I was browsing Elders and Ancestor‘s Instagram page when I saw a traditional dance being performed. I knew it was African, and upon doing some research, I found out that the name of the dance style is called Bomba. Its birthplace is in Puerto Rico, so this prompted me to take another viral trip to learn about its history.
Bomba is a Puerto Rican dance and musical genre of African roots derived from African slaves in the sixteenth century. Tracing back to the Akan people of modern-day Ghana, the original ancestors of the Black population in Puerto Rico, Bomba was used for social, political, and spiritual expression. It originated in the northeastern region, where most of the slaves lived and worked, particularly in cities like Loíza and Fajardo. But the genre also developed in coastal areas like Ponce, Loíza Aldea, and Mayaguez.
Bomba was a way for the slaves to escape the trauma they experienced, and the collection of dances was created to poke fun at plantation owners and wives. The dances were performed during social and community events, and it also became a catalyst for slave rebellions and uprisings. Plantations came alive after the first beat of the drums. And since Bomba is a percussion-based genre, with vocalists adding melodies to the songs, it always lifted the spirits of the slaves.
The instruments played consisted of a maraca, cua, a low-pitched buleador drum, and a high-pitched subidor drum. A song would open with a female vocalist, known as a Laina, and dancers would move to the beat of the drum and sometimes challenge the drummer. Bomba was danced at sugar plantations on Saturday nights and holidays, usually in open areas in sugarcane fields or the plazas of the town square. And over time, Bomba has evolved, with new artists combining the original genre with reggaeton.
I now have a better understanding as to why African people throughout the globe have an affinity for music, dancing, and rhythm. It’s not only in our DNA, but it’s also tied to our culture and history. For my ancestors, music and dance, in a lot of ways, was symbolic of freedom from the horror story they lived. And this is making me look at my community’s behavior differently, especially when it comes to cultural norms.
But that will be another topic for another day.
Until Next Time…
Abadia-Rexach, B. I. (2015, June 16). The New Puerto Rican Bomba Movement. Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17528631.2015.1055653?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=rabd20
Puerto Rican Bomba and Plena Shared Traditions — Distinct Rhythms. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://folkways.si.edu/puerto-rican-bomba-plena-shared-traditions-distinct-rhythms/latin-world/music/article/smithsonian
THE RHYTHMS OF BOMBA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://www.puertorico.com/blog/the-rhythms-of-bomba/
THE ROOTS OF BOMBA: FROM AFRICA TO PUERTO RICO. (2016, July 26). Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://everythingsoulful.com/the-roots-of-bomba-from-africa-to-puerto-rico/