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Afro-Caribbean Music

BOMBA & PLENA (Puerto Rico)

BOMBA and PLENA are the only distinctive African-derived musical and dance forms of Puerto Rico. They both developed in the coastal towns, where large communities of workers gathers around the sugarcane mills.


Bomba is an entertainment form and is generally performed at social gatherings. It is a couple dance. Originally the woman performs relative fixed dance steps while the partner exhibits his dancing skills. This time or in the later years of the BOMBA either of the dancers can display their dancing skills, while competing with the "requintador" or "primo" (the lead drummer), as the drummer responds to the dance steps. The bomba ensemble consists of cuá (pair of sticks struck on the side of a drum or some other hard resonant surface), which provides a fixed rhythm pattern (time line) around which the other instrument are organized; one or two "seguidoras" (low-pitched barrel-shaped drums), which provides a fixed supporting rhythm; and "requinto" (higher pitched barrel-shaped drums), which plays changing rhythmic patterns within the rhythmic structure of the "seguidoras" and "cuá."

Listen to the sounds:

Bomba texts are usually on topical themes relating to everyday life in the community, such as social relationships, work, and historical events. The musical form of Bomba consists of alternation between solo singer and chorus in a call-and-response pattern. The soloist, having the textual and melodic freedom, presents the main themes of the text, while the chorus is restricted to a fixed response.


Plena began as a street music, however, as it move to the bars and nightclubs, it came to be associated with night life and underworld. It is very much a part of the musical heritage of the African countries. Like Bomba, Plena is a couple dance, but the dancers and the drummer do not display the competitive interaction that they do in Bomba.

The Plena ensemble may consist of various combinations of instruments, but the minimum requirement is two "seguidoras," one "requinto," one "guiro" and either harmonica or accordion. A guitar when included provides harmonic accompaniment. Plena texts are on comtemporary or historic events and are in a stanzaic verse-refrain structure.

Listen to the sounds:

RUMBA (Cuba)

RUMBA is the generic term for a group of African derived Cuban musical and dance forms. Each form reflects a different degree of syncretism among African and Spanish linguistic musical and dance elements.

Three of the better known forms of Rumba are: Guaguancó, Yambú, and Columbia. The instrumental ensemble for guaguancó and Columbia is a set of three drums, known as Quinto (high register sounds), a Segundo (low mid range sounds), and the Tumba (deep resonant sound). The segundo and tumba when used together interlocking patterns.

Cáscara and claves are used in all three rumba forms. Claves serve the function of providing the time-line around which the other instruments are organizaed.

Guaguancó, Yambú, and Columbia, all musical and dance forms also use voice solos and chorus.

The singing, called 'El Canto,' consists of verses sung by a lead singer, and a chorus, sung by the other musicians. The verses of 'El Canto' thus provide a framework within which the singer can display his poetic and improvisational ability in addition to his knowledge of the traditional repertoire.

In Rumba the lead drummer interacts with the dancers by responding to their movements. The dancers jointly give an elaborate display of rhythmic movements.

The texts of guaguancó and Yambú are almost always in Spanish, but Columbia texts include many phrases borrowed from and alluding to the African-derived Abakuá or Lucumí.

Listen to the sounds:



Bomba - Couple Dance

Gene dancing bomba

Gene playing Plena with panderetas

Gene Perry

Gene Perry


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