
251
252
Ethnomusicology,
Spring/Summer 1994
accordingly
been
mostly (although
not
entirely) unidirectional; similarly,
many
Puerto Rican nationalists have
historically
tended to
regard
Cuba as a
sympathetic big brother,
with a
traditionally
more advanced
economy,
a full-
fledged
war of
independence, and,
after
1898,
nominal
sovereignty
(how-
ever much
compromised by ongoing
American
intervention).
The cultural affinities between the two colonies in the nineteenth
century
were nowhere more
explicit
than in the forms that musical
nationalism took therein. In both
islands,
a form of creole dance
genre
emerged
which came to be
explicitly
identified with national ethos
and, by
extension,
anti-colonial sentiment. While the Puerto Rican danza is the main
focus of our attention in this
section,
its clear roots in the Cuban contradanza
(habanera)4
oblige
us to outline the latter's evolution and
significance.
While the
eighteenth-century origins
of the contradanza are obscure
(see
Galan
1983),
the
genre's significance,
for our
purposes,
is its
gradual
development
into one
recognized-by
its votaries as well as detractors-as
a
distinctly
Cuban
entity.
As a musical
idiom,
the contradanza was
distinguished primarily by
its Afro-Latin
syncopation.
Its
choreography
was
also
significant:
in its
early stages,
the dance resembled its
original ancestor,
the
"longway"
version of the
English country-dance,
wherein men and
women would line
up opposite
each other and
perform
various
coordinated,
group steps, occasionally following
a
designated
lead
couple
(somewhat
like a
Virginia reel),
all under the
guidance
of a "caller"-like bastonero. Over
the course of the nineteenth
century,
the contradanza
gradually
lost its
communal
character, evolving
from a collective danza de cuadro into a
modern-style
danza
defiguras, performed freely by
individual
couples,
with
the man and woman
loosely embracing
each other.
Both the Afro-Caribbean
syncopation
and the transition to
couple
dancing
were
explicitly
identified-in Cuba
and, later,
Puerto Rico-with
creole aesthetics and nationalism. Both elements were
conspicuously
absent
in the
Spanish contradanza,
which was
accordingly
and
clearly
not the
source of the Cuban
contradanza, despite
its name.
Similarly,
both elements
were denounced as
vulgar by negrophobic,
colonial-minded
purists,
and
were celebrated all the more
enthusiastically by
creole nationalists
(see,
for
example,
Galan
1983:59-95, 77, 178,
and
Mikowsky 1973:37, 51-52).
Over
the course of the
century,
the archaic collective
portions
of the contradanza
and the dictatorial bastonero became
increasingly
identified with feudal
Spanish
rule.5
Thus,
in the realm of
choreography,
Cubans of all classes came
to
adopt
the
intimate,
informal
couple dancing
associated with the Parisian
bourgeoisie and,
closer to
home,
with the uninhibited and
decidedly
non-
feudal lower-class blacks and mulattos.
Similarly, despite
Cuban
racism,
nationalists celebrated the Afro-Latin element in creole culture as the
single
feature which most
unambiguously distinguished
it from
Spanish
culture-
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
hence,
for
example,
the dozens of contradanzas with "exotic" Afro-Cuban
titles like Los
nanigos
and El mulato en el cabildo
(see
Lapique
Becali
1979:40, 42).
Finally,
it should be noted that the Cuban contradanza-like
the Puerto Rican danza- was
fervently enjoyed
and
performed by virtually
all social and racial strata
(with
the evident
exception
of rural
slaves).
In
bourgeois
circles,
the contradanza flourished as a salon
genre,
wherein
hoop-skirted, bejeweled
ladies and debonair
gentlemen
would dance to the
measured strains of a chamber
ensemble, engaging
in
genteel
conversation
as
they
strolled arm-in-arm
during
the
paseo,
and then
circling gracefully
during
the cedazo and cadena sections. While
composers
like Saumell and
Cervantes
penned
such
pieces
for the
elite, peasants
and urban workers
danced to cruder versions of the
genre
(and often the same
compositions),
played
on ad hoc ensembles of
guitar, flute, violin, trumpet,
or whatever
instruments were
handy
(see,
for
example,
Galan
1983:158,
263-64).
In the
1840s,
the Cuban contradanza was
exported
to Puerto Rico under
various
names, including upa,
merengue,
and
ultimately,
danza.
Edgardo
Diaz Diaz has
concisely
chronicled how in
bourgeois
circles the danza and
other related intimate
couple
dances came to
displace
the archaic semi-
collective dances like the
rigod6n
and lancero
(1990);
within a few decades
the danza was
being
cultivated so
avidly
as to be lauded as a national
genre.
While
denounced,
like its Cuban
model,
as
vulgar by antiquarians
of its
day
(see,
for
example,
citations in Brau
1977:8, 12),
it soon became
explicitly
identified with the
contemporary independence
movement,
which was led
by
an
agricultural
elite
including many
recent
Haitian, Corsican,
and South
American
immigrants
with no
particular
fondness for
Spanish
customs.
Angel Quintero
Rivera
(1986)
and Diaz
(1990)
have
insightfully
shown how
the rise of the danza became linked with the
emergence
of this nationalistic
hacendado
proto-bourgeoisie,
which cultivated the
support
of
working
classes and
petty-bourgeois
merchants and artisans. While San
Juan
was the
governmental
seat,
the southern
city
of Ponce became the center of this
movement,
linked as it was to the
agricultural export
whose
expansion
was
perpetually
frustrated
by Imperial regulations. Accordingly,
while San
Juan
remained dominated
by
church and
military music,
Ponce hosted a more
lively
and varied cultural
scene,
in which the
danza,
both in its salon and
popular
varieties, emerged
as a
symbol
of nationalistic
spirit. Thus,
it was not
coincidental that a vocal
danza,
"La
Borinquenfa,"
became the island's
unofficial anthem.
For the
purposes
of this
article,
the
significance
of the danza is in its
transition from a Cuban
borrowing
to a Puerto Rican
genre.
Two
aspects
of
this transition
may
be noted here.
First,
while the danza retained
(with
elaboration)
the basic formal
structure,
distinctive
isorhythms, choreogra-
phy,
and
pan-social, protean popularity
of its Cuban
model,
it was
regarded
253
254
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
as
acquiring
a
distinctively
Puerto Rican character
(see,
for
example, Veray
1977a,
1977b).
In musical
terms,
this character is
perhaps
most
apparent
in
the danzas
ofJuan
Morel
Campos
(1857-96)
and his
contemporaries,
which
have a
variety
and a
florid,
Chopinesque sophistication quite
uncharacter-
istic of the
simpler
Cuban contradanzas.6
Secondly,
the Puerto Rican
appropriation
of the danza involved a social
rearticulation,
whereby
a
borrowed Cuban
genre
came to be
resignified
as a national one. The Cuban
origin
of the danza does not
appear
to have been a matter of
embarrassment,
nor does it
appear
to have been
regarded
as a contradiction in terms of the
"national" character of the danza. One
important
fact for
contemporary
Puerto Ricans was that the danzawas
markedly
distinct from the archaic and
formal
Spanish
contradanza
(not
to mention other
Spanish genres).
Cuba
was,
after
all,
a sister
colony,
another
"wing
of the same
bird,"
a
partner
in
the anti-colonial
struggle. Thus,
Puerto Rico's amicable
relations,
and
indeed,
fraternal
solidarity
with Cuba
appear
to have nullified
any potential
sense of cultural
rivalry
or
inferiority.
These
aspects
of Puerto Rican
appropriation
of Cuban
music,
as we will
see,
foreshadow the
process
of
adopting
Cuban dance music in the twentieth
century.
With the American invasion of 1898 Puerto Rican colonial
history
entered a new
phase, occasioning
a
gradual
reorientation of nationalistic
sentiment.
Many
Puerto Ricans
initially
welcomed the
Americans,
who
liberated the island from
Spanish
economic
restrictions,
encouraged
liberal
humanism,
and
promoted
an
unprecedented
level of economic
develop-
ment. Before
long, however,
American rule was
eliciting
nationalist resent-
ment,
based
partly
on the realization that the island was to be
exploited
as
a
colony
rather than annexed as a
state,
and on the fear that American culture
and
language
were
undermining
the island's own cultural
heritage.
The
hacendado class resented the American
presence
most
sharply, especially
since Yankee
agribusiness
was
destroying
that
elite,
engendering
in its
place
a more
modern,
commercial middle class whose
fortunes,
because of its
comprador nature,
were
directly
linked to the United States. The danza took
on a new sort of nationalistic
significance
for the
declining agricultural
elite
during
this
period,
in accordance with the fact that for this
class,
the United
States,
rather than
Spain,
was the new
antagonist. Hence,
if the danza had
previously
been celebrated for its
distinctively non-Spanish qualities,
it now
became a
symbol
of refined
Hispanic
island
culture,
in contradistinction to
the
cheap
American commercial culture which was
already influencing
the
island.
Hispanophilic essayist
Antonio Pedreira
put up
a
spirited
defense of
the danza in his classic
1934
study
of the Puerto Rican cultural
dilemma,
Insularismo,
which
argued
that the danza embodied the best
aspects
of
Puerto Rican
character-gentility, mildness,
and aestheticism-the
very
qualities
threatened
by vulgar, crass, commercial,
and materialistic Ameri-
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
255
canization.
Again,
the Cuban roots of the danza were not
regarded
as
problematic,
as the
genre
had
long
since come to be seen as a
resignified
Puerto Rican form.
Moreover,
Cuba and Puerto Rico remained sister
islands,
the twin
wings
of a bird once
caged by Spain,
and now under the sometimes
benign,
and often
quite rapacious
and
humiliating
dominance of the United
States.
By
the
1930s, however,
most Puerto Ricans were
coming
to view the
danza as archaic and
quaint.
The Cuban
guaracha, son,
and bolero had
taken over all but the most elite dance
halls,
while socioeconomic
modernization of the island was
eroding
the entire
premodern
milieu which
had sustained the danza.
Thus,
far more
prescient
than Pedreira's reaction-
ary,
if
eloquent
book was Tomas Blanco's
1935
rejoinder "Eulogio
de 'la
plena"' ("Elegy
to the
plena"),
which criticized the
explicit
or
implicit
racism
of
danza-mongers
like
Pedreira,
and noted that the danza was a
product
of a
bygone
era. The danza has retained a certain niche in Puerto Rican
culture until the
present:
at least one danza remains
obligatory
at
weddings,
and the
genre
continues to
enjoy
a
place
in the
jbaro repertoire.
But its claim
to the status of national music has
long
been
usurped by
other
genres,
to
which we will turn below.
We have mentioned that the American invasion of
1898
occasioned a
reorientation of Puerto Rican
nationalism,
in which the United
States,
rather
than
Spain,
became the colonial
metropole.
The nature of the new
nationalism differed in other
significant respects. Nineteenth-century
Puerto
Rican nationalism was rooted in economic
frustration,
felt most
acutely by
the bacendado class whose commercial
expansion
was curtailed
by
restric-
tive
Spanish regulations.
For its
part,
American rule intensified
unemploy-
ment,
land
alienation, emigration,
income
inequalities,
and
dependency
on
the
mainland;
at the same
time,
it
brought
dramatic economic
development,
raising
the
average
local standard of
living
to the
highest
in Latin America.
Given such mixed
results,
economic
grievances
have been less clear-cut than
cultural ones in
twentieth-century nationalism,
such that
many
have
questioned
whether
independence
from the United States would enhance
the island's
affluence;
an
independent
Puerto Rico
might
still be
likely
to
remain
wholly
subservient to American
imperialist interests,
while
lacking
the benefits afforded
by
commonwealth status.
Partly
as a result of such
misgivings,
nationalist sentiment has tended to focus
primarily
on cultural
issues-the
imposition
of
English,
the influence of American
racism,
and
above
all,
the inundation of commercial American culture. In such condi-
tions,
from the
early
twentieth
century,
music became a contested
ground
of
unprecedented significance
and
visibility (see,
for
example,
Ortiz Ramos
1991:30).
Of
course, many
Puerto
Ricans,
if not
most,
formed their musical
preferences
without conscious or deliberate considerations of issues of
256
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
identity;
over the
decades, however,
cultural nationalism became a visible
and influential
presence
in island
life,
and one which is found across all
political parties,
not
just
the
independentista
left.
Many
Puerto Ricans came
to
identify
with American
values,
including
musical tastes. To a
large extent,
however,
American musical influence was either resisted or
safely compart-
mentalized
by
the
development
of a
lively indigenous
and
Nuyorican
musical
culture,
which
borrowed,
as never
before,
from the
contemporary
sounds
emerging
from the sister island of Cuba. Before
turning
to such
developments, however,
we must consider another set of
genres
with their
own sorts of claims to
indigenous prominence.
Puerto Rican National Music II:
Jibaro
Music?
The Puerto Rican
jibaro (peasant, implicitly
white)
has
always occupied
a
special place
in discourse on national
character, being eulogized-or
in
some cases
disparaged-as
the
personification
of
quintessentially indig-
enous traits. Nineteenth- and
early twentieth-century
aristocratic
literature,
from Manuel Alonso's
1849
El Gibaro to Pedreira's
Insularismo,
often
idealized and
praised,
however
paternistically
and
nostalgically,
the
jibaro's
legendary hospitality, simplicity, self-sufficiency,
and
individuality,
his
wary
evasiveness and
dissembling deferentiality
in the face of
authority,
and his
complacent, easygoing
love of the
simple pleasures
of
fiestas, coffee,
idle
banter,
and nature. The
jibaro
has often been
regarded
as
representing
the
core of national
identity,
and was
particularly
celebrated as such
by
Luis
Mufoz Marin's Partido
PopularDemocrdtico,
which chose a silhouette of a
straw-hatted
jibaro
as its
logo.
Accordingly, jibaro
music has
enjoyed
a certain sort of claim to the status
of national music. Its association with traditional
jibaro
culture is the most
obvious
argument
in this
regard.
Another
argument
is that
jibaro
music is so
uniquely
and
distinctively
Puerto Rican in
style
and character. Of
course,
certain elements of
jibaro
music are
clearly Spanish-derived,
such as the
decima,
the
guitar
and the
guitar-like cuatro,
and the Andalusian harmonies.
Some
staples
of the
jzbaro repertoire
are also obvious
imports,
such as the
guaracha, vals, mazurca, polca,
and the occasional
merengue.
Neverthe-
less,
the backbone of the
jibaro repertoire-the many
varieties of seis and
aguinaldo-is uniquely indigenous
(in accordance with the traditional
socio-economic
autonomy
and
self-sufficiency ofjibaros
in
general).
Cuban
influence
crops up
in modem
accompanimental rhythms,
as in the use of the
bongo popularized by
Estanislao "Ladi"
Martinez,
and in studio
recordings
featuring anticipated-style
bass
(the
pattern:
11
J
L,
in which the final note
anticipates
the
harmony
of the next
bar).
On the
whole, however,
jibaro
music remains
quite
distinct from Cuban
music,
eschewing
such features as
the
anticipated accompanimental
ostinatos that
distinguish
the Cuban son.
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
257
Nevertheless,
if
jibaro
music was ever
acknowledged
as national in
status,
it
certainly
has not been so for the last several decades. Commentators
like
Jose
Luis Gonzalez
(1980:39)
have
argued
that the celebration
ofjibaro
culture
by
the
declining
hacendado elite was infused with
xenophobia,
nostalgia
for the comfortable dominance of the ancien
regime,
and a racist
depreciation
of Afro-Puerto Rican culture.
Jibaro
music has
similarly
suffered
from an
ongoing popular
disaffection with
jibaro
culture in
general,
whose
allegedly archetypical characteristics-including passivity
and
illiteracy-
have come to be seen as
incompatible
with modernization.
Jibaros
them-
selves have become an
endangered species
under the inexorable
impact
of
American
agribusiness
and
subsequent urbanization,
which has led to over
sixty percent
of the island's
population being
urban
by
1970.
Despite
recent
attempts
to
symbolically
revindicate
jibaro culture,
most Puerto
Ricans,
and
especially Nuyoricans
and the urban
young, regard
jibaros
as
poor
and
backwards,
and wish to avoid
being regarded
as such
by city sophisticates.
Jibaro
music continues to
occupy
a
place
in Puerto Rican culture
(for
example,
in
festivals,
rural
parties,
and the music of innovators like Andres
Jimenez),
and
many
seis and
aguinaldo lyrics
deal with
contemporary
issues
of
migration, urbanization,
and social
change
in
highly expressive ways,
whether
poignantly
or
humorously. Nevertheless,
most
young
Puerto Ricans
regard jibaro
music as
quaint
and rustic
(see,
for
example, Lopez 1976:106,
108).
Certain elements of
it,
as we shall discuss
below,
have found their
way
into some Puerto Rican and
Nuyorican
salsa.
However,
jibaro
music has not
formed the basis for salsa or for
any
urban
popular
music in the twentieth
century;
that
basis, instead,
has come from Cuban music. Hence
jibaro
music,
however
"quintessentially"
Puerto
Rican,
has come to
occupy
an in-
creasingly
diminutive niche at the
alleged
core of island culture.
Puerto Rican National Music mI: Plena and Bomba?
Bdilame la
plena,
no
que
la
confunda
con una
guaracha.
Dance me a
plena,
and don't mix it
up
with a
guaracha.
(plena
chorus)
The
plena
and bomba
together occupy
another sort of
prominence
in
Puerto Rican national culture and discourse. Both
genres
are
distinctively
Puerto Rican
creations,
whose traditional
styles,
while not
springing
from a
vacuum,
owe
little,
if
anything,
to Cuban music.
Accordingly,
both have been
explicitly
celebrated as essential
components
of Puerto Rican musical
culture,
which deserve
recognition
and
promotion.
The
classic,
and first
significant
nationalistic encomium to the
plena
came in the form of Tomas Blanco's aforementioned
"Elegy
to the
plena"
(1935),
which
praised
its vibrant
rhythms,
its fresh and direct
topical texts,
258
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
and above
all,
its harmonious
syncretic incorporation
of elements of Puerto
Rico's three racial roots.7 The
plena
and bomba have
gone
on to be
celebrated
by
cultural nationalists as vital
symbols
of Puerto Rican musical
culture.
Nevertheless,
it must be
acknowledged
that the
plena
and bomba
have failed to achieve the status of national
musics,
in
comparison,
for
example,
to the son in
Cuba,
which has for some
sixty years
been
enjoyed
by
Cubans of all
ages, classes,
and races. Plena and bomba continue to thrive
in their limited
spheres,
but in this
century,
and
especially
in a
relatively
developed
and urbanized
society
like Puerto
Rico,
to be a "national music"
implies
mass media
dissemination,
on the level of a commercial
popular
music. Plena and
bomba,
on the
whole,
have not achieved such
popularity,
and the reasons for their failure to do so
require
some brief review here.
The bomba is a
product
of slave
plantation society
in the
Spanish
colonial
period.
Performed
exclusively by
lower-class blacks and
mulattos,
it consists of
call-and-response vocals,
lively percussion
on the bomba barrel
drums,
and
dancing,
either
by
a
couple
or a
soloist;
in either
case,
the
genre
focusses on the
spirited
interaction between the
dancer(s)
and the lead
bomba drummer. Aside from folkloric
contexts,
bomba survives in a few
proletarian, predominantly
black towns like Loiza
Aldea,
where it continues
to be danced
(especially by girls)
at
parties
and fiestas.
The
plena
is believed to have
originated
in Ponce around the turn of the
century.
It
rapidly gained popularity among
the lower and lower-middle
classes as a recreational
music,
often with informal
dance, reaching
a
peak
of sorts in the
1920s.
Typically,
it features
topical verses, alternating
with
simple
choral
refrains, sung
to the
accompaniment
of
pandereta
(a
small,
round frame
drum), guiro (scraper),
and a melodic/chordal instrument like
concertina or
guitar.
The
pandereta
(or
pandero)
is
regarded
as the trade-
mark of the
genre
(Echevarria Alvarado
1984:31); generally,
one or more
panderos
reiterate a
simple binary meter,
while another one
improvises
syncopated patterns.
The
topical
texts are rooted in
daily
life and are
appreciated
for their often
satirical, spontaneous
content.
Around
1910
to
1920
professionalized
versions of the
plena
evolved,
and
the
genre
took on its own life in the Puerto Rican barrios of New York
City
(see
Echevarria Alvarado
1984:89ff). There and on the
island,
professional
trios and
larger groups performed
at fiestas and recorded old and new
compositions.
From this earliest
period on,
Cuban influence was a concomi-
tant of
professionalization, reflected,
for
example,
in the occasional use of
clave
patterns.8
Most traditional and
early plenas, however,
did not
employ
clave,
nor the
Cuban-style anticipated
vocal refrains and
accompanying
ostinati
(for
example,
on
piano
or
guitar)
which characterize the
rumba, son,
and
guaracha.
The
genre
achieved an enhanced mass media
presence
when
bolero
singer
Canario
(Manuel
Jimenez) began recording
familiar
plenas
in
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
the
mid-1920s.
Canario's
songs
retained much of the street
plena's flavor,
while
supplementing
the
traditionally sparse
orchestration with
piano,
two
or three
horns,
and
bass,
which often
played
in the
anticipated
Cuban
style
mentioned above.
In the
following decade,
Cesar
Concepcion
further
popularized
and
diluted the
plena by incorporating
it into a
big
band format
clearly
influenced
by
the "sweet"
jazz
bands of
Benny
Goodman and others.
Concepci6n's
music embodied in an extreme form the contradictions of the
plena
in
relation to insular
identity.
On the one
hand,
his music
represented
a sort of
apogee
for the
plena, which,
in his
idiosyncratic form,
resounded in
fashionable hotels and
salons, acquiring
an
unprecedented
amount of
respectability
and
glamor. Accordingly,
the vast
majority
of his
song
texts
eulogized
Puerto Rico and the
plena, representing
a
particularly explicit
form
of nationalism in
popular
music. His "Plena en San
Juan"
is
typical
in this
respect:
Que
sigan
con
foxtrots, guarachasy bebops
queyo
me
quedo aqui
con mi
plena
en San
Juan.
Let the
foxtrots, guarachas,
and
bebop
continue
I'm
staying
here in San
Juan
with
my plena.
At the same
time, Concepci6n's popularization
of the
plena
came at the
price
of
Cubanizing
the
genre
almost
beyond recognition.
His
plenas employed
standard mambo instrumentation and
arrangement formats;
roughly
half of
his better-known
plenas incorporate Cuban-style anticipation
in the vocal
refrains and bass
patterns
as well as instrumental interludes. In these
respects,
and in the
conspicuous
absence
ofpanderos, Concepci6n's plenas
became
thoroughly Cubanized, losing
in the
process
not
only
their
proletar-
ian
flavor,
but much of their
distinctively
Puerto Rican character as well. The
evident Cuban influence in
Concepci6n's plenas
and even those of his
predecessors
had
already
elicited the criticism of Tomas Blanco in the
conclusion to his aforementioned
essay: "Hence,
as the
plena
will remain
exclusively
in the domain of the
popular,
it would suit our
professional
ensembles to
reproduce
it without false
sophistication, omitting
imitations
of exoticisms like
jazz
and
avoiding falling
into
plagiarizations
of alien
Cubanisms"
(1935).
In the
early
1950s
a new and revitalized
plena
and bomba
appeared
in
the music of bandleader Rafael
Cortijo
and his
vocalist,
Ismael
("Maelo")
Rivera. While Cuban influence was evident in the standard
conjunto
format
of
Cortijo's
ensemble and in such elements as the
piano style,
his
plenas
and
bombas retained an
earthy
rawness redolent of their
proletarian
roots.
Generally,
in his
plenas
the
conga
would imitate the
pandero syncopations,
while the bass would
emphasize
the downbeat in a manner uncharacteristic
259
260
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
of the Cuban-derived
guaracha
and son. Some of his melodies were derived
from traditional
plenas
(such
as his
"Huy que pote"),
and his texts were
steeped
in
everyday
barrio life.
Cortijo's bombas,
like those of his
contemporary,
Mon
Rivera,
were a bit
farther removed from the
genre's roots, especially
since the traditional
bomba was not an informal social dance to
begin with,
and its traditional
melodies, texts,
and
implicit harmonies,
if
any,
are
quite simple. Indeed,
the
only
features
really identifying Cortijo's
bombas as such were the iconic
conga pattern
and bell
pattern,
based on the bomba
larga pattern
used in
the traditional sika
style:
nJ
7
J
JM 7
(Hal
Barton, personal
communication).
In most other
respects
(such
as the use of
anticipated bass),
his bombas did
not differ
significantly
from the
prevailing
Cuban dance music. It could be
pointed
out that the bomba de salon and
plena
de salon of
Cortijo
and others
were no further removed from their roots than is the 1950s Cuban rumba
de salon from its
ancestor;
a Cuban nationalist
might observe, however,
that
the
stylization
of the rumba was carried out
primarily by Cubans, along
relatively indigenous evolutionary lines,
while the modernization of the
bomba and
plena
took the form of a marked Cubanization.
Finally,
while
Cortijo's plenas
and bombas constituted the most distinctive feature of his
music, roughly
a third of his
repertoire-including
some of his most
popular
hits-consisted of
guarachas
in more or less standard Cuban
style.
Cortijo's popularity
declined in the
1960s,
and
plena
and bomba ceased
to
play
a
significant
role in the mass media or in the realm of commercial
popular
music in
general.
In
1962
most of
Cortijo's group split
off to form
El Gran
Combo,
while Ismael Rivera founded a new
group,
Los
Cachimbos;
both
groups largely
forsook
plena
and bomba for the Cuban-derived
styles
dominating
salsa in
general.
With the advent of the salsa boom from the late
1960s,
the two
genres
have remained
marginal
entities as dance music
genres
(as I shall discuss further
below).
They continue,
of
course,
to flourish in
urban folk contexts. The
plena,
for
example,
is
routinely performed by
meandering
ensembles at informal street
parties (trullas,
asaltos),
by
protesting students,
and
by striking
labor unions in front of
targeted
workplaces.
But in the realm of
popular
dance music and the mass
media,
they
have
given up
their niches to mainstream
salsa, rock, merengue,
and
other
contemporary styles.
The failure of
plena
and bomba to
enjoy lasting
success as
popular
musics would seem to
require
some
explanation.
For its
part,
bomba remains
largely
confined to lower-class black
private fiestas,
such that most Puerto
Ricans have little
exposure
to it at all. As for the more familiar
plena,
some
might
think that in musical
parameters
the
guaracha, son,
and rumba are
inherently
richer and better suited to
professionalization
and
syncretic
development
as mass mediated
genres.
A more
significant
factor
appears
to
have been the
negative
association
ofplena-like
that
ofjzbaro
music-with
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
the more backward sectors of local
society,
at a time when
many,
if not most
Puerto Ricans and
Nuyoricans sought
a more
modern, cosmopolitan
identity.
Latin music savant and
producer
Rene
Lopez
writes of the New York
rumba-dominated street
drumming vogue starting
from the late
1950s:
Looking
back at those
jam sessions,
I cannot remember
playing
Puerto Rican
rhythms.
I
guess
we
thought
of our
parents'
music as
jibaro (hicky),
old
fashioned,
and not
really percussive.
I think this
impression
was formed because
popular
Puerto Rican music of the '50s was
composed mainly
of
trios, quartets,
and
popular big
bands that were
mainly melody
oriented.
Although
we had
heard of Plena and
Bomba, they
were
very vague images
because black Puerto
Rican music was never
given any importance.
As a matter of
fact,
till seven or
eight years ago
I never knew that Plena and Bomba were black
expressions.
In
the schools there was no
history
of Puerto Rico
being taught
and no music
programs
that had
anything
to do with Puerto Rican culture.
(1976:108-9)
Nuyorican
musician
Joe
Falc6n (of
the innovative
group Conjunto
Uni6n)
expresses
a similar
viewpoint:
I am
going
to
[explain] why
we don't dance the
"bomba,"
the "seis chorreao" of
"jibaro"
music in New York.
Why?
Because the intellectual (and this is directed
at Puerto
Rico),
the Puerto Rican intellectual thinks that the
"bomba,"
the "seis
chorreao,"
and
things
like that
belong
to
jibaros,
low
people,
and
[intellectuals]
have not wanted to
bring
them to the
popular
level of the Puerto Rican
people
... I feel uncomfortable
playing
a music of the
forties, melody-wise, harmony-
wise, you
know. I don't feel
genuine
when I
play
the
"plena"
because I don't
come from that time.
(CEP 1974:VIII, 76,
60)9
A
younger Nuyorican salsero,
Orlando
Fiol,
explains
the
prevalent
attitude
of his
parents' generation: "People
back then wanted at all costs not to be
identified with
jzbaro
culture,
so what
they
liked was the
big, brassy,
Cuban
mambo sound"
(personal
communication).
Cuba,
for the
generation
whose
attitudes were
shaped
in the
1930s-50s, represented
a more
advanced,
developed,
and
cosmopolitan culture;
at the same time it was a fraternal Latin
country,
with which Puerto Rico
enjoyed good relations,
and which had its
own
healthy
nationalistic anti-Americanism.
Hence,
in
spite
of the admoni-
tions of cultural nationalists and
purists
like Tomas
Blanco,
most Puerto
Ricans
evidently
found it natural to
adopt
Cuban music as their
own,
whether
in
place
of or
alongside
American
popular
music and local folk
genres.
The
turn to Cuban music
may
have been
particularly logical
for black and mulatto
Puerto
Ricans,
since Afro-Latin elements in music and culture were so much
more
pronounced
and
recognized
in Cuba than at home.'0
Since the
1970s plena and,
to a lesser
extent,
bomba have been the
subjects
of a
deliberate,
folkloristic revival. A handful of
quasi-folkloric
groups
have
emerged
which
perform plena
at town festivals
and,
occasion-
ally,
at
ordinary
dance concerts. Such
groups
as the Pleneros de
Loiza,
the
Pleneros del
Quinto Olivo,
Plenibon
('plenay
bomba'),
and the New York-
261
262
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
based Pleneros de la 21 have
attempted
to revitalize
plena
not as a com-
mercial
popular music,
but as a
living
urban folk music.
Although
these
groups generally employ
horn sections and
three-part harmonies, they
retain
the
plena's
traditional character. The cultural nationalism of some of the new
song
texts is
particularly explicit.
The
following
translated
excerpts
from
Quinto
Olivo's
repertoire
are
representative:
"Una noche se
oyo
en
Borinquen
"
One
night
the
ringing panderos
of the
plena
resounded in
Borinquen,
The
point
was that the
plena
is
being forgotten,
and
they
are
changing
our
tradition,
and because we want to
go
on
singing it,
that's
why
we founded this
group
...
How nice it
is,
how
great
it
sounds,
the
guira
and
pandereta
of the
bouncy plena,
Get the coro
going
so that it never
dies,
and so that
Borinquen
will
go
on
dancing plena
...
"Rumbamba".
Rumbamba in
Cuba, calypso
in Saint
Thomas,
rumbamba in
Cuba,
and in Puerto
Rico,
bomba and
plena
I like
dancing
rumba for its
charming
sweetness
But I
prefer
the
plena
because it's from Puerto
Ricol1
The last verses
acknowledge
the
appeal
and Cuban
origins
of
rumba,
but
affirm a
preference
for the
plena
on nationalistic
grounds.
The nationalistic revival of
plena, coupled
with its
ongoing vitality
as a
living
urban folk
genre,
will
surely guarantee
its
place
in Puerto Rican
musical culture for some time.
Nevertheless,
plena
and bomba no
longer
occupy
a
significant
role in mainstream
popular music,
which has for some
time been dominated
by
rock and salsa.
Puerto Rican National Music IV?: A Note
Regarding
Trios
In
surveying
the Puerto Rican
soundscape
of the twentieth
century,
it
would be a mistake to
ignore
the voice and
guitar trios,
whose music
pervaded airwaves, cafes,
and clubs in the decades around 1950. Trio
music-featuring suave, smooth, three-part harmony accompanied by
guitars, requinto,
and
light Cuban-style percussion-was extremely popular
throughout
the
Hispanic Caribbean,
with
groups
from
Mexico, Cuba,
Puerto
Rico,
New York
City,
and elsewhere
cultivating
a
relatively homogeneous
style
and a shared international audience. While the trios' music was too
sentimental and too
plainly pan-Caribbean
to be celebrated as
distinctly
Puerto
Rican,
its
development
and form exhibit some of the same sorts of
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
borrowing
and
appropriation
evident in earlier and
subsequent
forms of
urban dance music. As with
salsa,
Cuban urban music
provided
the
backbone of the trios'
repertoire;
the relevant
genre
here was not the
up-
tempo son,
but the romantic and
languid Cuban-style bolero,
which had
evolved in the decades around
1900.
At the same
time,
the remainder of the
trios'
repertoire comprised
a remarkable
melange
of
genres, including
old
and new
compositions
in
stylized
forms of the Mexican
corrido,
huapango
(son huasteco),
and
ranchera,
the Cuban
guajira
and
son,
the Cuban-Puerto
Rican
guaracha,
the Colombian
pasillo
and
bambuco,
the Panamanian
tamborera,
the Puerto Rican
aguinaldo,
the Venezuelan
joropo,
and even
the occasional Chilean tonada
(see,
for
example,
Ortiz Ramos
1991:177,309,
320-21, 380).
All these
genres acquired
a certain
homogeneity
of sound in
the music of the
trios, yet
all were
clearly
drawn from a broad
potpourri
of
national traditions.
Moreover,
while
dominating
the trio
repertoire,
the
bolero had
undergone
considerable refinement outside Cuba. In
particular,
Mexican
groups
like the Trio Calaveras had introduced
sophisticated
three-
part singing,
which
subsequently
became the norm
throughout
the Carib-
bean
(including
in
Cuba,
where it continues to
prevail among
the trios heard
in restaurants
throughout
the
country).
If the trio
style
owed its foundation to
Cuba,
Puerto Ricans could
justifiably
claim trio music as an
entity
which was as much theirs as
anyone's.
Puerto Rican
composers
like Rafael Hemandez and Pedro Flores had
immeasurably
enriched the trio
repertoire,
with Hernandez's "Lamento
Borincano"
becoming (along
with "La
Borinquefa")
a sort of unofficial
anthem. As Ortiz Ramos states:
It is incorrect . . . to assert that the voice and
guitar
trios are a
foreign
phenomenon
in our
country.
These
groups,
like the main
genre they cultivated,
the
bolero,
fermented in the Caribbean and were
reproduced
in different
countries
maintaining
a robust
production. Every part
of the Caribbean had its
own trios with their own variants and
particular originality.
At the same
time,
and thanks to this common Caribbean
situation,
we were
influencing
at the same
time as
being
influenced. The distinct
styles
and
expressions
created and
protected by
local trios went on
being integrated
into the
dynamic
of
adopting
primary
material from all sides:
repertoire, instruments, forms,
and
styles.
The
trios in Puerto Rico are the most basic
groups
in the
history
of our
popular
music.
(Ibid.:390)
Thus,
the international roots of the trios'
repertoire,
rather than
diluting
its
local
popularity,
lent the music a
cosmopolitan pan-Latin sophistication,
and
completely
avoided
any
influence of commercial Yankee culture. Cuban
roots
(with
subsequent
Mexican
refinement)
thus
provided
the vehicles for
an affirmation of Puerto Rican and
Hispanic-Caribbean
musical culture.
The music of the trios became
marginalized
in the
1960s
with the advent
263
264
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
of rock and salsa.
Nevertheless,
the
processes
of
borrowing, synthesis,
and
creative
appropriation
in trio music
provided
a
paradigm
which
was,
in some
manners,
rearticulated in the
emergence
of
salsa,
to which we
may
now turn.
Puerto Rican National Music V: Salsa
Since the late 1960s salsa has
emerged
as a musical
expression
of the
aesthetics, values,
and
identity
of Puerto
Ricans, Nuyoricans,
and others. Its
aspirations
to
pan-Latino popularity
are
explicit
in
many
of its
song
texts
calling
for Latino
solidarity,
and in the statements of musicians and
aficionados,
who celebrate it as a
challenge
to the
hegemony
of
Anglo-
American music and culture. Salsa's
significance
as a vehicle for Puerto
Rican, Nuyorican,
and
pan-Latino identity
is also inherent in its
appeal
across
a broad
spectrum
of Latino
nationalities,
age groups,
and social classes. As
a
result,
I have found that
many
Puerto Ricans and
Nuyoricans
bridle
indignantly
at the
notion,
however
rhetorically suggested,
that in
stylistic
terms salsa is
essentially
second-hand Cuban music.
The
process
of
appropriation
of Cuban music has been a
complex one,
whose nature
has,
in
my opinion,
been obfuscated in much of the discourse
on Latin music. One
may group
the standard
arguments
in
support
of a
pan-
Latino,
and
particularly
Puerto Rican nature of salsa into four basic
themes,
which
may
be summarized as follows:
(1)
Salsa is an
internally
diverse
genre, incorporating
not
only
Cuban-
derived
styles,
but
significant
amounts of a wide
variety
of Caribbean
musics,
including bomba, plena, seis, merengue, cumbia, reggae,
and other
genres.
(2)
Afro-Cuban dance music has flourished in Puerto Rico since
1900 (if
not
earlier),
such that Puerto Ricans over several
generations
have come to
regard
it as their own tradition.
(3)
Salsa is
stylistically quite
distinct from Cuban music of the
1950s,
from
which it once
liberally
drew.
(4)
Salsa-as
opposed
to Cuban dance music-is
ultimately
a
product
of the New York Latino
community,
which has
interpreted
Cuban music in
a fresh
manner, endowing
it with a new
significance
as a vehicle of that
community's
own social
identity;
via such
resignifications,
salsa has subse-
quently
come to be a
symbol
of cultural
identity
for Latinos
throughout
the
Caribbean Basin and
elsewhere,
such that its ultimate
origins
in Cuba are
essentially
irrelevant.
Puerto Rican Elements in Salsa?
Each of these
arguments
merits fuller discussion. We
may
commence
with the
first,
which I consider the weakest. Its
exponents argue
that salsa
is
pan-Caribbean
and
pan-Latino
in
that,
far from
relying
on inherited Cuban
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
styles,
it draws
liberally
from diverse Caribbean
musics; hence,
for
example,
the
tendency among
Latino musicians to
speak-misleadingly,
I would
say-of
the "Afro-Caribbean" roots of salsa. In this
article,
I do not intend to
discuss at
length
the
relationship
between salsa and both
merengue
and
cumbia. Of
greater
relevance here is the
frequently-encountered argument
(for
example, Duany
1984:198)
that salsa has
incorporated
substantial
elements of Puerto Rican
musics,
such as the
plena, bomba,
and seis. I submit
that such
arguments
have been
grossly overstated,
and that the
precise
nature of Puerto Rican musical elements in salsa merits clarification.
Cesar
Rondon,
for
example,
asserts that
by
the
mid-1970s
the bomba and
plena
became
firmly
established in
salsa,
not
only
in Puerto
Rico,
but in New
York as well
(1980:171).
With full
respect
for the erudition of Rondon's
work,
I find this statement
unsupportable.
Plena and bomba-even in their salon
varieties-are
virtually
never heard on New York Latin
radio,
except perhaps
in occasional "oldie"
programs featuring,
for
example, Cortijo's
music.
They
are
very rarely performed
in clubs.12 In the
repertoires
of mainstream salsa
bands, they
are so
infrequent
that it would be a
fairly simple
matter to
enumerate their
specific
occurrences. Bomba and
plena
do not
play
significant
roles in the music of El Gran Combo and the Sonora
Poncefia,
the
two most
popular
salsa bands based in Puerto Rico-and the bands which
are often celebrated as most
distinctly
Puerto Rican.
Finally,
as I have noted
above, plena
and bomba de salon are themselves
heavily
Cubanized in
style.
Other
indigenous
Puerto Rican elements in salsa
may
be somewhat
more
widespread, although
often subtle in nature. The most
prominent
atavism is the use of the
jibaro
music vocables "le-lo-lai"
by
Puerto Rican and
Nuyorican
salsa vocalists. A few salsa
songs
contain
snippets
of familiar
danzas like "La
Borinquefia."
Then there is a handful of
songs drawing
from
jibaro
models, including
several of
Conjunto
Clasico,
a number of Willie
Colon's earlier
pieces,
and such
songs
as El Gran Combo's "Si no me dan de
beber,
lloro,"
whose tune is based
loosely
on seis enramada. Another more
self-consciously
nationalistic
example
is
Conjunto
Libre's
"Imagenes Latinas,"
which commences with an
aguinaldo.
One also encounters such claims as
that of salsero Orlando
Fiol,
who feels that El Gran Combo's melodies have
a
"folksy"
and
ineffably
Puerto Rican
quality, quite
different from the flavor
of Cuban melodies. Fiol also contends that most Puerto Rican
singers place
less
emphasis
on clave than do their Cuban
counterparts (personal
commu-
nication).
Familiar Puerto Rican
poems
have
inspired
a few salsa
song texts,
such as that of "Catalina la
O,"
which borrows
phrases
from a
poem
of Luis
Pales Matos. One
might
also mention the occasional collaborations of cuatro
virtuoso Yomo Toro with salsa
bands, and,
of
course,
the
dynamic,
if
marginal
uses of traditional Puerto Rican elements in the musics of
groups
like
Grupo
Folklorica
y Experimental Nuevayorquino.
265
266
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
Taken as a
whole,
such
incorporations
of traditional Puerto Rican music
elements into salsa have been common
enough
that
they
can be said to lend
a Puerto Rican
flavor,
however
subtle,
to some
contemporary
salsa. Never-
theless, they
do not alter the fact that mainstream salsa remains
firmly
rooted
in the
rhythms,
formal
structures, harmonies,
and instrumental
styles
of the
dominant
genres
of Cuban dance
music,
the
son/guaracha/rumba complex.
Indigenous
musical forms like the
plena, bomba,
and seis have not con-
stituted the bases for
popular
Puerto Rican musics since
Cortijo's
decline;
the
popularity
of
plena
and bomba in the music of
Cortijo
thus constituted a
rather
special
and
unique period
in Puerto Rican music
history
(see
Malavet
Vega
1988:154-55).
This
fact,
I
reiterate,
should not be taken to
deny
the
"authenticity"
of salsa as Puerto Rican or
pan-Latino music; however,
that
"authenticity,"
I
submit,
is better based on more
complex phenomena
of
socio-musical
resignification.
Cuban Music as a Home-Grown
Transplant
A
stronger
case for the Puerto Rican nature of salsa can be based on the
second
argument suggested above,
that since Puerto Ricans have cultivated
and
enjoyed
Cuban dance music for several
generations,
there should be no
contradiction involved in
regarding
it as Puerto Rican music. As we have
discussed,
Puerto Ricans had
effectively adopted
the Cuban contradanza
and, later,
the
bolero, converting
them into
symbols
of Puerto Rican
nationalism.
Similarly,
the Cuban
guaracha
had
already
taken root in Puerto
Rico in the latter nineteenth
century. Brought by
Cuban teatro
bufo troupes
and
migrant
Puerto Rican
agricultural workers,
the
guaracha
came to be the
dominant
up-tempo
dance
genre throughout
the island.
Originally
it differed
from the son in its earlier
evolution,
its often
bawdy
texts and association
with houses of
ill-repute,
its faster
tempo,
heavier
downbeat,
and
alternating
verse-chorus form
(rather
than the son's
bipartite
canto-montuno
form).
As
in
Cuba, however,
the
guaracha
came to be
heavily
influenced
by
the son
from the
1920s
on,
to the extent that the two
genres
became
largely
indistinguishable. Perhaps
because of the
early
advent of the
guaracha,
Puerto Ricans have
largely
continued to use the term
guaracha
rather than
son to
designate
their
up-tempo
Afro-Latin urban dance music.
Hence,
I have
noted that for
many
Puerto Rican and
Nuyorican musicians,
"son" tends to
connote the Cuban
genre
of the
1920s-30s,
whereas for
Cubans,
the term
may
also refer to the most
contemporary pieces by
Irakere or other bands.
Regardless
of
terminology,
it clear that from the turn of the
century
generations
of Puerto Ricans
grew up
reared on the Cuban-derived
guaracha, son,
and
bolero,
such that
they naturally
came to
regard
these
musics as their own. Glasser
(1990,
1991)
has shown that Puerto Ricans in
New
York,
from the
1920s
on,
became the
principal performers
and con-
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
sumers of Cuban-derived musics. Puerto Rican musicians have since the
1930s
outnumbered Cuban
performers
of
Cuban-style
music in New York
(and as studio musicians
they
have
recently
come to be outnumbered
themselves
by
Dominicans).
More
importantly,
New York
City
itself was a
crucible for the evolution of the
mambo,
which
emerged
as a collaborative
product
of New York-based Cuban and Puerto
Rican/Nuyorican
musicians
like Tito Puente.
Meanwhile,
the
ultimately
Cuban
origin
of the modernized
son, guaracha,
and bolero was not
perceived
as a
contradiction,
since these
genres
came to be
effectively resignified
as
pan-Latin
musics. A similar
process
occurred with the traditional rumba
itself,
which was the
primary
genre
in the roots-oriented
vogue
of street
drumming
that
developed
in the
New York and Island barrios from the late
1950s.
The rumba
guaguanc6,
which now resounds
throughout
weekends in East Harlem and in
places
like
Santurce's Alto de
Cabro,
was
adopted
as a
symbol
of Puerto
Rican,
Nuyorican,
and
pan-Latino solidarity,
to the extent that it can
currently
be
said to flourish on a scale at least as
large
as that of its Cuban
heyday
in the
early
twentieth
century
(see
Lopez
1976).
The Cuban
origins
of these
genres
are not
wholly
irrelevant. In the street
and
competition
rumbas I observed in Puerto Rico in
1991,
a number of the
coros
performed
were from familiar
pop songs
like Celia Cruz's "Bemba
Colora,"
suggesting
that not
only
is the rumba
imported,
but that it has come
to Puerto Ricans
second-hand, by way
of commercial salsa.
Similarly,
the
guaguanc6
of the
contemporary street-drumming
scene
generally
does not
include
dance,
which was the focus of the
original
Cuban
rumba,
but cannot
be transmitted
by recordings;
the vocal canto of the traditional rumba often
also seems to be
elided,
as the
emphasis
is now
primarily
on the
showy
quinto (conga) playing.
Accordingly,
as some
Nuyorican
and Puerto Rican musicians realized
that their favored
genres
were
primarily
Cuban in
origin, they
took a
renewed interest in
studying
the roots
through
old
recordings.
For
Nuyorican
innovators
Andy Gonzalez, Jerry Gonzalez,
Oscar
Hernandez,
and
others,
record collector and musical savant Rene
Lopez
was the
guide
to the Cuban
sources,
which the avid students could then set out to master and
subsequently
build
upon (Singer 1982:148-49,
157).
Lopez's
attitude toward
salsa imitations of Cuban music is worth
quoting
at
length:
By
then I had met most of the band leaders and had all their albums and could
then trace the tunes that were on the albums ... I could trace them
especially
to
Cuba, through
these old 78s that I had collected. And I realized that
they
[contemporary
musicians]
were
just reinterpreting things.
And not
only
that-
a lot of the time
they
would do the same
inspiraci6n [semi-improvised
vocal
lines in the montuno]. The Cuban one
always
sounded
better,
because it was
really
an
inspiraci6n
... So I could see the difference between the real
267
268
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
inspiraci6n
and the
copy
of it.... I saw it
differently.
I saw the old stuff as
good
tunes which
you
should
interpret your
own
way,
not
copy. (quoted
in
Singer
1982:143)
Statements like that of
Lopez suggest
two
perspectives
on the
appropria-
tion of Cuban musics
by
Puerto Ricans and
Nuyoricans.
On the one
hand,
the
guaracha
had
long
since flourished
among
Puerto Ricans in New York
and on the
island,
such that it had
acquired
a certain life and
identity
of its
own, independent
of its Cuban roots. On the other
hand,
the
major
lines of
its evolution until
1960
continued to be
developed primarily by
Cubans. The
most creative and
dynamic
modem musicians included those
who,
like the
Gonzalez
brothers,
at once immersed themselves in the Cuban
roots,
and
transcended them in their own
syncretic development
of a music
expressive
of
Nuyorican
barrio
identity.
Salsa
Style
and Cuban
Conjunto Style
Before
discussing
the
emergence
of salsa as a barrio
phenomenon,
we
should consider the third
argument
outlined
above,
regarding
the
stylistic
differences between salsa and
1950s
Cuban dance music. I have asserted
above that salsa's debt to
distinctively
Puerto Rican
genres
like
seis, bomba,
and
plena
is overshadowed
by
its continued reliance on Cuban-derived
elements; further,
while Cuban
genres
have been
avidly
cultivated and
enjoyed by
Puerto Ricans for several
generations,
their Cuban
origin
remains
potentially paradoxical
in relation to their role as
symbols
of Puerto Rican
identity. According
to the third
argument
introduced
above, salsa,
as a
distinctively Nuyorican product,
is
stylistically
distinct in a number of
ways
from its
primary source, pre-Revolutionary
Cuban dance
music; therefore,
there is no contradiction or
paradox in,
for
example,
Puerto Ricans and
Nuyoricans regarding
salsa as their own musical
heritage;
salsa is not
merely
recycled
Cuban music. In
my opinion,
there is a fair amount of substance to
this
argument, which, indeed,
is a
complex hypothesis
that cannot be
adequately
dealt with in the
space
of a
page
or two. This
argument,
like the
previous
one,
has been stated or
implied by
a number of commentators
(such as Rond6n
1980, Duany 1984),
but has not to
my knowledge
been
explored analytically
in
any publication.
Before
proceeding,
I should
clarify
that the issue involved is the extent
to which salsa-a music identified
self-consciously
as a
genre
in itself from
the late
1960s
on-has
departed
from Cuban dance music of the 1950s.
Thus,
where salseros and others
(for
example,
in conversations with me on this
topic) speak
of son or "Cuban
music," they
are
generally referring
to music
of the
pre-Revolutionary period.
A false
impression
which such discussions
might
create is the notion that dance music in Cuba itself has remained static
since 1959.
In
fact,
it has
not,
as a casual
listening
to
any
record
by
Los Van
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
Van or Irakere can illustrate.
Nevertheless,
such
groups
have had
very
little
influence outside Cuba
itself, primarily
because the American blockade
effectively prevents
them from
touring
in the United States
(including
Puerto
Rico).
Thus,
for most Latinos outside
Cuba,
"Cuban music" tends to connote
the dance music that flourished in Cuba in what was
undeniably
a
period
of
extraordinary
musical
vitality,
the
1940s-50s.
We have noted above that the Cuban
son/guaracha/rumba
complex
continues to
provide
the basis for most
aspects
of salsa
style, including
rhythm,
formal
structure, orchestration,
and individual instrumental
styles.
This
continuity
is of course the case for senior artists like Celia Cruz and Tito
Puente,
whose musical
styles
had matured
twenty-five years
before the
coining
of the term "salsa."
Hence,
Tito Puente has dismissed the term as
irrelevant to his
music,
and Celia Cruz is often described less as a salsera than
as "reina rumba"
("queen
of the
rumba")
or as a traditional
guarachera.1
More
relevantly,
a certain stream of salsa is
clearly
devoted to
perpetu-
ating
a
tipico
sound
essentially
based on that of the
1950s-style
Cuban
conjuntos
(for
example,
with a horn section
consisting only
of two
trumpets). Johnny
Pacheco and Pete "El Conde"
Rodriguez
are the foremost
exponents
of this
type
of music. Some have
argued
that such music is not
really
salsa, especially
since several of Pacheco's hits were
simply
note-for-
note renditions of
1950s
songs by
Cuban bandleader Felix
Chapotin.
However,
Pacheco himself
(a Dominican)
was a co-founder of Fania
records,
the
leading
salsa label in the
1970s,
and is
generally regarded
as a
leading,
if conservative salsero. For his
part, Rodriguez
is Puerto
Rican, but,
like
many
of his
compatriots,
was reared so
thoroughly
on Cuban music that he
regards
it as his
own,
and feels no hesitance in
singing "Soy hijo
de
Siboney"-"I'm
a son of
[Cuban town]
Siboney."
Rond6n has referred to this brand of salsa
as
constituting
a "Matancerization"-that
is,
a
static,
if vital cultivation of the
style
associated with the Sonora
Matancera,
a
quintessential
Cuban
group
of
the
1950s (1980:90).
Some salsa and Cuban music aficionados criticize the
conjunto
sound-and in some
cases,
salsa in
general-as
dated and mired
in
nostalgia (see,
for
example,
Cabrera Infante
1981:6,
Galan
1983:352-53,
and
Joe
Falcon in CEP
1974:58),
but there are
many (including myself)
who
find in it a sort of
authenticity
uncharacteristic of so much
contemporary
mainstream commercial
salsa,
with its
slick, plastic sound,
its
vapid,
sentimental
lyrics,
and the mindless
"pretty-boy" image
cultivated
by
its
singers.
Regardless
of one's verdict on the
conjunto style perpetuated by
Pacheco and
others,
it
represents only
one
type
of
salsa,
and not the most
widespread
one. The
remainder,
and
larger portion
of
contemporary
salsa
differs in certain
respects
from the 1950s Cuban sound. As noted
above,
these
differences have
provided
one sort of theoretical
legitimization
for the
269
270
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
Puerto Rican and
Nuyorican
sentiment that salsa is their own
music,
rather
than
just
a
recycled
Cuban
genre.
Those who have
suggested
such an
argument, however,
have mentioned it
only
in
passing,
and
they
have
tended to
speak primarily
in
generalities.
In
fact,
most of the
significant
distinctions between salsa and the fifties Cuban sound are concrete
phenomena
amenable to more
analytical description.
Such differences are
evident both in the music of salsa innovators like Eddie Palmieri and Ruben
Blades as well as "mainstream" commercial artists like Tito Nieves and Eddie
Santiago
who dominate
radio,
dance
clubs,
and
steady
record sales.
The more
significant
of these
stylistic
distinctions can be cited
briefly
(text
content will be addressed further
below).
As Diaz
Ayala
(1981:337)
has
pointed out,
the timbales standard in salsa
groups
was not a standard feature
of the Cuban
conjunto,
but was
imported
into salsa in the
1960s
(having
been
adopted
earlier from
charanga
ensembles in the New
York-style
mambo).
Salsa vocal
lines,
whether in melodies of the canto
("song"-like
first
section),
or in coros and
inspiraciones
of the
montuno,
tend to be
sung
at a
considerably higher pitch range
than was
typical
of
1950s
Cuban
singing.
Seldom heard are the
medium-range
coros so
characteristic,
for
example,
of
Arsenio
Rodriguez's
music. Salsero and
ethnomusicologist
Chris Washburne
also observes certain differences in instrumental
style:
salsa
congueros
cultivate a
dry, crisp,
staccato
sound,
with
relatively
little
variation,
unlike the
more resonant tone and
looser,
more fluid
style
of Cuban
counterparts
both
today
and in the
past (personal
communication).
Similarly,
horn
styles
also
differ in certain
nuances,
perhaps
due to the classical-as
opposed
to
jazz-
background
of
many
modern Cuban sidemen. It is also
possible
that
scrupulously proper
realization of clave
rhythmic
structure in
arrangements
is
becoming slightly
less
significant,
as
reflected,
for
example,
in the
popularity
of
songs
like the Colombian
Grupo
Niche's "Cali
Pachanguero"
(on Global 9878-1-RL)
faulted
by annoyed
musicians
(according
to
Washburne)
for its
jumbled
(cruzada "crossed")
clave.
Further, popular
tastes in Puerto
Rico and New York have come to
depart
not
only
from
1950s
norms but even
from each other in certain
respects.
Aside from the distinct
styles typical
of
Puerto Rican studio
musicians,
audiences on the
island,
far from
slavishly
following
New York
preferences,
have their own favorites. Island hits are
generally
different from mainland
ones, favoring
local
groups
like El Gran
Combo and Sonora Poncefia.14
Finally,
one
may
make certain distinctions which
clearly
derive from
changes
in era and
technology
rather than
style perse:
In
particular,
salsa
recordings
have a
dry, clean, slick,
and
crisp sound, typical
of
digital
or solid-
state
recording techniques
and the
practice
of
overdubbing prevalent
in this
country
as a whole.
Recordings
of the
1950s,
as well as
many
modern Cuban
recordings (especially
those done with vacuum-tube
equipment),
have a
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
271
warmer,
more resonant and ambient
sound,
as well as a
looser,
more
spontaneous
feel due to
being
recorded live in the
studio,
that
is,
in a
single
take.
Hence,
for
example,
Washburne relates how in a
1991
recording
session of a
group
led
by
(Cuban
immigrant)
Daniel
Ponce,
the artists
deliberately attempted
to recreate a "Cuban" sound
by using
old-fashioned
RCA
microphones, placing
them further from the instruments in order to
achieve
greater ambience,
and
insisting
that the
recording
be done in a
single
take,
rather than
by laying
individual tracks
(personal
communication).
Similarly,
one
may
observe that there is much
greater
influence of
jazz
in
mainstream salsa (as well as in modern Cuban dance
music)
than in
conjunto
music of the 1950s. Rock harmonic
progressions
also
occasionally
occur
(for
example,
beneath the coro of Colon's
"Juanito
Alimafia").
How should we assess the
significance
of these
stylistic
distinctions? On
the one
hand, they
are
mostly
in the realm of
nuance,
in no
way altering
the
continued reliance on the basic
style, form,
and
rhythmic
structure of the
Cuban son. On the other
hand,
taken
collectively, they
could be
argued
to
lend salsa a
markedly
distinct flavor from that of its Cuban antecedents.
Rondon's reference to
Ray
Barretto's music as
constituting
a "modernization
of the Cuban son"
(1980:87)
could be taken to
apply
to salsa in
general.
As
Rondon
argues,
salsa and
1950s
Cuban music are best
regarded
as "fraternal"
musics rather than identical ones
(ibid.:137).
Salsa as a
Contemporary Resignification
We
may
now turn to the final
argument
introduced
above,
which is
socio-musical rather than
musicological
in nature. In
brief,
it would resolve
the
paradox
of the continued reliance on Cuban-derived
styles by noting
that
the social
significance
of these idioms has
changed
in the salsa context. Salsa
emerged
as a
product primarily
of the Latino communities in New York
barrios, affirming
their
growing
sense of ethnic and class
identity
in the face
of
social, economic,
and
political marginalization
and
exploitation.
Salsa's
significance
as a vehicle for Latino
identity
has been
expressed explicitly
in
song texts,
statements
by
musicians and
listeners, and,
less
explicitly,
in the
very
fact of its
popularity among
urban
Hispanics
in a
period
of
heightened
sense of ethnic
identity.
I have mentioned
above,
for
example,
the
enthusiasm with which salsa innovators
Andy andJerry
Gonzalez immersed
themselves in the
study
of Cuban
music; despite
such
avidity, however,
their
goals
for their own music were
quite distinct, involving
a combination of
Cuban
music,
modem
jazz,
and diverse Caribbean
genres
in a self-conscious
attempt
to create a music reflective of their own identities as New York-born
Latinos
(see
Singer
1982:213-14).
Some salsa
songs, particularly
several of Colon and
Blades,
chronicle the
violence and vicissitudes of
daily
life in the barrios
(thereby perpetuating,
272
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
it
might
be
said,
the Cuban son's tradition of
referring
to
people, places,
and
events). Meanwhile,
more
commercial,
sentimental mainstream salsa
ap-
peals
to middle-class Latinos who do not
identify
with barrio subculture.
Many
listeners in the latter
category may
like salsa
partly
because it can be
made to cohere
(for
example,
as
packaged
on
Spanish-language
MTV)
with
American
bourgeois
consumerism. For
others, however,
salsa serves as a
banner for Afro-Latin
culture,
or for international Latino
solidarity
in
confrontation with American
imperialism
(see
Flores
1991).
Accordingly,
many songs explicitly
stress themes of
pan-Latino unity.
Even
apolitical,
commercial,
mainstream salsa can be said to affirm Latino
identity
in some
senses. Salsa has thus become an
expressive
vehicle
collectively
cultivated
and
patronized by
urban
Hispanic
communities
throughout
the Caribbean
Basin,
and even in several South American cities. It has become identified
with a new sense of Latino
identity
which is at once
international,
and
yet
rooted in local
community
culture. Its
emergence
in New York
City
has been
intensified
by
the
heightened
awareness of Puerto Rican
identity
that
many
islanders
(including
Antonio
Pedreira)
felt
upon migrating
to or
visiting
the
city,
where
they
were
exposed
to racist
discrimination,
an acute and
unprecedented
sense of
"otherness,"
and the existence of
tight
Puerto Rican
enclaves. The
subsequent emergence
of salsa as a
pan-Latino
idiom has been
furthered
by
the internationalization of
capital, reflected,
for
example,
in the
emergence
of Venezuela as the
largest single
market for salsa as well as the
home of the
major
salsa label TH
(Top
Hits).
The
development
of salsa as a
symbol
of
identity
for New York and
Caribbean Latinos has been discussed
competently
elsewhere
(Singer 1982,
Cortes, Falc6n,
and Flores
1976, Duany 1984,
and
especially
Rond6n
1980).
Thus there is little need to reiterate the basic thesis of this
phenomenon here,
although
the
paradox
involved in
resignifying
Cuban music is
worthy
of
comment. As we have
noted,
some Puerto Ricans and
Nuyoricans
have
faulted salsa not
only
for its
commercialization,
but
also, concommitantly,
for its
perceivedly
excessive reliance on borrowed or inherited Cuban
styles
(see,
for
example,Joe
Falc6n in CEP
1974:58ff).
Others have
responded
that
Cuban-derived or
not,
salsa has been
experienced by
urban Latinos as a
positive phenomenon, countering
the cultural
imperialism
of
rock,
and
helping
them to
outgrow
the cultural
inferiority complex
of the
1930s-50s
and discover a new
pride
in their
language
and Latino musical
heritage.
As
Frank Bonilla
(of
the Centro de Estudios
Puertorriquefos)
states:
[Cuban music] is
very powerful
music that is
very
close to our own. If the whole
world was
responding
to
it, why
shouldn't we? At the same
time,
there were
always
self-affirmations in our music ... There are
just
as
powerful explanations
on the
positive
side as on the
negative
end. I
prefer
a
positive interpretation
because that's the
way
I remember
experiencing it;
a lot of
people experienced
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
273
it in a
very positive way
... And the music was one of the most
powerful things
keeping
the
community together
. . .
[The music was] a
principal point
of
reference in terms of
maintaining self-identity. (quoted
in
Singer
1982:58)
Similarly,
Felix Cortes describes how the
adoption
of Cuban musical forms
in salsa involved not
just
reiteration and
borrowing,
but creative
appropria-
tion and reformation:
What
happens
here is that with the
development
of a
community
here Puerto
Rican musicians
interpret
[Cuban music] and then take it and add to it their own
vision of the world and of their own
way
of
being
and
adapting
it to what is
happening
in the
community....
And even in content it
changes.
It no
longer
talks about a
"dandy"
in a
community
in Havana. It talks about the
drug
scene
here;
it reflects the
community's sexism, racism,
etc.... The Puerto Rican takes
ahold of
[Cuban music] and
incorporates
it in his own
development here,
into
a culture that is
developing.
(CEP
1974:VII, 62)
As Cortes
suggests,
the
significance
of salsa as a
product
of the
Nuyori-
can or urban Latino
experience
in
general-as opposed
to the
pre-
Revolutionary
Cuban
experience-is
most
explicit
in the realm of
song
texts.
We have noted above how a
significant minority
of salsa texts do chronicle
contemporary
barrio
life,
call for Latino
solidarity,
and in other
ways
root
themselves in modem urban life.
However,
the
paradox
of Cuban derivation
also
persists
in the realm of
song texts, many
of which invoke tradition in
a
habitually
Cuban form. A few
songs quote
from or modernize traditional
Cuban rumbas
(such
as Eddie Palmieri's version of "Consuelate" in "Ritmo
alegre").
If
any religion
is
invoked,
it is
generally
the Cuban-derived santeria
rather than
Christianity
or Puerto Rican
espiritismo.15
Most
typically,
salsa
songs,
like their Cuban
precedents,
extol the
rumba,
the
guaguanc6.
In most
cases, technically speaking,
the
songs
themselves are not even
rumbas,
and
would not be labeled
thusly by musicians,
as
they
lack even the iconic
trademarks of the
guaguanc6,
the distinctive
conga pattern
and the rumba
clave. A
typical example-chosen among
innumerable
possible
others-is
Tite Curet Alonso's "La esencia del
guaguanco,"
whose refrain
calls,
"Listen
to
it,
the essence of the
guaguanc6."
As Alonso and musicians well
know,
the
song
is not in fact a
guaguancd
(but
rather a
son),
and the rumba is
invoked here more for a
general
sense of
tradition,
which
happens
to be a
Cuban-derived one. Of
course,
as we have
noted,
the
guaguanc6
has come
to flourish as a
street-drumming genre among Nuyoricans
and Puerto Ricans
since the late
1950s.
Still,
references to it in
contemporary
dance
songs
must
naturally
have a
deeper
resonance for
Cubans,
in whose culture rumba first
emerged
and has
always persisted
as a
fuente
viva-a
"living
source"-of
inspiration
for modem dance music.
The invocation of Cuban tradition as well as the
appropriation
of the
guaguanc6
itself illustrate at once the Cuban roots of
Nuyorican
and Puerto
274
Ethnomusicology,
Spring/Summer 1994
Rican
music,
as well as their
resignification.
That
is, Nuyoricans
and Puerto
Ricans have borrowed not
only
the dominant Cuban dance
musics, but,
however
belatedly, they subsequently imported
even the ancestral Afro-
Cuban roots of these musics. In the
process,
street drummers and others have
resignified
the
guaguanc6
as a vehicle for the
claiming
of
public space,
and
as a
Nuyorican,
Puerto
Rican,
and
pan-Latino
artifact.
Salsa
itself,
despite
its
ongoing vitality,
will not be able to serve as the
sole musical vehicle for a
culturally
united Caribbean or Latino
community,
due to its
partial cooptation by
American commercial interests and to its
negligible popularity
in the French and
Anglo
Caribbean.
Already
other
musics are
playing
their own formative roles in the
emergence
of such
identities, supported by
the
increasing
internationalization and decentrali-
zation of the mass
media,
the
globalization
of
capital,
and the
ongoing
ethnic
exchanges
in New York
City
and elsewhere.
Hence,
for
example,
Latin
(Spanish-language) hip-hop
and
reggae
have
emerged
as
pan-ethnic genres
in their own
right, constituting
one more demonstration of the
ability
of
economically marginal people
to rearticulate and
cross-pollinate
extant
musics to serve their own aesthetic needs.
AsJose
Luis Gonzalez has
pointed
out,
Puerto Ricans' command of
English,
rather than
being
a
sign
of their
deculturation, may
turn out to be an asset in
creating
new bonds with the
Anglophone
Caribbean
(1980:43).
Conclusions: The
Appropriation
of a Tradition
The cultivation and
resignification
of Cuban music
by
Puerto Ricans
illustrate how the
process
of musical
appropriation
can take
place.
On a
strictly
musical
level, appropriation
can involve the active
alteration,
however
subtle,
of
acquired styles,
as
competent
imitation
gives way
to
creative
syncretism
and further evolution. More
importantly, however,
appropriation
is a socio-musical
process, involving
the
resignification
of the
borrowed idiom to serve as a
symbol
of a new social
identity.
The
history
of Puerto Rican music as a whole can thus be seen as an
ongoing
rearticulation
involving relatively indigenous genres
and those which have
been borrowed from
abroad, primarily
from Cuba. Since the mid-nineteenth
century,
these borrowed
genres
have not
only
become
popular
and taken
root on Puerto Rican
soil,
but
they have,
in their own
times,
been reinvented
as local entities and celebrated
by
cultural nationalists as
symbols
of Puerto
Rican and
Nuyorican identity. Hence,
as
Duany
notes
(1984:200),
a common
Puerto Rican
quip states,
"La salsa es de
aqui
como el
coqui"-"Salsa
is as
Puerto Rican as the
coqui"
(a
kind of toad
unique
to Puerto
Rico).
Paradoxically,
while Puerto Ricans and
Nuyoricans
have turned out to be
brilliant
exponents
of Cuban-derived
musics,
these forms have in
many
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
275
respects
flourished at the
expense
of more
indigenous genres,
from the seis
to the bomba.
The Puerto Rican
appropriation
and
resignification
of an
essentially
intact Cuban musical
heritage
can be seen as one of several
possible
cultural
reactions to a borrowed music. The fate of Cuban dance music in other
countries
provides contrasting examples,
each conditioned
by
the nature of
the host musical culture. In much of
Africa,
as
mentioned,
Cuban dance
music constituted a
hegemonic style, eventually
to be
wholly
discarded in
favor of
genres
like mbalax and soukous which were at once more rock-
oriented and more
indigenous.
In
Spain,
Cuban
campesino
music and the
son
(referred
to as
guajira
and
rumba, respectively)
were
adopted
as
light
flamenco
subgenres,
in the
process being thoroughly stylized, indigenized,
and "flamenco-ized"
(aflamencada). Meanwhile,
Cuban dance music (and
later, salsa)
has
long
been
popular
in the Dominican
Republic,
but has failed
to
marginalize
the
indigenous merengue, which, indeed,
has become an
international
genre
in its own
right.
The Puerto Rican reaction to Cuban
musical influence-wholesale
adoption
and socio-musical rearticulation-
thus contrasts with other
scenarios,
such as initial
adoption
and eventual
rejection
in
Africa, absorption
and
indigenization
in
Spain,
and coexistence
in the Dominican
Republic.
For its
part,
the
merengue may
be
regarded
as
a music still in the
process
of
being resignified
as local
by
Puerto
Ricans;
while it is
widely popular among
Puerto
Ricans,
it is still resented and
criticized as
"foreign" by
some cultural nationalists
(not
to mention salsa
musicians).16
To those
observing
a
process
of
appropriation
from the
outside,
and
particularly
from the
perspective
of the donor
culture,
the derivative
aspects
of the music in
question may
be far more
striking
than its new
significance.
Thus,
for
example, many
Cubans tend to
regard
salsa as a mere
recycling
of
1950s-style
Cuban music.17
Similarly,
Westerners
may
tend to hear
many
international
genres,
from Thai sakon to the nueva trova of Silvio
Rodriguez,
essentially
as imitations or reiterations of soft rock.18 To some
extent,
of
course,
outsiders
may
be oblivious to the subtle local elements introduced
into derivative
genres by
those who borrow
them;
or even when such
idiosyncracies
are
pointed out,
outsiders (and a few critical
insiders)
may
continue to
regard
them as
insignificant.
However "authentic" such
appro-
priations
and
resignifications may be,
they
illustrate how the
global
soundscape
has come to constitute a
complex
matrix wherein
regional
hegemonic
idioms interact with local
grassroots musics, many
of which
may
in turn have their own dialectic
relationships
with one or more other
international
genres.19
I have shown that the
process
of musical rearticulation involves
historical conditions and issues of social
identity
as well as
purely
musical
276
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
developments.
Until
1959,
cultural
borrowings
from Cuba were facilitated
by
the
ideological, political,
aesthetic,
and commercial ties between the two
sister islands.
By
the time the American blockade had cut off direct
influence,
Cuban-style
music had
already
established such
deep
roots in Puerto Rican
culture that it was able to flourish on its own as a
locally-cultivated
urban
popular
music;
ignorance
of Cuban
roots,
as
promoted by
the
blockade,
has
further facilitated the
process
of
resignification. Meanwhile,
since
1959
the
presence
of a
large, affluent, right-wing,
and often resented Cuban exile
community
in Puerto Rico has added a new twist to Puerto Rican attitudes
toward Cubans.
The
relationship
between salsa and Puerto Rican
identity
is further
complicated by
the
variety
of kinds of cultural
identity
Puerto Ricans
may
have,
whether these identities are
competing
and
mutually exclusive,
or
compatible
and
overlapping.
These
self-images
themselves interact with
other sorts of
identity-notably, political persuasion
and economic inter-
est-in
ways
which are often
contradictory. Now,
as
before, many
Puerto
Ricans
(especially
of the
bourgeoisie) identify
with American
values,
political life,
and
culture, including
rock music.
Similarly, many Nuyoricans
have lost touch with the
Spanish language
and
naturally
incline toward more
American music and culture. Others
might
endorse
Americanization,
but
resent their
economically
and
culturally marginal
status. As Gordon Lewis
has
observed,
it has been the nature of American colonialism to divide Puerto
Rico from the Caribbean and Latin
America,
while at the same time
denying
Puerto Ricans full
incorporation
into American culture
(1963:208).
Hence it
is not
surprising
that
independentistas, including
the active and vocal Puerto
Rican
left,
have been the most articulate and vehement in
denouncing
the
consumerism, materialism,
and
Anglicization promoted by
colonial
status,
and the most fervent in
celebrating indigenous
culture. In this
discourse,
rock music is often
regarded
as a
primary antagonist-in
one nationalist
intellectual's
words,
"a menace to the
preservation
of Puerto Rican musical
and cultural
identity"
(Diaz
Diaz
1985:28).
Duany
has
explored
the
differing
senses of cultural
identity
of the salsa fans
(cocolos)
and rock music
audiences
(rockeros),
noting
how
they personify opposing
stances on the
"acculturation/resistance
spectrum"
(1984:200-201). However,
cultural na-
tionalists come in all
political stripes, including
several ardent
opponents
of
independence.
Further,
while
independentistas
often seek to embrace
proletarian
Puerto Ricans as victims of American
exploitation
and custodians
of local
culture, many
lower-class Puerto
Ricans, especially blacks,
have
traditionally
favored
statehood, feeling
that their lot would be worse in an
independent country.
There is little
agreement
as to what form cultural nationalism should
take,
just
as Puerto Ricans themselves
may
hold such varied forms of social
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
277
identity.
There have been
those,
from
Hispanophilic
reactionaries like
Pedreira to
contemporary anti-imperialists
like Eduardo
Seda,
who have
advocated
promotion
of a
pure
island
culture,
free of
corrupting
American
commercial influence. Such a
position
is
complicated by
the
presence
of
some 2.7 million
people
of Puerto Rican descent now
living
on the mainland.
While island culture
(including
musical
culture)
is not identical to
Nuyorican
musical
culture,
it is
ultimately impossible
to
separate
Puerto Rican culture
from
Nuyorican
culture.
By extension, however,
it is
impossible
to
separate
Nuyorican
culture from that of the
many
other Latino communities in the
eastern United
States,
and for that
matter,
in their countries of
origin.
Correspondingly, many
Puerto Ricans think of themselves not
only
or even
primarily
as Puerto
Ricans,
but as
Caribbeans,
or
Afro-Caribbeans,
or Latinos.
Such
conceptions
of
identity
exert their own influences
upon
extant musical
genres,
in some cases
conditioning
their
appropriation
and
resignification
in
such a
way
that their
original
roots and ethnic associations become
effectively
irrelevant to their new audiences. Thus the
history
of
music,
and
of culture in
general,
consists not
merely
of the evolution of
overtly
new
genres
and
styles,
but of the rearticulation of extant idioms to
respond
to new
social circumstances.
Notes
1. While
assuming
full
responsibility
for the contents of this
article,
I must
acknowledge my
debt to
illuminating
conversations with Hal
Barton,
Chris
Washburne,
Delfin
Perez,
Orlando
Fiol, Juan Flores,
Roberta
Singer,
and
Mayra
Santos. All references to
Washburne, Barton,
and
Fiol in this article are from
personal
communications.
Special
thanks are also due to
Edgardo
Diaz and Morton Marks for their extensive and
insightful
comments on an earlier draft of this
paper.
2. For
example:
"With racist
optic,
Puerto Rican
identity
is then seen and evaluated
through
the
optics
of the Yankee
oppressor,
to whom we are a
hybrid people
and therefore inferior"
(Seda 1974:10).
Unfortunately,
in this article I
(a Yankee) am in fact
asserting
(like most Puerto
Rican
musicologists)
the
hybrid
nature of Puerto Rican musical
culture, although my
intent is
far from
being
derisive. Note that I use the term "American" to connote the United States in
accordance with Puerto Rican and
Nuyorican conventions-although
in
distinction,
to Cuban
conventions,
for
example,
which would
employ
"North American" in such
instances, recogniz-
ing
the entire continent as "American."
3. African musicians like Tabu
Ley Rocherau,
Makiadi
Franco,
and Youssou N'Dour have
all
personified
this
process
in their own
careers,
whose
early stages
were devoted to Cuban-
style
music. Critics of Cuban musical
hegemony
have included such
figures
as Tanzanian
president Julius Nyerere: "Many
of us have learnt to dance the
rumba,
or the cha
cha,
to rock
and roll and to twist and even to dance the waltz and foxtrot. But how
many
of us can
dance,
or have even heard of the
gombe sugu,
the
mangala, nyang'umumi, kiduo,
or lele mama
[Tanzanian
genres]?" (quoted
in
Stapleton
and
May
1990:23).
4. In
nineteenth-century Cuba,
the terms contradanza and danza were used somewhat
interchangeably
to denote the same
genre
and its variants. Natalio Galan
illustrates, however,
that the
gradual preference
for the latter term reflects how it came more
properly
to denote a
latter-nineteenth-century form, distinguished
from the contradanza
proper primarily by
its free
278
Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer
1994
couple choreography
(1983). The term habanera
(from contradanza
habanera,
Havana-style
contradanza
)
was used
primarily
outside Cuba. In Cuba
itself,
habanera
eventually
came to
denote a
slow, vocal, light-classical song
(such as Sanchez de Fuentes'
"Tu").
In this
paper,
I
exclusively employ
the term contradanza for the Cuban
contradanza/danza,
in order to
distinguish
it from its Puerto Rican
relative,
which since the 1880s has been
invariably
and
unambiguously
called danza.
5.
See,
for
example,
Diaz Diaz
1990:12,
Brau
1977. One need not be a Marxist to draw a
correlation
between,
on the one
hand,
collective
group
dances and communal
pre-capitalist
social
economies, and,
on the other
hand,
intimate
couple
dances
typical
of
capitalist
societies
wherein individuals or nuclear families are the socio-economic units.
6.
ComposerJulian
Andino wrote in
1924,
"The
primitive
danza was of
eight measures,
like
those of Havana. [It] was
ordinary
music ... It was I who made it
sweeter,
more
elegant,
and
more
rhythmic" (quoted
in
Asenjo
1952). Another oft-noted distinction is the
rhythmic pattern
known as the "elastic tresillo": the
ambiguously
written
phrase
m
n
which is
generally
played
m n.
7. In the realm of
instruments,
for
example, plena
involves the Indian
guiicharo (scraper),
the African tambor
(drum-actually
not
commonly used),
and the various
European
instru-
ments
(concertina, guitar,
and so
on).
Such common references to the island's "tri-racial roots"
tend to
exaggerate
the extent of Indian contribution to Puerto Rican culture.
8.
See,
for
example,
1929
recordings by
Los
Reyes
de la Plena and El Trio Boricua on
Harlequin HQ 2075,
A:2 and B:5.
9. This
illuminating
volume is the
product
of a conference on Puerto Rican
identity
held at
Hunter
College.
It is
printed
in
eight individually paginated
units.
Although
not
named, Juan
Flores, Angel Falc6n,
and Felix Cortes are the
primary
authors and editors.
10.
Thus,
for
example,
mulatto
Nuyorican
bandleader Guillermo Calder6n
changed
his
name to the more
catchy
and
prestigious "Joe
Cuba."
11. From
Joy
LP
1203, B, 1,
and
B,4, respectively.
12. Trombonist Chris
Washburne,
who has
played regularly
in a wide
variety
and number
of New York salsa bands since
1988,
states that he has never heard a band
play
an entire
plena
or bomba.
(personal
communication)
For their
part, Cortijo's
own
plenas
and bombas
(not to
mention those of
Concepci6n
or
Canario)
are not
played
live in
clubs,
since cover bands
generally play only
current
hits,
while
big-name
bands
perform only
their own material.
It is worth
noting
that Rond6n also
overemphasizes
the role of
plena
and bomba in
Cortijo's
own
music, referring
to hits like
"Quitate
de la via
Perico,""El negro bemb6n,"
and "Severa" as
examples
of such
genres (1980:171);
in
fact, they
are all
guarachas
(and are labelled
thusly
on
records)
played
in mainstream Cuban
style. Perhaps
Rond6n's
misunderstanding
in this
regard
led him to
exaggerate
the
popularity
of
plena
and bomba.
13. Puente has been
quoted
as
stating,
"The
only
salsa I know comes in a bottle: I
play
Cuban
music"
(quoted
in Martinez
1982).
14. Chris Washbume notes that Puerto Rican studio
hormen play markedly
softer than do
their New York
counterparts,
and that
English-language
salsa hits
enjoy
little
appeal
on the
island. Due to the
expense
of
touring,
bands travel
relatively infrequently
between Puerto Rico
and the United States.
Only
a few
major artists,
it should be
noted,
are based in the island.
15. Hector Lavoe's
"Todopoderoso"
would constitute the best-known
exception.
In
general,
one could draw a
parallel
between the
Nuyorican
and Puerto Rican
appropriation
of Cuban
music with their
adoption
of santeria. The fact that this faith is borrowed from Cuban tradition
makes it no less
significant
for its tens of thousands of
Nuyorican
and Puerto Rican adherents.
16. I noted that an island
journalist
denounced a local
politician
for
playing merengue
over
his P.A.
system
at a December 1991
rally.
17. Hence
Monguito's song
"No le llame salsa a mi
son,
dile muisica cubana"
("Don't call
my
son
'salsa,'
call it Cuban
music").
I have discussed Cuban views on salsa in Manuel 1987:69-
71. See also Cabrera Infante 1981:6 and Natalo Galan 1983:352.
18. A case in
point
was a 1970s
dialogue
between members of a
touring
Chinese orchestra
and a
group
of Western
scholars;
to the
latter,
the music
presented by
their
guests,
because of
Puerto Rican Music and Cultural
Identity
its
orchestration, harmony,
and
style,
sounded like derivative
nineteenth-century European
symphonic music,
with a dash of tame nationalism in the form of
pentatonic
themes. When such
impressions
were
tactfully suggested, however,
the
visiting
musicians
protested
that their music
was
thoroughly Chinese, pointing
out that the themes derived from local folk melodies
(Fang
Kun
1981).
19. Slobin 1992 and Hannerz 1989
provide insightful appraisals
of this
phenomenon.
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VOL. NO. 2 38,

ETHNOMUSICOLOGY

SPRING/SUMMER 1994

Puerto Rican Music and CulturalIdentity: Creative Appropriation of Cuban Sources from Danza to Salsa
PETER MANUEL JOHNJAY COLLEGE, CUNY GRADUATE CENTER

hroughout the twentieth century, the issue of culturalidentity has been particularlycontroversial and active among Puerto Ricans.Puerto Rico's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, the relatively high political consciousness of its population, its large and self-conscious emigrant communities, and above all, its ongoing colonial status have generated, for over a century, a persistent and explicit concern-occasionally described as an "obsession"with national identity.1 Music has served as one of the most important symbols of Puerto Rican cultural identity. With the growth of nationalism in the latter nineteenth century, when literacywas discouraged by Spanish policy, it was naturalthat creole music, rather than literature, should come to be celebrated as a quintessential expression of island culture. Music is regarded as a symbol of identity even for Nuyoricans (New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent) who do not speak Spanish. The cultural prominence of music has continued to the present, with the emergence of salsa as a dynamic expression of Puerto Rican, Nuyorican, and pan-Latin identity, and one which has been dominated for decades by Puerto Rican musicians more than any other group. Puerto Rican nationalist intellectuals as well as popular opinion have long embraced salsa-for example, as opposed to rock-as a characteristically (albeit not exclusively) local music. Nevertheless, a significant qualification and potential contradiction lies at the heart of the allegedly indigenous characterof salsa and its island antecedents, for in stylistic terms, most of the predominant Puerto Rican musics, from the nineteenth-century danza to contemporary salsa, have been originally derived from abroad-particularly from Cuba. This aspect of Puerto Ricanculture is in some contexts a sensitive
? 1994 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

249

250

Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 1994

one, and in others it is taken for granted. It remains, however, a fundamental feature of Puerto Rican musical history, and yet one which in Latin music discourse is often obscured or ignored-or, more typically, mentioned in parenthetical, often unclear, and even distorting statements. The primary intent of this article, however, is not to glorify the Cuban contribution to contemporary Latinmusic, especially since this contribution is already recognized by knowledgeable listeners. Nor is it to question the validity of the virtually unanimous Puerto Rican conception of salsa and danza as local in character.Rather,I intend to explore the process by which Puerto Ricans have appropriated and resignified Cuban musical forms as symbols of their own cultural identity. In some senses, the resignification of Cuban music by Puerto Ricans has involved distortions of historical fact, as I shall illustrate. More importantly, however, it has constituted a social process of appropriation by which Cuban musical origins, however once crucial in Puerto Rican culture, have in fact become irrelevant to Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans. This perceived irrelevance itself is the result of a complex process of socio-musical rearticulation which can be seen as a feature of Puerto Rican culture in general-a culture which has consistently been conditioned by a complex, overlapping, and often contradictoryset of multiple identities. In entering the debate on Puerto Rican national identity, I am sensitive to the dangers of inserting myself, as an American, into an extensive and sophisticated body of extant discourse on Puerto Rican identity in which American culture is generally perceived as the primary antagonist, and in which Yankee perspectives are not necessarily solicited or welcomed for their own sake.2 Such considerations notwithstanding, I undertake this article in the hopes of heightening awareness of the issues involved, to faithfully represent salient aspects of Puerto Rican "emic"discourse itself, and to clarify issues that have generally been treated either only indirectly (as in Duany's illuminating "anthropology"of salsa [1984]) or else erroneously. Above all, I will argue that Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans are justified in regarding such musics as salsa as having been effectively indigenized, but primarilyin a socio-musical rather than historical sense. Cuban Music as an International Phenomenon

The internationalpopularity of Cuban music over the last two centuries has been quite extraordinary,especially in comparison to Cuba's relatively small size. In the nineteenth century the Cuban contradanza (habanera) was widely popular in Europe and, as we shall discuss, became the model for the Puerto Rican danza. Twentieth-century Cuban dance musicespecially the son-enjoyed an exponentially greater international vogue.

At the same time. It was such nationalistic sentiments. rejected. the commercial son of the 1930s through the 1950s became the dominant urban popular music in much of Africa and in most of the Hispanic Caribbean. In the colonial world. the process involved actively appropriating Cuban-derived idioms. resignifying them as indigenous expressions. as in Africa. more significantly. of course. sometimes with the explicit encouragement of political and cultural leaders... stressing the fraternal solidarity of the two aspiring nations.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 251 While Euro-Americanrock and its international derivatives have dominated much world popular music since mid-century. Cuban-style music came to constitute a new sort of hegemonic genre. this process involved growing out of the dependence on Cuban forms. and cultural exchange has . Cuba is demographically and geographically several times larger than Puerto Rico. or syncretized-in the ongoing process of developing national or ethnic cultural identity. of course. Cuban music constituted a significant step in the re-Africanizationof professional urban dance music. and foxtrot. as agriculturalworkers migrated to and fro. indeed. as among Puerto Ricans. Cuban dance music provided its international audiences with a musical style that lacked direct associations with imperialist metropoles. The two wings. Cubaand PuertoRicoare two wings of the same bird . de (LolaRodriguez Ti6) Cuba and Puerto Rico have enjoyed a special relationship since the Spanish colonial period. was the fact that they were the only remaining Spanish colonies afterthe rest of LatinAmerica gained independence in the first half of the nineteenth century. and shared anti-colonial movements forged a common socio-political bond. in Africa and elsewhere. formed a somewhat lopsided bird. In some cases. commercial and military interaction increased. which had to be confronted-whether appropriated. Economic. while forming the basis for the "mambo craze" in the USA and heavily influencing such genres as the mid-century Haitian cadence. polka. much of which had been previously dominated by thoroughly Western genres like the waltz.. The most important tie. it was Cuban music which came closest to enjoying such international appeal in the previous few decades.3 Elsewhere. In Africa.. and culturalbonds between Cuba and Puerto Rico intensified in the nineteenth century. subtly transforming their style and. political. and that could become a potent symbol of identity for modernizing urban societies. that inspired Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodriguez de Ti6 to pen the oft-quoted lines above. Thus. Puerto Rican National Music I: The Danza Cubay Puertoson de un pdjarolas dos alas .

with the man and woman loosely embracing each other.both elements were denounced as vulgar by negrophobic. Similarly. by extension. its clear roots in the Cuban contradanza (habanera)4 oblige us to outline the latter's evolution and significance. in the realm of choreography. nationalists celebrated the Afro-Latinelement in creole culture as the single feature which most unambiguously distinguished it from Spanish culture- . Over the course of the century.with a traditionallymore advanced economy. wherein men and women would line up opposite each other and performvarious coordinated. despite Cuban racism. many Puerto Rican nationalists have historically tended to regard Cuba as a sympathetic big brother. a fullfledged war of independence. nominal sovereignty (however much compromised by ongoing American intervention). which was accordingly and clearly not the source of the Cuban contradanza. Spring/Summer 1994 accordingly been mostly (although not entirely) unidirectional. closer to home. is its gradual development into one recognized-by its votaries as well as detractors-as a distinctly Cuban entity. The cultural affinities between the two colonies in the nineteenth century were nowhere more explicit than in the forms that musical nationalism took therein. the dance resembled its original ancestor. In both islands. 77. group steps. Puerto Rico-with creole aesthetics and nationalism. While the Puerto Rican danza is the main focus of our attention in this section. As a musical idiom. for example. the archaic collective portions of the contradanza and the dictatorial bastonero became increasingly identified with feudal Spanish rule. all under the guidance of a "caller"-like bastonero. similarly. for our purposes. Similarly. a form of creole dance genre emerged which came to be explicitly identified with national ethos and. Its choreography was also significant:in its early stages. and. While the eighteenth-century origins of the contradanza are obscure (see Galan 1983). colonial-minded purists. after 1898. despite its name. 178.5Thus. Galan 1983:59-95.252 Ethnomusicology. later. the contradanza gradually lost its communal character. anti-colonial sentiment. Both elements were conspicuously absent in the Spanish contradanza. Both the Afro-Caribbean syncopation and the transition to couple dancing were explicitly identified-in Cuba and. the contradanza was distinguished primarilyby its Afro-Latinsyncopation. Cubans of all classes came to adopt the intimate. 51-52). the "longway" version of the English country-dance. occasionally following a designated lead couple (somewhat like a Virginiareel). the genre's significance. performed freely by individual couples. with the uninhibited and decidedly nonfeudal lower-class blacks and mulattos. and Mikowsky 1973:37. evolving from a collective danza de cuadro into a modern-style danza defiguras. informal couple dancing associated with the Parisian bourgeoisie and. Over the course of the nineteenth century. and were celebrated all the more enthusiastically by creole nationalists (see.

Corsican. Galan 1983:158. and then circling gracefully during the cedazo and cadena sections. Ponce hosted a more lively and varied cultural scene. distinctive isorhythms. For the purposes of this article. First. citations in Brau 1977:8. emerged as a symbol of nationalistic spirit. merengue.Thus."became the island's unofficial anthem. While composers like Saumell and Cervantes penned such pieces for the elite. danza.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 253 hence. Two aspects of this transition may be noted here. the dozens of contradanzas with "exotic"Afro-Cuban titles like Los nanigos and El mulato en el cabildo (see Lapique Becali 1979:40. engaging in genteel conversation as they strolled arm-in-arm during the paseo. Angel Quintero Rivera(1986) and Diaz (1990) have insightfully shown how the rise of the danza became linked with the emergence of this nationalistic hacendado proto-bourgeoisie. and South American immigrants with no particular fondness for Spanish customs. "La Borinquenfa. Edgardo Diaz Diaz has concisely chronicled how in bourgeois circles the danza and other related intimate couple dances came to displace the archaic semicollective dances like the rigod6n and lancero (1990). it soon became explicitly identified with the contemporary independence movement. Finally.was fervently enjoyed and performed by virtually all social and racial strata (with the evident exception of rural slaves). which cultivated the support of working classes and petty-bourgeois merchants and artisans. including upa. and pan-social. the significance of the danza is in its transition from a Cuban borrowing to a Puerto Rican genre. for example. While denounced. while the danza retained (with elaboration) the basic formal structure. wherein hoop-skirted. bejeweled ladies and debonair gentlemen would dance to the measured strains of a chamber ensemble. it should be noted that the Cuban contradanza-like the Puerto Rican danza. violin. it was regarded . 12). while San Juan remained dominated by church and military music. protean popularity of its Cuban model. which was led by an agriculturalelite including many recent Haitian. choreography. In bourgeois circles. both in its salon and popular varieties. peasants and urban workers danced to cruder versions of the genre (and often the same compositions). the southern city of Ponce became the center of this movement. it was not coincidental that a vocal danza. the Cuban contradanza was exported to Puerto Rico under various names. 42). or whatever instruments were handy (see. 263-64). Accordingly. linked as it was to the agriculturalexport whose expansion was perpetually frustratedby Imperial regulations. for example. the contradanza flourished as a salon genre. played on ad hoc ensembles of guitar. trumpet. for example. and ultimately.While SanJuan was the governmental seat. flute. as vulgar by antiquariansof its day (see. In the 1840s. like its Cuban model. in which the danza. within a few decades the danza was being cultivated so avidly as to be lauded as a national genre.

Chopinesque sophistication quite uncharacteristic of the simpler Cuban contradanzas. Hence.254 Ethnomusicology. In musical terms. if the danza had previously been celebrated for its distinctively non-Spanish qualities. nor does it appear to have been regarded as a contradiction in terms of the "national"character of the danza. a sister colony. for example. The hacendado class resented the American presence most sharply. another "wing of the same bird. and promoted an unprecedented level of economic development. the United States. Spring/Summer 1994 as acquiring a distinctively Puerto Rican character (see. based partly on the realization that the island was to be exploited as a colony ratherthan annexed as a state. commercial middle class whose fortunes. Hispanophilic essayist Antonio Pedreira put up a spirited defense of the danza in his classic 1934 study of the Puerto Rican cultural dilemma. and materialistic Ameri- . Insularismo. Cuba was. as we will see. this character is perhaps most apparent in the danzas ofJuan Morel Campos (1857-96) and his contemporaries. Veray 1977a. who liberated the island from Spanish economic restrictions. Before long. crass."a partner in the anti-colonial struggle.The danza took on a new sort of nationalistic significance for the declining agriculturalelite during this period. in contradistinction to the cheap American commercial culture which was already influencing the island. which argued that the danza embodied the best aspects of Puerto Rican character-gentility. the Puerto Rican appropriation of the danza involved a social rearticulation. which have a variety and a florid. and on the fear that American culture and language were undermining the island's own cultural heritage. With the American invasion of 1898 Puerto Rican colonial history entered a new phase. The Cuban origin of the danza does not appear to have been a matterof embarrassment. commercial. in accordance with the fact that for this class. mildness. Many Puerto Ricans initially welcomed the Americans.6 Secondly. because of its comprador nature. were directly linked to the United States. rather than Spain. 1977b). These aspects of Puerto Rican appropriation of Cuban music. fraternalsolidarity with Cuba appear to have nullified any potential sense of cultural rivalry or inferiority. however. it now became a symbol of refined Hispanic island culture. after all. Thus. engendering in its place a more modern. occasioning a gradual reorientation of nationalistic sentiment. American rule was eliciting nationalist resentment. Puerto Rico's amicable relations. and indeed. One important fact for contemporary Puerto Ricanswas that the danzawas markedly distinct from the archaicand formal Spanish contradanza (not to mention other Spanish genres). and aestheticism-the very qualities threatened by vulgar. whereby a borrowed Cuban genre came to be resignified as a national one. especially since Yankee agribusiness was destroying that elite. encouraged liberal humanism. was the new antagonist. foreshadow the process of adopting Cuban dance music in the twentieth century.

and noted that the danza was a product of a bygone era. We have mentioned that the American invasion of 1898 occasioned a reorientation of Puerto Rican nationalism. rather than Spain. the influence of American racism. however. and above all. and dependency on the mainland. son. The danza has retained a certain niche in Puerto Rican culture until the present: at least one danza remains obligatory at weddings. Cuba and Puerto Rico remained sister islands. By the 1930s. But its claim to the status of national music has long been usurped by other genres. The nature of the new nationalism differed in other significant respects. raising the average local standard of living to the highest in LatinAmerica. Again.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 255 canization. far more prescient than Pedreira'sreactionary. and the genre continues to enjoy a place in the jbaro repertoire. Of course. and bolero had taken over all but the most elite dance halls. if not most. and often quite rapacious and humiliating dominance of the United States. most Puerto Ricans were coming to view the danza as archaic and quaint. the inundation of commercial American culture. American rule intensified unemployment. For its part. while socioeconomic modernization of the island was eroding the entire premodern milieu which had sustained the danza. nationalist sentiment has tended to focus primarily on cultural issues-the imposition of English. an independent Puerto Rico might still be likely to remain wholly subservient to American imperialist interests. Partly as a result of such misgivings. to which we will turn below. for example.felt most acutely by the bacendado class whose commercial expansion was curtailed by restrictive Spanish regulations. many Puerto Ricans. became the colonial metropole. income inequalities. from the early twentieth century. The Cuban guaracha. such that many have questioned whether independence from the United States would enhance the island's affluence. land alienation. at the same time. Given such mixed results. Moreover. the twin wings of a bird once caged by Spain. emigration. while lacking the benefits afforded by commonwealth status. In such conditions. economic grievances have been less clear-cutthan cultural ones in twentieth-century nationalism. Thus. Ortiz Ramos 1991:30). music became a contested ground of unprecedented significance and visibility (see. as the genre had long since come to be seen as a resignified Puerto Rican form. the Cuban roots of the danza were not regarded as problematic. and now under the sometimes benign. Nineteenth-century Puerto Rican nationalism was rooted in economic frustration. which criticized the explicit or implicit racism of danza-mongers like Pedreira. if eloquent book was Tomas Blanco's 1935 rejoinder "Eulogio de 'la plena"' ("Elegyto the plena"). it brought dramaticeconomic development. formed their musical preferences without conscious or deliberate considerations of issues of . in which the United States.

and early twentieth-century aristocraticliterature. Some staples of the jzbaro repertoire are also obvious imports. from the contemporary sounds emerging from the sister island of Cuba. such as the decima. eschewing such features as the anticipated accompanimental ostinatos that distinguish the Cuban son. implicitly white) has always occupied a special place in discourse on national character. his wary evasiveness and dissembling deferentiality in the face of authority. American musical influence was either resisted or safely compartmentalized by the development of a lively indigenous and Nuyorican musical culture. certain elements of jibaro music are clearly Spanish-derived. over the decades. as never before. however. Of course. easygoing love of the simple pleasures of fiestas.as in the use of the Martinez. and his complacent. such as the guaracha. Before turning to such developments. cultural nationalism became a visible and influential presence in island life. simplicity. and the occasional merengue. however. Puerto Rican National Music II: Jibaro Music? The Puerto Ricanjibaro (peasant. often idealized and praised. Nevertheless. however. Its association with traditionaljibaro culture is the most obvious argument in this regard. Many Puerto Ricans came to identify with American values. . in which the final note featuring anticipated-style anticipates the harmony of the next bar). Cuban influence crops up in modem accompanimental rhythms. the backbone of the jibaro repertoire-the many varieties of seis and aguinaldo-is uniquely indigenous (in accordance with the traditional socio-economic autonomy and self-sufficiency ofjibaros in general). Spring/Summer 1994 identity. polca. and was particularly celebrated as such by Luis Mufoz Marin'sPartido PopularDemocrdtico. the jibaro's legendary hospitality. and nature. and one which is found across all political parties. which borrowed. however. not just the independentista left. self-sufficiency. Nineteenth. from Manuel Alonso's 1849 El Gibaro to Pedreira's Insularismo. which chose a silhouette of a straw-hattedjibaro as its logo. including musical tastes. we must consider another set of genres with their own sorts of claims to indigenous prominence. vals. however paternisticallyand nostalgically. coffee. being eulogized-or in some cases disparaged-as the personification of quintessentially indigenous traits. the guitarand the guitar-like cuatro.jibaro music has enjoyed a certain sort of claim to the status of national music. Another argument is thatjibaro music is so uniquely and distinctively Puerto Rican in style and character.256 Ethnomusicology. Accordingly. jibaro music remains quite distinct from Cuban music. The jibaro has often been regarded as representing the core of national identity. To a large extent. mazurca. idle banter. On the whole. and individuality. and in studio recordings bongo popularized by Estanislao "Ladi" bass (the pattern: 11 J L. and the Andalusian harmonies.

Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 257 Nevertheless. which deserve recognition and promotion. regard jibaros as poor and backwards. that basis. and first significant nationalistic encomium to the plena came in the form of Tomas Blanco's aforementioned "Elegy to the plena" (1935).Jibaro music has similarlysuffered from an ongoing popular disaffection with jibaro culture in general. Despite recent attempts to symbolically revindicate jibaro culture. The classic. and don'tmix it up with a guaracha. . jibaro music has not formed the basis for salsa or for any urban popular music in the twentieth century. Jibaros themselves have become an endangered species under the inexorable impact of American agribusiness and subsequent urbanization. urbanization. Commentators like Jose Luis Gonzalez (1980:39) have argued that the celebration ofjibaro culture by the declining hacendado elite was infused with xenophobia. most Puerto Ricans. (plena chorus) The plena and bomba together occupy another sort of prominence in Puerto Rican national culture and discourse. Hence jibaro music. for example. no que la confunda con una guaracha. whose allegedly archetypical characteristics-including passivity and illiteracyhave come to be seen as incompatible with modernization. if jibaro music was ever acknowledged as national in status. its fresh and direct topical texts. as we shall discuss below. However. and wish to avoid being regarded as such by city sophisticates. which praised its vibrant rhythms. Jibaro music continues to occupy a place in Puerto Rican culture (for example. in festivals. nostalgia for the comfortable dominance of the ancien regime. Dance me a plena. while not springing from a vacuum. 108). which has led to over sixty percent of the island's population being urban by 1970. if anything. have found their way into some Puerto Rican and Nuyorican salsa. both have been explicitly celebrated as essential components of Puerto Rican musical culture. rural parties. to Cuban music. and the music of innovators like Andres Jimenez). Certainelements of it. has come to occupy an increasingly diminutive niche at the alleged core of island culture. owe little. Lopez 1976:106. and social change in highly expressive ways. instead. and a racist depreciation of Afro-PuertoRicanculture. Puerto Rican National Music mI: Plena and Bomba? Bdilamela plena. Accordingly. has come from Cuban music. Both genres are distinctively Puerto Rican creations. and especially Nuyoricans and the urban young. Nevertheless. whose traditionalstyles. most young Puerto Ricans regardjibaro music as quaint and rustic (see. it certainly has not been so for the last several decades. whether poignantly or humorously. and many seis and aguinaldo lyrics deal with contemporary issues of migration. however "quintessentially"Puerto Rican.

in comparison. the genre focusses on the spirited interaction between the dancer(s) and the lead bomba drummer. Aside from folkloric contexts. The topical texts are rooted in daily life and are appreciated for their often satirical. which has for some sixty years been enjoyed by Cubans of all ages.7 The plena and bomba have gone on to be celebrated by cultural nationalists as vital symbols of Puerto Rican musical culture. The genre achieved an enhanced mass media presence when bolero singer Canario (Manuel Jimenez) began recording familiarplenas in . and a melodic/chordal instrument like concertina or guitar. have not achieved such popularity. and the reasons for their failure to do so require some brief review here. nor the Cuban-style anticipated vocal refrains and accompanying ostinati (for example. There and on the island. professional trios and larger groups performed at fiestas and recorded old and new compositions. however. on the whole. bomba survives in a few proletarian. and races. generally. Performed exclusively by lower-class blacks and mulattos. The plena is believed to have originated in Ponce around the turn of the century. on piano or guitar)which characterizethe rumba.8Most traditionaland early plenas.predominantly black towns like LoizaAldea. where it continues to be danced (especially by girls) at parties and fiestas. spontaneous content. while another one improvises syncopated patterns. sung to the accompaniment of pandereta (a small. guiro (scraper). it must be acknowledged that the plena and bomba have failed to achieve the status of national musics. The pandereta (or pandero) is regarded as the trademark of the genre (EchevarriaAlvarado 1984:31). Plena and bomba continue to thrive in their limited spheres. reflected. Nevertheless. and dancing. son. Plena and bomba. lively percussion on the bomba barrel drums. classes. and especially in a relatively developed and urbanized society like Puerto Rico. alternating with simple choral refrains. it consists of call-and-response vocals. Typically. and the genre took on its own life in the Puerto Rican barrios of New York City (see EchevarriaAlvarado 1984:89ff). It rapidly gained popularity among the lower and lower-middle classes as a recreational music. in the occasional use of clave patterns. round frame drum). but in this century. Spring/Summer 1994 and above all. often with informal dance. its harmonious syncretic incorporation of elements of Puerto Rico's three racial roots. reaching a peak of sorts in the 1920s. The bomba is a product of slave plantation society in the Spanish colonial period.258 Ethnomusicology. one or more panderos reiterate a simple binary meter. Cuban influence was a concomitant of professionalization. either by a couple or a soloist. From this earliest period on. it features topical verses. on the level of a commercial popular music. in either case. did not employ clave. and guaracha. to be a "nationalmusic" implies mass media dissemination. for example. for example. to the son in Cuba. Around 1910 to 1920 professionalized versions of the plena evolved.

while the bass would emphasize the downbeat in a manner uncharacteristic . Letthe foxtrots.guarachas. Ismael ("Maelo") Rivera. in his plenas the conga would imitate the pandero syncopations. His plenas employed standard mambo instrumentation and arrangement formats. his music represented a sort of apogee for the plena.While Cuban influence was evident in the standard conjunto format of Cortijo'sensemble and in such elements as the piano style. Concepci6n's popularization of the plena came at the price of Cubanizing the genre almost beyond recognition. omitting imitations of exoticisms like jazz and avoiding falling into plagiarizations of alien Cubanisms" (1935). Canario's songs retained much of the street plena's flavor. and bass. as the plena will remain exclusively in the domain of the popular. which. roughly half of his better-known plenas incorporate Cuban-style anticipation in the vocal refrains and bass patterns as well as instrumental interludes. The evident Cuban influence in Concepci6n's plenas and even those of his predecessors had already elicited the criticism of Tomas Blanco in the conclusion to his aforementioned essay: "Hence. Generally. At the same time. Accordingly. In the following decade. while supplementing the traditionallysparse orchestration with piano. in his idiosyncratic form. Concepci6n's plenas became thoroughly Cubanized.and bebop continue I'mstayinghere in SanJuanwith my plena. the vast majority of his song texts eulogized Puerto Rico and the plena. In the early 1950s a new and revitalized plena and bomba appeared in the music of bandleader Rafael Cortijo and his vocalist. two or three horns. In these respects. and in the conspicuous absence ofpanderos. his plenas and bombas retained an earthy rawness redolent of their proletarian roots. which often played in the anticipated Cuban style mentioned above. His "Plena en San Juan" is typical in this respect: Quesigan confoxtrots. but much of their distinctively Puerto Rican characteras well. representing a particularlyexplicit form of nationalism in popular music. it would suit our professional ensembles to reproduce it without false sophistication. acquiring an unprecedented amount of respectability and glamor. Cesar Concepcion further popularized and diluted the plena by incorporating it into a big band formatclearly influenced by the "sweet" jazz bands of Benny Goodman and others.guarachasy bebops queyo me quedoaqui con miplena en SanJuan.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 259 the mid-1920s. Concepci6n's music embodied in an extreme form the contradictions of the plena in relation to insular identity. On the one hand. resounded in fashionable hotels and salons. losing in the process not only their proletarian flavor.

and plena and bomba ceased to play a significant role in the mass media or in the realm of commercial popular music in general. son. are quite simple. while Ismael Riverafounded a new group. that the stylization of the rumba was carried out primarily by Cubans. some might think that in musical parameters the guaracha. while the modernization of the bomba and plena took the form of a marked Cubanization. to flourish in urban folk contexts. Indeed.260 Ethnomusicology. The failure of plena and bomba to enjoy lasting success as popular musics would seem to require some explanation. both groups largely forsook plena and bomba for the Cuban-derived styles dominating salsa in general. asaltos). bomba remains largely confined to lower-class black private fiestas. the only features really identifying Cortijo's bombas as such were the iconic conga pattern and bell pattern. With the advent of the salsa boom from the late 1960s. Los Cachimbos. personal communication). It could be pointed out that the bomba de salon and plena de salon of Cortijoand others were no further removed from their roots than is the 1950s Cuban rumba de salon from its ancestor. Forits part. by protesting students. In 1962 most of Cortijo'sgroup split off to form El Gran Combo. Mon Rivera. based on the bomba larga pattern used in the traditionalsika style: nJ7 J JM7 (Hal Barton. Cortijo'spopularity declined in the 1960s. They continue. and by striking labor unions in front of targeted workplaces. like those of his contemporary.were a bit farther removed from the genre's roots. especially since the traditional bomba was not an informal social dance to begin with. and implicit harmonies. while Cortijo'splenas and bombas constituted the most distinctive feature of his music. such that most Puerto Ricans have little exposure to it at all. and its traditional melodies. is routinely performed by meandering ensembles at informal street parties (trullas. Some of his melodies were derived from traditionalplenas (such as his "Huy que pote"). of course. if any. however. texts. As for the more familiarplena. and other contemporary styles. a Cuban nationalist might observe. roughly a thirdof his repertoire-including some of his most popular hits-consisted of guarachas in more or less standard Cuban style. and his texts were steeped in everyday barrio life. the two genres have remained marginalentities as dance music genres (as I shall discuss further below). for example. Spring/Summer 1994 of the Cuban-derivedguaracha and son. But in the realm of popular dance music and the mass media. In most other respects (such as the use of anticipated bass). they have given up their niches to mainstream salsa. rock. along relatively indigenous evolutionary lines. Cortijo'sbombas. A more significant factor appears to have been the negative association ofplena-like that ofjzbaro music-with . and rumba are inherently richer and better suited to professionalization and syncretic development as mass mediated genres. The plena. Finally. merengue. his bombas did not differ significantly from the prevailing Cuban dance music.

and the New York- . A handful of quasi-folkloric groups have emerged which performplena at town festivals and." "seis the and low chorreao. The turnto Cuban music may have been particularlylogical for black and mulatto Puerto Ricans. old I was because fashioned. A younger Nuyorican salsero. Latinmusic savant and producer Rene Lopez writes of the New York rumba-dominated street drumming vogue starting from the late 1950s: Lookingback at those jamsessions. if not most Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans sought a more modern. 60)9 76. people. for the generation whose attitudes were shaped in the 1930s-50s. at ordinary dance concerts. and popularbig bands thatwere mainlymelody oriented.Hence.at the same time it was a fraternalLatin country. and cosmopolitan culture.andnotreallypercussive.the PuertoRicanintellectual thinksthatthe "bomba. explains the prevalent attitude of his parents' generation: "People back then wanted at all costs not to be identified with jzbaro culture. I don'tfeel genuinewhen I play the "plena" come fromthattime. I feel uncomfortable playinga musicof the forties. Plenibon ('plenay bomba').'0 Since the 1970s plena and. cosmopolitan identity. Cuban mambo sound" (personal communication). with which Puerto Rico enjoyed good relations. you know. occasionally. most Puerto Ricansevidently found it naturalto adopt Cuban music as their own. Such groups as the Pleneros de Loiza. Orlando Fiol.harmonybecause I don't wise.quartets. represented a more advanced.. whether in place of or alongside American popular music and local folk genres.Althoughwe had heardof Plenaand Bomba. developed.In eightyearsago the schools there was no historyof PuertoRico being taughtand no music that programs had anythingto do with PuertoRicanculture.till seven or I neverknew thatPlenaandBombawere blackexpressions. and [intellectuals] have not wantedto bringthemto the popularlevel of the PuertoRicanpeople . at a time when many.Why? Becausethe intellectual (and this is directed "jibaro" at PuertoRico).." "seischorreao" musicin New York.I guess we thought of our parents'music as jibaro (hicky). brassy. folkloristic revival. in spite of the admonitions of cultural nationalists and purists like Tomas Blanco. and which had its own healthy nationalistic anti-Americanism. bomba have been the subjects of a deliberate. to a lesser extent. I cannotremember playingPuertoRican rhythms." thingslike thatbelong to jibaros. so what they liked was the big.theywere veryvague imagesbecauseblackPuerto As Ricanmusicwas never given any importance. since Afro-Latinelements in music and culture were so much more pronounced and recognized in Cuba than at home. a matterof fact. (CEP1974:VIII. thinkthisimpression formed popularPuertoRicanmusicof the '50swas composedmainlyof trios. the Pleneros del Quinto Olivo. Cuba.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 261 the more backward sectors of local society.melody-wise.(1976:108-9) Nuyorican musician Joe Falc6n (of the innovative group Conjunto Uni6n) expresses a similar viewpoint: I am going to [explain] the of why we don'tdancethe "bomba.

they retain the plena's traditionalcharacter. coupled with its ongoing vitality as a living urban folk genre. rumbamba Cuba. Puerto Rican National Music IV?: A Note Regarding Trios In surveying the Puerto Rican soundscape of the twentieth century. While the trios' music was too sentimental and too plainly pan-Caribbean to be celebrated as distinctly Puerto Rican..and in PuertoRico. which has for some time been dominated by rock and salsa. will surely guarantee its place in Puerto Rican musical culture for some time. The nationalistic revival of plena.calypsoin SaintThomas. in Rumbamba Cuba. plena and bomba no longer occupy a significant role in mainstream popular music. The point was thatthe plena is being forgotten.with groups from Mexico. Although these groups generally employ horn sections and three-partharmonies. Nevertheless. Puerto Rico. will and so thatBorinquen go on dancingplena .. three-part harmony accompanied by guitars. it would be a mistake to ignore the voice and guitar trios. Cuba. "Rumbamba".The culturalnationalism of some of the new song texts is particularly explicit. bombaandplena in I like dancingrumbafor its charming sweetness But I preferthe plena because it's fromPuertoRicol1 The last verses acknowledge the appeal and Cuban origins of rumba. and clubs in the decades around 1950.262 Ethnomusicology. smooth. requinto. How nice it is. that'swhy we foundedthis group . how greatit sounds. and because we want to go on singingit. and elsewhere cultivating a relatively homogeneous style and a shared international audience.. cafes. New York City. Get the corogoing so thatit never dies. and light Cuban-style percussion-was extremely popular throughout the Hispanic Caribbean. The following translated excerpts from Quinto Olivo's repertoire are representative: " "Una nochese oyo en Borinquen One nightthe ringing panderosof the plena resoundedin Borinquen. and they are changingour tradition. Trio music-featuring suave. its development and form exhibit some of the same sorts of . whose music pervaded airwaves. but as a living urban folk music. the guira andpanderetaof the bouncyplena. but affirm a preference for the plena on nationalistic grounds.. Spring/Summer 1994 based Pleneros de la 21 have attempted to revitalize plena not as a commercial popular music.

Moreover. and completely avoided any influence of commercial Yankee culture. the international roots of the trios' repertoire. Cuban urban music provided the backbone of the trios' repertoire. As Ortiz Ramos states: It is incorrect. and even the occasional Chilean tonada (see. but the romantic and languid Cuban-style bolero. At the same time. Puerto Ricans could justifiablyclaim trio music as an entity which was as much theirs as anyone's. phenomenonin ourcountry.The primary Ricoarethe mostbasicgroupsin the history ourpopular of music. . the Puerto Rican aguinaldo. the relevant genre here was not the uptempo son. the Colombian pasillo and bambuco. yet all were clearly drawn from a broad potpourri of national traditions. Puerto Rican composers like Rafael Hemandez and Pedro Flores had immeasurably enriched the trio repertoire. OrtizRamos 1991:177. we andthanks thiscommonCaribbean to at situation. If the trio style owed its foundation to Cuba. triosin Puerto (Ibid. the Venezuelan joropo. with Hernandez's "Lamento Borincano" becoming (along with "La Borinquefa") a sort of unofficial anthem. instruments. the bolero.and styles. the Cuban-Puerto Rican guaracha. including old and new compositions in stylized forms of the Mexican corrido. Cuban roots (with subsequent Mexican refinement) thus provided the vehicles for an affirmation of Puerto Rican and Hispanic-Caribbean musical culture. and ranchera.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 263 borrowing and appropriation evident in earlier and subsequent forms of urban dance music. while dominating the trio repertoire. the Cuban guajira and son.The distinctstyles and expressions created and into protectedby local trioswent on being integrated the dynamicof adopting material fromall sides:repertoire. which subsequently became the norm throughout the Caribbean (including in Cuba. where it continues to prevail among the trios heard in restaurants throughout the country). 380).:390) Thus. lent the music a cosmopolitan pan-Latinsophistication. As with salsa. . for example.309. forms. the Panamanian tamborera. which had evolved in the decades around 1900. In particular. Everypartof the Caribbean its own trioswith theirown variants At and particular originality. 320-21. the same time. rather than diluting its local popularity. the bolero had undergone considerable refinement outside Cuba. were influencing thesame time as being influenced. huapango (son huasteco). All these genres acquired a certain homogeneity of sound in the music of the trios. Mexican groups like the Trio Calaverashad introduced sophisticated threepart singing. fermentedin the Caribbeanand were reproducedin different a had countriesmaintaining robustproduction. The music of the trios became marginalized in the 1960s with the advent . the remainder of the trios' repertoire comprised a remarkable melange of genres. to assert that the voice and guitartrios are a foreign Thesegroups.likethe maingenretheycultivated.

I have found that many Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans bridle indignantly at the notion. Its exponents argue that salsa is pan-Caribbeanand pan-Latinoin that. reggae. including bomba. One may group the standardarguments in support of a panLatino. in my opinion. and particularlyPuerto Rican nature of salsa into four basic themes. Nuyoricans. and social classes. but significant amounts of a wide variety of Caribbeanmusics. to which we may now turn. which may be summarized as follows: (1) Salsa is an internally diverse genre. rearticulatedin the emergence of salsa. via such resignifications. and others. (3) Salsa is stylisticallyquite distinctfrom Cuban music of the 1950s. plena. whose nature has. however rhetorically suggested. (4) Salsa-as opposed to Cuban dance music-is ultimately a product of the New York Latino community. Its aspirations to pan-Latino popularity are explicit in many of its song texts calling for Latino solidarity. salsa has subsequently come to be a symbol of cultural identity for Latinos throughout the Caribbean Basin and elsewhere. seis. in some manners. synthesis. far from relying on inherited Cuban . As a result. Salsa's significance as a vehicle for Puerto Rican. which has interpreted Cuban music in a fresh manner. and other genres. values. endowing it with a new significance as a vehicle of that community's own social identity. cumbia. We may commence with the first. (2) Afro-Cubandance music has flourished in Puerto Rico since 1900 (if not earlier). such that its ultimate origins in Cuba are essentially irrelevant. such that Puerto Ricans over several generations have come to regard it as their own tradition. Spring/Summer 1994 of rock and salsa. and creative appropriationin trio music provided a paradigmwhich was. from which it once liberally drew.Nuyorican. which I consider the weakest. age groups. merengue. Nevertheless. that in stylistic terms salsa is essentially second-hand Cuban music. the processes of borrowing. and in the statements of musicians and aficionados. Puerto Rican Elements in Salsa? Each of these arguments merits fuller discussion. who celebrate it as a challenge to the hegemony of AngloAmerican music and culture. and identity of Puerto Ricans. The process of appropriation of Cuban music has been a complex one. and pan-Latinoidentity is also inherent in its appeal across a broad spectrum of Latino nationalities. been obfuscated in much of the discourse on Latinmusic.264 Ethnomusicology. incorporating not only Cubanderived styles. Puerto Rican National Music V: Salsa Since the late 1960s salsa has emerged as a musical expression of the aesthetics.

Duany 1984:198) that salsa has incorporated substantial elements of Puerto Ricanmusics. A few salsa songs contain snippets of familiar danzas like "LaBorinquefia. but in New York as well (1980:171).12In the repertoires of mainstream salsa bands. it draws liberally from diverse Caribbeanmusics. . except perhaps in occasional "oldie"programs featuring. including several of Conjunto Clasico. and seis. and. if marginal uses of traditional Puerto Rican elements in the musics of groups like Grupo Folklorica y Experimental Nuevayorquino. lloro. such as that of "Catalinala O. a number of Willie Colon's earlier pieces. One also encounters such claims as that of salsero Orlando Fiol. hence. With full respect for the erudition of Rondon's work. plena and bomba de salon are themselves heavily Cubanized in style.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 265 styles. for example. who feels that El Gran Combo's melodies have a "folksy"and ineffably Puerto Rican quality. I do not intend to say-of the "Afro-Caribbean" discuss at length the relationship between salsa and both merengue and cumbia. of course. and that the precise nature of Puerto Rican musical elements in salsa merits clarification. I submit that such arguments have been grossly overstated. They are very rarely performed in clubs. CesarRondon. quite different from the flavor of Cuban melodies. Cortijo'smusic."whose tune is based loosely on seis enramada. Other indigenous Puerto Rican elements in salsa may be somewhat more widespread. for example. as I have noted above. Plena and bomba-even in their salon varieties-are virtuallynever heard on New York Latinradio. In this article. Finally. Bomba and plena do not play significant roles in the music of El Gran Combo and the Sonora Poncefia. the tendency among Latino musicians to speak-misleadingly. such as the plena. I would roots of salsa. asserts that by the mid-1970s the bomba and plena became firmlyestablished in salsa. One might also mention the occasional collaborations of cuatro virtuoso Yomo Toro with salsa bands. FamiliarPuerto Rican poems have inspired a few salsa song texts. I find this statement unsupportable." which commences with an aguinaldo. they are so infrequent that it would be a fairly simple matter to enumerate their specific occurrences. the two most popular salsa bands based in Puerto Rico-and the bands which are often celebrated as most distinctly Puerto Rican. Of greater relevance here is the frequently-encountered argument (for example." which borrows phrases from a poem of Luis Pales Matos. Fiol also contends that most Puerto Rican singers place less emphasis on clave than do their Cuban counterparts (personal communication). Another more self-consciously nationalisticexample is ConjuntoLibre's"ImagenesLatinas. not only in Puerto Rico. The most prominent atavism is the use of the jibaro music vocables "le-lo-lai" Puerto Rican and by Nuyorican salsa vocalists. and such songs as El Gran Combo's "Sino me dan de beber. bomba. for example. although often subtle in nature. the dynamic."Then there is a handful of songs drawing from jibaro models.

Hence. its often bawdy texts and association with houses of ill-repute. Brought by Cuban teatro bufo troupes and migrantPuerto Rican agriculturalworkers. its faster tempo. 1991) has shown that Puerto Ricans in New York. the term may also refer to the most contemporary pieces by Irakere or other bands. should not be taken to deny the of "authenticity" salsa as Puerto Rican or pan-Latino music.the Cubanguaracha had already taken root in Puerto Rico in the latter nineteenth century. however. Puerto Ricans have largely continued to use the term guaracha rather than urban dance music. Spring/Summer 1994 Taken as a whole. Glasser (1990. however. later. became the principal performers and con- . Puerto Ricans had effectively adopted the Cuban contradanza and. Perhaps because of the early advent of the guaracha. This fact. from the 1920s on. As in Cuba. they do not alter the fact that mainstreamsalsa remains firmlyrooted in the rhythms. Nevertheless. son. and instrumental styles of the dominant genres of Cuban dance music. I have son to designate their up-tempo Afro-Latin tends to noted that for many Puerto Rican and Nuyorican musicians. Regardless of terminology. As we have discussed. whereas for Cubans. there should be no contradiction involved in regarding it as Puerto Rican music. and bolero. Similarly. the bolero. and seis have not constituted the bases for popular Puerto Ricanmusics since Cortijo'sdecline. the son/guaracha/rumba complex. and alternating verse-chorus form (ratherthan the son's bipartite canto-montuno form). Cuban Music as a Home-Grown Transplant A stronger case for the Puerto Rican nature of salsa can be based on the second argument suggested above. it clear that from the turn of the century generations of Puerto Ricans grew up reared on the Cuban-derived guaracha. "son" connote the Cuban genre of the 1920s-30s. such that they naturally came to regard these musics as their own. is better based on more complex phenomena of socio-musical resignification. the guaracha came to be heavily influenced by the son from the 1920s on. to some contemporary salsa. the popularity of plena and bomba in the music of Cortijo thus constituted a ratherspecial and unique period in Puerto Rican music history (see Malavet Vega 1988:154-55). formal structures. heavier downbeat. I reiterate.266 Ethnomusicology. the guaracha came to be the dominant up-tempo dance genre throughout the island. bomba."I submit. such incorporations of traditionalPuerto Ricanmusic elements into salsa have been common enough that they can be said to lend a Puerto Rican flavor.harmonies. that since Puerto Ricans have cultivated and enjoyed Cuban dance music for several generations. Indigenous musical forms like the plena. to the extent that the two genres became largely indistinguishable. however subtle. converting them into symbols of Puerto Rican nationalism. Originallyit differed from the son in its earlier evolution. that "authenticity.

Similarly. but that it has come to Puerto Ricans second-hand. New York City itself was a crucible for the evolution of the mambo.In the street and competition rumbas I observed in Puerto Rico in 1991. and pan-Latino solidarity. a number of the coros performed were from familiar pop songs like Celia Cruz's "Bemba Colora. 157)..the guaguanc6 of the contemporary street-drummingscene generally does not include dance. More importantly..throughthese old 78s that I had collected. The rumba guaguanc6. but cannot be transmittedby recordings. which the avid students could then set out to master and subsequently build upon (Singer 1982:148-49. Meanwhile. the vocal canto of the traditionalrumba often also seems to be elided.And I realizedthat they were justreinterpreting musicians] things. Jerry Gonzalez. Puerto Rican musicians have since the 1930s outnumbered Cuban performers of Cuban-style music in New York (and as studio musicians they have recently come to be outnumbered themselves by Dominicans). Nuyorican. For Nuyorican innovators Andy Gonzalez. Accordingly. the ultimately Cuban origin of the modernized son.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 267 sumers of Cuban-derived musics. which was the primary genre in the roots-oriented vogue of street drumming that developed in the New York and Island barrios from the late 1950s.. as some Nuyorican and Puerto Rican musicians realized that their favored genres were primarily Cuban in origin. as the emphasis is now primarily on the showy quinto (conga) playing.because it was So I could see the difference between the real . and others. they took a renewed interest in studying the roots through old recordings. guaracha. The Cuban origins of these genres are not wholly irrelevant. was adopted as a symbol of Puerto Rican. which was the focus of the original Cuban rumba. Oscar Hernandez. by way of commercial salsa. to the extent that it can currently be said to flourish on a scale at least as large as that of its Cuban heyday in the early twentieth century (see Lopez 1976). Lopez's attitude toward salsa imitations of Cuban music is worth quoting at length: By then I had met most of the bandleadersand had all theiralbumsand could then tracethe tunes thatwere on the albums."suggesting that not only is the rumba imported. The Cubanone alwayssounded better. lines in the montuno]. which now resounds throughout weekends in EastHarlem and in places like Santurce's Alto de Cabro.. since these genres came to be effectively resignified as pan-Latin musics. record collector and musical savant Rene Lopez was the guide to the Cuban sources. I could tracethem especially to Cuba.And not only that[contemporary a lot of the time they would do the same inspiraci6n [semi-improvised vocal really an inspiraci6n . A similar process occurred with the traditional rumba itself. and bolerowas not perceived as a contradiction. which emerged as a collaborative product of New York-based Cuban and Puerto Rican/Nuyorican musicians like Tito Puente.

as a casual listening to any record by Los Van . independent of its Cuban roots. which. like the Gonzalez brothers. Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans regarding salsa as their own musical heritage. I have asserted above that salsa's debt to distinctively Puerto Rican genres like seis. saw the old stuffas good tunes which you should interpret your own way. This argument. On the other hand. not copy. while Cuban genres have been avidly cultivated and enjoyed by Puerto Ricansfor several generations. salsa. A false impression which such discussions might create is the notion that dance music in Cuba itself has remained static since 1959." they are generally referringto music of the pre-Revolutionaryperiod. the guaracha had long since flourished among Puerto Ricans in New York and on the island. their Cuban origin remains potentially paradoxical in relation to their role as symbols of Puerto Rican identity. In my opinion. in conversations with me on this topic) speak of son or "Cubanmusic. pre-Revolutionary Cuban dance music. regarding the stylistic differences between salsa and 1950s Cuban dance music.. and transcended them in their own syncretic development of a music expressive of Nuyorican barrio identity. is stylistically distinct in a number of ways from its primary source. there is a fair amount of substance to this argument. The most creative and dynamic modem musicians included those who. Duany 1984). bomba. salsa is not merely recycled Cuban music. we should consider the third argument outlined above. such that it had acquired a certain life and identity of its own. for example.268 Ethnomusicology. the major lines of its evolution until 1960 continued to be developed primarilyby Cubans. Salsa Style and Cuban Conjunto Style Before discussing the emergence of salsa as a barrio phenomenon.. Before proceeding. has been stated or implied by a number of commentators (such as Rond6n 1980. On the one hand.. further. indeed. it has not. where salseros and others (for example. but has not to my knowledge been explored analytically in any publication. therefore. I should clarify that the issue involved is the extent to which salsa-a music identified self-consciously as a genre in itself from the late 1960s on-has departed from Cuban dance music of the 1950s. there is no contradiction or paradox in. Spring/Summer 1994 and I inspiraci6n the copy of it. In fact. is a complex hypothesis that cannot be adequately dealt with in the space of a page or two. According to the third argument introduced above. Thus. at once immersed themselves in the Cuban roots. like the previous one. and plena is overshadowed by its continued reliance on Cuban-derived elements. I saw it differently. (quoted in Singer 1982:143) Statementslike that of Lopez suggest two perspectives on the appropriation of Cuban musics by Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans. as a distinctively Nuyorican product.

and larger portion of contemporary salsa differs in certain respects from the 1950s Cuban sound. salsa in general-as dated and mired in nostalgia (see.1 More relevantly. As noted above. Regardless of one's verdict on the conjunto style perpetuated by Pacheco and others. these differences have provided one sort of theoretical legitimization for the . with a horn section consisting only of two trumpets). Some salsa and Cuban music aficionados criticize the conjunto sound-and in some cases. like many of his compatriots. and Joe Falcon in CEP1974:58). and Celia Cruzis often described less as a salsera than as "reina rumba"("queen of the rumba") or as a traditionalguarachera. but there are many (including myself) who find in it a sort of authenticity uncharacteristic of so much contemporary mainstream commercial salsa. if vital cultivation of the style associated with the Sonora Matancera. CabreraInfante 1981:6. Galan 1983:352-53. Pacheco himself (a Dominican) was a co-founder of Faniarecords. especially since several of Pacheco's hits were simply note-fornote renditions of 1950s songs by Cuban bandleader Felix Chapotin. its vapid.Johnny Pacheco and Pete "ElConde" Rodriguez are the foremost exponents of this type of music.but. the leading salsa label in the 1970s. plastic sound. and the mindless "pretty-boy"image cultivated by its singers. However."Hence. it represents only one type of salsa. Some have argued that such music is not really salsa. such groups have had very little influence outside Cuba itself. primarily because the American blockade effectively prevents them from touring in the United States (including Puerto Rico). This continuity is of course the case for senior artistslike Celia Cruzand Tito Puente. Nevertheless. and not the most widespread one. orchestration. formal structure. The remainder. We have noted above that the Cuban son/guaracha/rumba complex continues to provide the basis for most aspects of salsa style. and feels no hesitance in singing "Soyhijo de Siboney"-"I'm a son of [Cubantown] Siboney.Rodriguez is Puerto Rican.a quintessential Cuban group of the 1950s (1980:90).Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 269 Van or Irakere can illustrate. for most Latinosoutside Cuba. including rhythm. whose musical styles had matured twenty-five years before the coining of the term "salsa. the 1940s-50s. and is generally regarded as a leading. if conservative salsero. for example. "Cubanmusic" tends to connote the dance music that flourished in Cuba in what was undeniably a period of extraordinary musical vitality. a certain stream of salsa is clearly devoted to perpetuating a tipico sound essentially based on that of the 1950s-style Cuban conjuntos (for example. sentimental lyrics." Rond6n has referred to this brand of salsa as constituting a "Matancerization"-that is. a static. and individual instrumental styles. with its slick. Thus. was reared so thoroughly on Cuban music that he regards it as his own. For his part. Tito Puente has dismissed the term as irrelevantto his music.

It is also possible that scrupulously proper realization of clave rhythmic structurein arrangements is becoming slightly less significant. and steady record sales. Seldom heard are the medium-range coros so characteristic. favoring local groups like El Gran Combo and Sonora Poncefia. have mentioned it only in passing. Those who have suggested such an argument. Such differences are evident both in the music of salsa innovators like Eddie Palmieri and Ruben commercial artistslike Tito Nieves and Eddie Blades as well as "mainstream" who dominate radio. Further. as well as many modern Cuban recordings (especially those done with vacuum-tube equipment).14 Finally. perhaps due to the classical-as opposed to jazzbackground of many modern Cuban sidemen. staccato sound. as reflected. Salsavocal lines.270 Ethnomusicology. tend to be sung at a considerably higher pitch range than was typical of 1950s Cuban singing. Salsero and ethnomusicologist ChrisWashburne also observes certain differences in instrumental style: salsa congueros cultivate a dry. for example. but was imported into salsa in the 1960s (having been adopted earlier from charanga ensembles in the New York-style mambo).salsa recordings have a dry. As Diaz Ayala (1981:337) has pointed out. crisp. slick. have a . with relatively little variation. more fluid style of Cuban counterparts both today and in the past (personal communication). far from slavishly following New York preferences. audiences on the island. clean. of Arsenio Rodriguez'smusic. In fact.unlike the more resonant tone and looser. whether in melodies of the canto ("song"-likefirstsection). rather than just a recycled Cuban genre.for example. most of the significant distinctions between salsa and the fifties Cuban sound are concrete phenomena amenable to more analytical description. dance clubs.horn styles also differ in certain nuances. Santiago The more significant of these stylistic distinctions can be cited briefly (text content will be addressed furtherbelow). one may make certain distinctions which clearly derive from changes in era and technology rather than style perse: In particular. Island hits are generally different from mainland ones. the timbales standardin salsa groups was not a standardfeature of the Cuban conjunto. typical of digital or solidstate recording techniques and the practice of overdubbing prevalent in this country as a whole. have their own favorites. in the popularity of songs like the Colombian Grupo Niche's "CaliPachanguero" faultedby annoyed musicians(accordingto Washburne) (on Global9878-1-RL) for its jumbled (cruzada "crossed")clave.popular tastes in Puerto Rico and New York have come to depart not only from 1950s norms but even from each other in certain respects. and crisp sound. Recordings of the 1950s. or in coros and inspiraciones of the montuno. however. and they have tended to speak primarily in generalities. Spring/Summer 1994 Puerto Rican and Nuyorican sentiment that salsa is their own music. Similarly. Aside from the distinct styles typical of Puerto Rican studio musicians.

taken collectively. for example. and. Rock harmonic progressions also occasionally occur (for example. that is. it would resolve the paradox of the continued reliance on Cuban-derivedstyles by noting that the social significance of these idioms has changed in the salsa context. however. statements by musicians and listeners. and insisting thatthe recording be done in a single take. as well as a looser. . Rondon's reference to Ray Barretto'smusic as constituting a "modernization of the Cuban son" (1980:87) could be taken to apply to salsa in general. in no way altering the continued reliance on the basic style. which is socio-musical ratherthan musicological in nature. chronicle the violence and vicissitudes of daily life in the barrios (thereby perpetuating. placing them further from the instruments in order to achieve greaterambience. In brief. form. Hence. rather than by laying individual tracks (personal communication). in the very fact of its popularity among urban Hispanics in a period of heightened sense of ethnic identity. Similarly. As Rondon argues. affirmingtheir growing sense of ethnic and class identity in the face of social. despite such avidity. particularlyseveral of Colon and Blades. On the other hand. modem jazz. Salsa as a Contemporary Resignification We may now turn to the final argument introduced above. in a single take. and rhythmic structure of the Cuban son.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 271 warmer. the enthusiasm with which salsa innovators Andy andJerry Gonzalez immersed themselves in the study of Cuban music. Some salsa songs. less explicitly. and political marginalization and exploitation. beneath the coro of Colon's "JuanitoAlimafia"). they are mostly in the realm of nuance. involving a combination of Cuban music. more spontaneous feel due to being recorded live in the studio. for example. economic. their goals for their own music were quite distinct. one may observe that there is much greater influence of jazz in mainstreamsalsa (as well as in modern Cuban dance music) than in conjunto music of the 1950s. more resonant and ambient sound. Salsa's significance as a vehicle for Latino identity has been expressed explicitly in song texts. Salsa emerged as a product primarily of the Latino communities in New York barrios. the artists sound by using old-fashioned deliberately attempted to recreate a "Cuban" RCA microphones. How should we assess the significance of these stylistic distinctions?On the one hand. Washburne relates how in a 1991 recording session of a group led by (Cuban immigrant) Daniel Ponce. and diverse Caribbeangenres in a self-conscious attempt to create a music reflective of their own identities as New York-born Latinos (see Singer 1982:213-14).:137). I have mentioned above. salsa and 1950s Cuban music are best regarded as "fraternal" musics rather than identical ones (ibid. they could be argued to lend salsa a markedly distinct flavor from that of its Cuban antecedents.

an acute and unprecedented sense of "otherness. some Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans have faulted salsa not only for its commercialization. why shouldn'twe? At the same time. experiencing a lot of people experienced .Joe Falc6n in CEP1974:58ff). Therearejustas powerfulexplanations on the positiveside as on the negativeend.Others have responded that Cuban-derived or not. for its perceivedly excessive reliance on borrowed or inherited Cuban styles (see. mainstream salsa can be said to affirm Latino identity in some senses. and helping them to outgrow the cultural inferiority complex of the 1930s-50s and discover a new pride in their language and Latinomusical heritage. For others. and even in several South American cities.272 Ethnomusicology. sentimental mainstream salsa appeals to middle-class Latinos who do not identify with barrio subculture. therewere in alwaysself-affirmations ourmusic.. countering the cultural imperialism of rock. Accordingly. Salsa has thus become an expressive vehicle collectively cultivated and patronized by urban Hispanic communities throughout the Caribbean Basin. Falc6n. for example. Meanwhile. Many listeners in the latter category may like salsa partly because it can be made to cohere (for example. however.. Duany 1984. and events). and yet rooted in local community culture. commercial. salsa has been experienced by urban Latinos as a positive phenomenon. as packaged on Spanish-language MTV)with American bourgeois consumerism. It has become identified with a new sense of Latino identity which is at once international. As Frank Bonilla (of the Centro de Estudios Puertorriquefos) states: [Cuban music]is verypowerfulmusicthatis veryclose to ourown. Cortes. If the whole world was respondingto it. although the paradox involved in resignifying Cuban music is worthy of comment. Thus there is little need to reiteratethe basic thesis of this phenomenon here. and especially Rond6n 1980). and Flores 1976."and the existence of tight Puerto Rican enclaves. Even apolitical. As we have noted. where they were exposed to racist discrimination. The development of salsa as a symbol of identity for New York and CaribbeanLatinoshas been discussed competently elsewhere (Singer 1982. reflected. in the emergence of Venezuela as the largest single market for salsa as well as the home of the major salsa label TH (Top Hits). places. many songs explicitly stress themes of pan-Latino unity. the Cuban son's traditionof referringto people. or for international Latino solidarity in confrontation with American imperialism (see Flores 1991). I prefera positive interpretation becausethat'sthe way I remember it. Spring/Summer 1994 it might be said. for example. more commercial. Its emergence in New York Cityhas been intensified by the heightened awareness of Puerto Rican identity that many islanders (including Antonio Pedreira) felt upon migrating to or visiting the city. concommitantly. salsa serves as a banner for Afro-Latin culture. The subsequent emergence of salsa as a pan-Latinoidiom has been furtheredby the internationalizationof capital. but also.

. but creative appropriation and reformation: Whathappenshere is thatwith the developmentof a community here Puerto Ricanmusicians [Cuban music]andthentakeit andaddto it theirown interpret vision of the world and of theirown way of being and adaptingit to what is happeningin the community. the essence of the guaguanc6. the songs themselves are not even rumbas.racism. and the rumba is invoked here more for a general sense of tradition. The PuertoRicantakes here. . extol the rumba.Felix Cortes describes how the adoption of Cuban musical forms in salsa involved not just reiteration and borrowing. ahold of [Cuban it music]and incorporates in his own developmenthere. many of which invoke tradition in a habitually Cuban form. technically speaking. However. the guaguanc6 has come to flourish as a street-drumminggenre among Nuyoricans and Puerto Ricans since the late 1950s. Of course.. A few songs quote from or modernize traditional Cuban rumbas (such as Eddie Palmieri'sversion of "Consuelate"in "Ritmo alegre"). Andthe musicwas one of the mostpowerfulthings referencein termsof maintaining self-identity. it is generally the Cuban-derived santeria rather than Christianityor Puerto Rican espiritismo. references to it in contemporary dance songs must naturallyhave a deeper resonance for Cubans.. (quoted in Singer1982:58) keeping the community together .it reflectsthe community's sexism. as they lack even the iconic trademarksof the guaguanc6. the song is not in fact a guaguancd (but rather a son). which happens to be a Cuban-derived one. If any religion is invoked.15 Most typically.It talksaboutthe drugscene in in etc.. and in other ways root themselves in modem urban life.. [The music was] a principal point of Similarly. as we have noted. into a culturethatis developing. salsa songs. "Listen to it.. A typical example-chosen among innumerable possible others-is Tite CuretAlonso's "Laesencia del guaguanco. like their Cuban precedents. Still. 62) As Cortes suggests. the paradox of Cuban derivation also persists in the realm of song texts." As Alonso and musicians well know. Andeven in contentit changes. We have noted above how a significant minority of salsa texts do chronicle contemporary barrio life.It no longer talksabouta "dandy" a community Havana. In most cases. .the guaguanc6.. call for Latino solidarity.(CEP1974:VII. in whose culture rumba first emerged and has always persisted as a fuente viva-a "living source"-of inspiration for modem dance music. the distinctive conga pattern and the rumba clave. the significance of salsa as a product of the Nuyorican or urban Latino experience in general-as opposed to the preRevolutionaryCuban experience-is most explicit in the realm of song texts..Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 273 it in a verypositiveway . and would not be labeled thusly by musicians." whose refraincalls. The invocation of Cuban tradition as well as the appropriation of the guaguanc6 itself illustrateat once the Cuban roots of Nuyorican and Puerto .

rather than being a sign of their deculturation. supported by the increasing internationalization and decentralization of the mass media. Puerto Rican. as well as their resignification. but they have. been reinvented as local entities and celebrated by cultural nationalists as symbols of Puerto Rican and Nuyorican identity. "Lasalsa es de aqui como el coqui"-"Salsa is as Puerto Rican as the coqui" (a kind of toad unique to Puerto Rico). but. involving the resignification of the borrowed idiom to serve as a symbol of a new social identity. however subtle. On a strictly musical level. Paradoxically. Puerto Ricans' command of English. Already other musics are playing their own formative roles in the emergence of such identities. Spring/Summer 1994 Rican music. however belatedly. these borrowed genres have not only become popular and taken root on Puerto Rican soil. despite its ongoing vitality. they subsequently imported even the ancestral AfroCubanroots of these musics. street drummersand others have resignified the guaguanc6 as a vehicle for the claiming of public space. as Duany notes (1984:200). of acquired styles. In the process. the globalization of capital. The history of Puerto Rican music as a whole can thus be seen as an ongoing rearticulationinvolving relatively indigenous genres and those which have been borrowed from abroad. constituting one more demonstration of the ability of economically marginal people to rearticulate and cross-pollinate extant musics to serve their own aesthetic needs. and pan-Latino artifact. these forms have in many . a common Puerto Rican quip states. Latin (Spanish-language) hip-hop and reggae have emerged as pan-ethnic genres in their own right. in their own times. Hence. Since the mid-nineteenth century. however. and the ongoing ethnic exchanges in New York City and elsewhere. AsJose LuisGonzalez has pointed out. for example. primarilyfrom Cuba. will not be able to serve as the sole musical vehicle for a culturallyunited Caribbeanor Latinocommunity. and as a Nuyorican.274 Ethnomusicology. appropriation can involve the active alteration. as competent imitation gives way to creative syncretism and further evolution. More importantly. may turn out to be an asset in creating new bonds with the Anglophone Caribbean (1980:43). Salsa itself. appropriation is a socio-musical process. while Puerto Ricans and Nuyoricans have turned out to be brilliant exponents of Cuban-derived musics. Hence. Nuyoricans and Puerto Ricans have borrowed not only the dominant Cuban dance musics. due to its partial cooptation by American commercial interests and to its negligible popularity in the French and Anglo Caribbean. Conclusions: The Appropriation of a Tradition The cultivation and resignification of Cuban music by Puerto Ricans illustrate how the process of musical appropriation can take place. That is.

of course. outsiders may be oblivious to the subtle local elements introduced into derivative genres by those who borrow them. respectively) were adopted as light flamenco subgenres.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 275 respects flourished at the expense of more indigenous genres.16 To those observing a process of appropriation from the outside. which. The fate of Cuban dance music in other countries provides contrasting examples. the merengue may be regarded as a music still in the process of being resignified as local by Puerto Ricans. In Spain. or even when such idiosyncracies are pointed out. in the process being thoroughly stylized. Cuban dance music (and later. Meanwhile. they illustrate how the global soundscape has come to constitute a complex matrix wherein regional hegemonic idioms interactwith local grassroots musics.19 I have shown that the process of musical rearticulation involves historical conditions and issues of social identity as well as purely musical . Cuban dance music constituted a hegemonic style. and coexistence in the Dominican Republic. the derivative aspects of the music in question may be far more striking than its new significance. but has failed to marginalize the indigenous merengue.17Similarly. and "flamenco-ized" (aflamencada). The Puerto Rican reaction to Cuban musical influence-wholesale adoption and socio-musical rearticulationthus contrasts with other scenarios. many Cubans tend to regard salsa as a mere recycling of 1950s-style Cuban music. salsa) has long been popular in the Dominican Republic. has become an international genre in its own right. absorption and indigenization in Spain. outsiders (and a few critical insiders) may continue to regard them as insignificant. Cuban campesino music and the son (referred to as guajira and rumba. while it is widely popular among Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Rican appropriation and resignification of an essentially intact Cuban musical heritage can be seen as one of several possible cultural reactions to a borrowed music. indigenized. as mentioned. Thus. from the seis to the bomba.18To some extent. In much of Africa. it is still resented and criticized as "foreign"by some cultural nationalists (not to mention salsa musicians). for example. many of which may in turn have their own dialectic relationships with one or more other international genres. Westerners may tend to hear many internationalgenres. However "authentic"such appropriations and resignifications may be. For its part. essentially as imitations or reiterations of soft rock. such as initial adoption and eventual rejection in Africa. indeed. eventually to be wholly discarded in favor of genres like mbalax and soukous which were at once more rockoriented and more indigenous. and particularlyfrom the perspective of the donor culture. from Thai sakon to the nueva trova of Silvio Rodriguez. each conditioned by the nature of the host musical culture.

it has been the nature of Americancolonialism to divide Puerto Rico from the Caribbeanand LatinAmerica. materialism. As Gordon Lewis has observed. Similarly. have traditionally favored statehood.276 Ethnomusicology. since 1959 the presence of a large. whether these identities are competing and mutually exclusive. The relationship between salsa and Puerto Rican identity is further complicated by the variety of kinds of cultural identity Puerto Ricans may have. aesthetic. There is little agreement as to what form cultural nationalism should take. noting how they personify opposing stances on the "acculturation/resistancespectrum" (1984:200-201). but resent their economically and culturally marginal status. or compatible and overlapping. Others might endorse Americanization. Duany has explored the differing senses of cultural identity of the salsa fans (cocolos) and rock music audiences (rockeros). However. and often resented Cuban exile community in Puerto Rico has added a new twist to Puerto Rican attitudes toward Cubans. affluent. In this discourse. and the most fervent in celebrating indigenous culture. as promoted by the blockade. including rock music. many lower-class Puerto Ricans. "a menace to the preservation of Puerto Rican musical and cultural identity"(Diaz Diaz 1985:28). Now. and Anglicization promoted by colonial status. as before. cultural nationalists come in all political stripes. and culture. political persuasion and economic interest-in ways which are often contradictory. many Puerto Ricans (especially of the bourgeoisie) identify with American values. political life. just as Puerto Ricans themselves may hold such varied forms of social . right-wing. and commercial ties between the two sister islands. Further. Cuban-style music had already established such deep roots in Puerto Rican culture that it was able to flourish on its own as a locally-cultivated urban popular music. while at the same time denying Puerto Ricans full incorporation into American culture (1963:208). Spring/Summer 1994 developments. By the time the Americanblockade had cut off direct influence. has further facilitated the process of resignification. feeling that their lot would be worse in an independent country.many Nuyoricans have lost touch with the Spanish language and naturallyincline toward more American music and culture. including the active and vocal Puerto Rican left. These self-images themselves interact with other sorts of identity-notably. Until 1959. culturalborrowings from Cubawere facilitatedby the ideological. while independentistas often seek to embrace proletarianPuerto Ricansas victims of Americanexploitation and custodians of local culture. ignorance of Cuban roots. have been the most articulate and vehement in denouncing the consumerism. Hence it is not surprisingthat independentistas. Meanwhile. political. especially blacks. including several ardent opponents of independence. rock music is often regarded as a primary antagonist-in one nationalist intellectual's words.

Natalio Galan illustrates. although my intent is far from being derisive. There have been those. free of corrupting American commercial influence. 2. to rock and roll and to twist and even to dance the waltz and foxtrot." 3. Chris Washburne. in their countries of origin. from Hispanophilic reactionaries like Pedreira to contemporary anti-imperialists like Eduardo Seda. For example: "Withracist optic. distinguished from the contradanza proper primarilyby its free . to Cuban conventions. it is impossible to separate Nuyorican culture from that of the many other Latino communities in the eastern United States. in this article I (a Yankee) am in fact asserting (like most Puerto Rican musicologists) the hybrid nature of Puerto Rican musical culture. the mangala. kiduo. Unfortunately. the terms contradanza and danza were used somewhat interchangeably to denote the same genre and its variants. Thus the history of music. Orlando Fiol.7 million people of Puerto Ricandescent now living on the mainland. and for that matter. however.or Latinos. All references to Washburne. and Fiol in this article are from personal communications. recognizing the entire continent as "American. consists not merely of the evolution of overtly new genres and styles. Correspondingly. who have advocated promotion of a pure island culture. many Puerto Ricans think of themselves not only or even primarilyas Puerto Ricans. 4. Puerto Rican identity is then seen and evaluated through the optics of the Yankee oppressor. But how many of us can dance. that the gradual preference for the latter term reflects how it came more properly to denote a latter-nineteenth-centuryform. which would employ "NorthAmerican"in such instances. While assuming full responsibility for the contents of this article. I must acknowledge my debt to illuminating conversations with Hal Barton. and of culture in general. or have even heard of the gombe sugu. nyang'umumi. whose early stages were devoted to Cubanstyle music. Special thanks are also due to Edgardo Diaz and Morton Marksfor their extensive and insightful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.but as Caribbeans. for example. While island culture (including musical culture) is not identical to Nuyorican musical culture. Such conceptions of identity exert their own influences upon extant musical genres. or lele mama [Tanzanian genres]?"(quoted in Stapleton and May 1990:23). Roberta Singer. In nineteenth-century Cuba. but of the rearticulationof extant idioms to respond to new social circumstances.or Afro-Caribbeans. Such a position is complicated by the presence of some 2. Makiadi Franco. Juan Flores.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 277 identity. or the cha cha. to whom we are a hybrid people and therefore inferior" (Seda 1974:10). Critics of Cuban musical hegemony have included such figures as Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere: "Manyof us have learnt to dance the rumba. Barton. in some cases conditioning their appropriation and resignification in such a way that their original roots and ethnic associations become effectively irrelevantto their new audiences. Note that I use the term "American" connote the United States in to accordance with Puerto Rican and Nuyorican conventions-although in distinction. it is ultimately impossible to separate Puerto Rican culture from Nuyorican culture. and Youssou N'Dour have all personified this process in their own careers. By extension. however. and MayraSantos. African musicians like Tabu Ley Rocherau. Delfin Perez. Notes 1.

referringto hits like "Quitatede la via Perico. 14.. Thus. are based in the island. which since the 1880s has been invariably and unambiguously called danza. Another oft-noted distinction is the rhythmic pattern known as the "elastic tresillo":the ambiguously written phrase n which is generally n. Although not named.4.A. for example. Diaz Diaz 1990:12. and B. Hence Monguito's song "Nole llame salsa a mi son. 18. bands travel relatively infrequently between Puerto Rico and the United States. The fact that this faith is borrowed from Cuban tradition makes it no less significant for its tens of thousands of Nuyorican and Puerto Rican adherents.. Havana-style contradanza ) was used primarilyoutside Cuba. A case in point was a 1970s dialogue between members of a touring Chinese orchestra and a group of Western scholars. states that he has never heard a band play an entire plena or bomba. This illuminating volume is the product of a conference on Puerto Rican identity held at Hunter College. 6. and so on). 1929 recordings by Los Reyes de la Plena and El Trio Boricua on Harlequin HQ 2075. FromJoy LP 1203. and that English-language salsa hits enjoy little appeal on the island. 12.' call it Cuban music"). ChrisWashbume notes that Puerto Rican studio hormen play markedly softer than do their New York counterparts." and "Severa" examples of such genres (1980:171). Trombonist Chris Washburne. and the various European instruments (concertina. 17. See. like those of Havana. A:2 and B:5. Cortijo'sown plenas and bombas (not to mention those of Concepci6n or Canario) are not played live in clubs. 16. Brau 1977. Juan Flores. Due to the expense of touring. It is printed in eight individually paginated units. to the latter. See also CabreraInfante 1981:6 and Natalo Galan 1983:352. 1. ComposerJulian Andino wrote in 1924. light-classical song (such as Sanchez de Fuentes' "Tu"). and more rhythmic"(quoted in Asenjo 1952). for example. plena involves the Indian guiicharo (scraper). played m 7. It is worth noting that Rond6n also overemphasizes the role of plena and bomba in Cortijo's own music. and. Only a few major artists. B. mulatto Nuyorican bandleader Guillermo Calder6n changed his name to the more catchy and prestigious "Joe Cuba. In general. Such common references to the island's "tri-racial roots" tend to exaggerate the extent of Indian contribution to Puerto Rican culture." 11. 13. (personal communication) For their part. Puente has been quoted as stating. 5. In Cuba itself. for example. who has played regularly in a wide variety and number of New York salsa bands since 1988. system at a December 1991 rally. dile muisicacubana"("Don'tcall my son 'salsa. the music presented by their guests. and Felix Cortes are the primary authors and editors. while big-name bands perform only their own material. "Theprimitive danza was of eight measures. it should be noted. Perhaps Rond6n's misunderstanding in this regard led him to exaggerate the popularity of plena and bomba. since cover bands generally play only current hits. one could draw a parallel between the Nuyorican and Puerto Rican appropriation of Cuban music with their adoption of santeria. Spring/Summer 1994 couple choreography (1983). "Theonly salsa I know comes in a bottle: I play Cuban music" (quoted in Martinez 1982). In the realm of instruments. guitar.""El as negro bemb6n. I have discussed Cuban views on salsa in Manuel 1987:6971. vocal. The term habanera (from contradanza habanera. 8. for example. I exclusively employ the term contradanza for the Cuban contradanza/danza. [It]was ordinary music . the African tambor (drum-actually not commonly used).278 Ethnomusicology. 15. 10. See. One need not be a Marxistto draw a correlation between. more elegant. they are all guarachas (and are labelled thusly on records) played in mainstream Cuban style. respectively. because of m . intimate couple dances typical of capitalist societies wherein individuals or nuclear families are the socio-economic units. habanera eventually came to denote a slow. on the other hand. It was I who made it sweeter. in fact. collective group dances and communal pre-capitalist social economies. in order to distinguish it from its Puerto Rican relative. on the one hand. 9. Angel Falc6n. Hector Lavoe's "Todopoderoso"would constitute the best-known exception. I noted that an island journalistdenounced a local politician for playing merengue over his P.In this paper.

1981. ed. Lapique Becali. Jose Luis. Martinez. 3-8. sounded like derivative nineteenth-century European symphonic music. 1-13. Natalio." In Black People and their Culture: Selected Writingsfrom the African Diaspora. "Lamisica bailable de los carnets: forma y significado de su repertorio en Puerto Rico (1877-1930). "Notes on the Global Ecumene.sentidoydesarrollo en elfolklorepuertorriqueno. Gonzalez. San Juan: Cubanacan. 1984. Conrado. 1935."Latin American Music Review 11 (1): 63-72. 1981. Galan. 1990. danza puertorriquena. "Adiscussion on Chinese National Musical Traditions. however. Cristobal. 1970. D. Brau. When such impressions were tactfullysuggested. and style. 1963. Gordon. Hannerz. "Elrock: bomba de tiempo en nuestra misica. Fang Kun. References Alonso. Nationalism and Popular Music in.". Asenjo. Lopez. Valencia: Pre-Textos. 1981. Zoila. Del bolero a la nueva canci6n. 1983. 1976. Pedro.'" Revista del ateneopuertorriqueno. Glasser. Manuel. San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquefia(reprint of 1903). El pais de cuatro pisos. Mayra. Angel Falc6n. 1979."Latin American Music Review 5 (2): 186-216. Linn Shapiro. Ediciones Huracan. San Juan: Conrado Asenjo. "Drummingin the New York Puerto RicanCommunity:A Personal Account. Edgardo. Muisicacubana del areyto a la nueva trova. and Juan Flores. Blanco. Echevarria Alvarado. Tomo I. Musica colonial cubana en las publicaciones peri6dicas (18121902). Lospuertorriquenos y la cultura: critica y debate. Slobin 1992 and Hannerz 1989 provide insightful appraisals of this phenomenon. Jorge. 106-9 Wash."In Almanaquepuertorriqueno asenjo. 19. 1974. Rene. Peter. "ParadoxicalEthnicity:Puerto Rican Musicians in Post-World War I New York City. 1984.Felix. 1982.Puerto Rican Music and Cultural Identity 279 its orchestration. with a dash of tame nationalism in the form of pentatonic themes. "La Salsa: Un Paliativo contra la Nostalgia?" Havana: CIDMUC (unpublished. 1988. Felix. Malavet Vega. 1991. "Cortijo's Revenge. "Elogio de 'la plena. "The CulturalExpression of Puerto Ricans in New York: A Theoretical Perspective and CriticalReview.: Smithsonian Institution. mimeograph manuscript). "The Backstage View: Musicians Piece Together a Living." Latin American Perspectives 3 (3): 117-50. Bogota: La Oveja Negra. 1977. 1976. . Diaz Ayala."In Umberto Valverde: Celia Cruz: Reina rumba. Manuel. unpaginated. 1952. pointing out that the themes derived from local folk melodies (Fang Kun 1981).1990."Centrode EstudiosPuertorriquenos-Bulletin3 (2): 8-21." Centro de Estudios Puertorriquenos-Bulletin 3 (2): 24-49.C." Revista Musical Puertorriquena 5:2-21. New York: Hager. Rio Piedras:. ed. Duany. "Prologo. Santurce: Express. Cortes. Revolutionary Cuba. y otros ensayos. CEP (Centro de Estudios Puertorriquenos).Juan. Guillermo. Ulf. 1991. Diaz Diaz." Popular Music 6 (2): 161-78. 1980. CabreraInfante. Lewis. Laplena: origen. Santo Domingo: Editora Corripio. harmony. . Puerto Rico: Freedom and Power in the Caribbean."Asian Music 12 (2): 316. Salvador. "La Marisa Rosado. New York: Hunter College. Havana: Editorial Letras. "PopularMusic in Puerto Rico: Toward an Anthropology of Salsa. SanJuan:Instituto de CulturaPuertorriquena(reprintof 1849). 1989. Elgibaro. ElMundo (SanJuan) 22 February:38-39. "Enmemoria de MaestroJulianAndino."In Ensayossobre la danzapuertorriquena. the visiting musicians protested that their music was thoroughly Chinese. 1987. 1985. Flores. Cuba y sus sones. Ruth. Tomas. "Marxism." Public Culture 1 (2): 66-76.

Mark. Hunter College. Spring/Summer 1994 Mikowsky. "Ponce. New York:Centrode EstudiosPuertorriquenos. "Micromusicsof the West: A ComparativeApproach.. diss." Ph. 1977a.23-37. 38-45. 1980. with Particular Attention to Ignacio Cervantes (1847-1905). Ortiz Ramos. Indiana Univ. Eduardo. Chris. Stapleton. Amaury.D. Marisa misi6n social de la danza puertorriquenadeJuan Morel Campos.1977b. Marisa Rosado."In Ensayos ." In Los Puertorriquenosyla cultura: criticay debate. Santo Domingo: Editora Corripio.D. 1974. Veray. "The Nineteenth-Century Cuban Danza and its Composers. African Rock: ThePop Music of a Continent."Ph. Caracas: EditorialArte."Ethnomusicology 36 (1): 1-87. 1982. 1973.Angel. Pablo Marcial. Antonio. "Toward a New Vision of Puerto Rican Culture. the Danza. "La sobre la danza puertorriquena. A tres voces y guitarras: Los trios en Puerto Rico. Seda Bonilla. 1986. SanJuan: Puertorriquena. Rond6n. Solomon. 1990.and ChrisMay. and the National Question: Notes Toward a Sociology of Puerto Rican Music. El libro de la salsa: Crdnica de la mzisica del Caribe urbano. diss. Roberta. Insularismo. danzapuertorriquena. Singer. Pedreira."In Ensayos sobre la Institutode Cultura Rosado. Slobin. New York: Dutton. ed. Cesar. San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena.280 Ethnomusicology. . 1991. 1992. 1973. Columbia University. Rio Piedras: EditorialEdil (reprint of 1934). Teachers College.. "MyMusic is Who I Am: LatinPopular Music and Identity in New York City." Cimarr6n 1 (2): 49-65. ed. Quintero Rivera. "Viday desarrollo de la danza puertorriquena.

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