The sound of Puerto Rico
Jamaica has its reggae and Trinidad is famous for its calypso, but Puerto Rico is one of the most musically diverse islands in the Caribbean.
Puerto Rico has produced an impressive range of musicians, including famous names like Ricky Martin, José Feliciano, Rita Moreno, Daddy Yankee, Don "El Ray"Omar, Jerry Rivera and even Desi Arnez. As a US territory, it’s also one of the easiest Caribbean islands to visit, requiring no U.S. passport and using U.S. dollars.
The island’s history contributes to the wide range of styles you’ll hear when you’re there. When the Spaniards came, by way of Columbus in 1493, they brought with them religious and later classical music. Although born in Spain, the world-famous cellist Pablo Casals had a Puerto Rican mother and spent the last years of his life on the island. He’s buried in the National Cemetery.
The period of Spanish rule was also a gateway for European folk music to come to the island. As in the States, folk music helped produce hillbilly music; the music produced by the mountain-dwelling Jibaro people has been described as the island’s equivalent of both folk and country.
The heavily drum-influenced bomba music was another import, brought to the island by African slaves in the 17th century. This is linked with plena music, which merged bomba with indigenous folk music, and produced the blend they call bomba y plena.
Bomba y plena gave birth to the island’s most famous music: salsa! It didn’t solely originate on Puerto Rico, but was also influenced by Cuban son music, and since it burst on the scene in New York it’s been further influenced by other Latin American nations and musical styles to produce a true fusion music.
You’ll hear music everywhere on Puerto Rico, played on instruments ranging from Spanish classical guitars to local gourds, and drums made from hollowed-out tree trunks. There are unique instruments too, including the cuatro, a ten-stringed guitar derived from the Spanish guitar. But whatever instrument is used, whatever style of music is being played, and wherever you listen to it, you’ll definitely take the sound of Puerto Rican music home with you from a holiday.
Where to hear music in Puerto Rico:
Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center, Santurce district, San Juan: This complex has two theaters and two concert halls where you can see everything from opera to local legend José Feliciano.
Ponce Jazz Festival: Usually held over the last weekend of April, this three-day event features the best of the island’s jazz musicians.
Casals Festival, San Juan: Classical music festival held each February/March, in honor of cellist Pablo Casals.
The Museum of Puerto Rican Music, Ponce: A collection of displays on all the musical styles you’ll find in Puerto Rico, its musicians, and a fascinating and fun collection of musical instruments.
For more Puerto Rico travel advice, go to www.insightguides.com.