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What Does the Music of Puerto Rico Say About Puerto Ricans?


Geo-political Background - p 2

Geo-political Background

It would be impossible to fully appreciate the music of Puerto Ricans without also understanding the ge-political history of Puerto Ricans. This background is the canvas upon which the music of Puerto Rico plays out and provides depth to a complex picture.

Located at the far eastern end of the "Greater Antilles", those larger Caribbean islands that includes Cuba, at the far western end, and Hispañola, shared by the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the center.

Taíno indians playing native instruments

Settled originally by native-American tribes in pre-historic times, the population of Puerto Rico were of the Taíno tribe when Columbus discovered the island in 1493. The discovery soon led to Spanish colonization and the import of western European goods and culture.

Only decades later, the list of imports included slaves from western Africa to replace the decimated Indian population on Spanish-owned farms and other enterprises. With this development, the music of the African tribesmen became another, quite important, influence on the music that was being developed in Puerto Rico.

West African slaves cutting sugar cane; the "zafra".

By 1898, the Spanish empire had run its course and the colonial rule over Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico came to end in 1898 with the Spanish-American war between Spain and the United States.

While Cuba became an independent nation, Puerto Rico remained a colony with a new master. With this, profound changes began to sweep the island; changes that would include American influences on the music of the island as part of a larger Americanization process that continues to the present.

Suffice to say that the historical backdrop to the Puerto Rico of today, includes three distinct "peoples":

  • native Americans; the Taíno indians
  • Europeans; primarily the Spanish
  • blacks from western Africa

..each contributing something unique and valuable to what is now a fairly homogeneous population with a distinct culture. The music of Puerto Rican is based on these populations and their respective musical traditions and instruments.

Introduction - p 1       Gentle Patriots - p 3

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