About our music, “La Plena”

Huele a cafe, Plena /Lyrics & Music /Neftali Rivera
       La Plena is an Afro-Puerto Rican music, “a hybrid musical form that integrates both European and African elements in its’ form and lyrics”, but was first dismissed as la musíca de Negroes.15 Practiced by both black and mulattoes in the coastal towns in southern and southeastern Puerto Rico, la Plena, like La Bomba, was born on the sugar plantations in the early 1920’s. It, too, had a call and response form. But unlike Bomba, Plena expressed the struggle of the working class and documented everyday experiences and happenings of the town, like a musical newspaper.16 The instruments involved in Plena are: a panderetas, guitar, cuarto, guiro, maracas, bongos, and congos.17
            Plena has a quick rhythm, where couples dance in “social position”, facing each other. The plena drummers do not dialogue, like in Bomba, but they do have solos.18Traditional clothing of Plena, unlike Bomba, is less conservative. Dresses did not have a neck, were short-sleeved, and had a skirt that came mid-calve. The dresses usually had floral or very colorful print. The male wears white pants with a shirt to match the women’s dress.19

“La Bomba”

A Gloria, Bomba/Music & Lyrics, Neftali Rivera

            La Bomba is a traditional dance form on the island of Puerto Rico. Known as the dance of slaves, this dance was usually performed on sugar planatations. Sugar plantations were placed along the coast, which is the reason la Bomba is is spread out along the sea.8 The instrumentation of Bomba usually consists of one large drum, a buleador, and a maraca used by the main singer. The lyrics, which are comedic, satirical, and sometimes sensual, are sung in a call and response fashion.9 It was used as an expression that provided an escape from the hardships of slavery.

            Bomba is a dialogue between the dancer and drummer.10 It starts with a female soloist called called “laina” who “sings a phrase evoking a primitive call”.11 The drummer plays a rhythm and the dancer responds in a “freestyle” manner while swishing their skirts around”. Men usually wear all white and fedora hat and women wear plantation shirts and a head scarf.12 Men and women both participated in this dance, but do not dance in a partner form or touch at all. “After the abolition of slavery, in 1873, the free slaves and their descendants followed the tradition of La Bomba as a social activity.”13 It eventually went from a dance of the slaves to a dance adopted by popular and upper classes.  But there was still a rift between lower and upper classes. “At least until the 1840’s, the island’s dances were divided into two types: one known as the bailes de sociedad , or high society, which consisted of adaptations of polkas, waltzes, and other European dances, and the bailes de garabuto, the popular dances.”14