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Essays - La Nueva Canción en Puerto Rico

By: Doris M. Vázquez, Principal de Prince Elementary School, New Haven CT, with permission of the author and Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
Translated by: Jaime Serrat

Notice from the Editor: This essay was adapted from a curriculum unit by Doris M. Vázquez, published by Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Prose and poetry have been put to musical rhythms in many Latin-American countries, to create a new expression. La idea of combining these leterary forms with music is not new, but in the past it was combined with classical music, not modern or popular forms. So, the audience was a small cultured and exclusive group.

Protest Univ de PR
Copyright , Reuters

Toward the end of the sixties and seventies, the nueva canción emerged in Puerto Rico as an evolution of protest music in the universities. This music utilized popular rhythms and modern instruments (electric guitar, drums, percussion, etc.) together with traditional instruments (cuatro, Spanish guitar, güiro, tiple, etc.) to create a musical genre based on both modern and folk music that would reach the entire public.

These songs are heard everywhere and at all social levels. The poetry and prose reach homes through the radio and television and their social message of reform is heard by a majority of the public. Its practitioners are talented youths whose voices and extraordinary musical talents provide the public with songs that are varied and interesting. Notable among these are Haciendo Punto en Otro Son with Silverio Pérez and Tony Croatto; Roy Brown, Teatro de Guerrilla, Conjunto Trapiche, La Rueda Roja and Antonio Cabán Vale, El Topo.

The Nueva Canción differs from traditional folk music in various ways. Its rhythms are contemporary and the messages are of a social nature. They champion social change, more rights for women and minorities and better living conditions for the poor. They do not speak about idealized love, nor of nature, nor of the subjective feelings of the poet, but rather of problems that must be solved: hunger, economic oppresion, exploitation, unemployment, poverty, political repression and cultural alienation, among others. A frequent theme of these songs is the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. This desire for liberty, as much political as personal, is the foundation or base of the Nueva Canción.

The Nueva Canción movement has an historical goal since it places the Puerto Rican man in this era with his economic, social and cultural problems. Rebellious and revolutionary, he does not accept things as they are, there have to be changes in the actual lives of workers and the poor; it also demands struggle social justice.

Although some songs allude to the Taíno indians of the past and of the Negoes, brought to the island as slaves, this is not to venerate them but rather, to link the past with the present and to point out their contributions to modern society. The most important concern is man's current condition and how he deals with it.

Writers and poets have identified with the masses of the workers and the poor. They have united with them and have the responsibility to raise consciousness with respect to the many problems that those masses face every day.

Juan Antonio Corretjer

Juan Antonio Corretjer was born on 3 March 1908 in the town of Ciales, Puerto Rico. He started writing poetry when he was still quite young. His earliest poem is "De otoño" ("Of Autumn"), an alexandrine sonnet dated 1924. The next year his first poems were published in Puerto Rico Ilustrado. From that time on, he continued publishing poems in different native and foreign newspapers and periodicals. He also published thirteen books of poems between 1932 and 1967. These were: Agüeibana(1932), Ulises(l933), Cántico de guerra (1937), Amor de Puerto Rico (1937), El Leñero(1944), Los primeros años (1950), Tierra Nativa (1951), Alabanza en la Torre de Ciales (1953), Don Diego en el Cariño (1956), Distancias (1957), Yerba bruja (1957), Genio y figura (1961) and Pausa para el amor (1967).

The poet continued his work and in 1971 he published "Canciones de Consuelo" which were protest songs and in 1972 he published "Construcción del Sur". Corretjer represents the poet committed to his country and his poetry was nationalistic. In this unit, I have selected three poems by this poet, all adapted to music.

The other writer included in this unit is José Luis González. González was born 8 March 1926 in Santo Domingo. His father was Puerto Rican and his mother Dominican. He went to live in Puerto Rico when he was four years old and he lived and studied there until he earned his Bachelor's degree from the University of Puerto Rico. He later studied at the New School for Social Research in New York. He settled in Mexico in 1953 and earned the degree of "Maestro en Letras" from the National University. According to González, living away from Puerto Rico allowed him a wider vision of the island and at the same time, more objectivity. In this unit I include his story, "En el fondo del caño hay un negrito", adapted to music by Haciendo Punto en Otro Son.

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