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Folk


Graphic of the painting 'Al Ritmo de Mi Tierra' by Obed Gomez, courtesy of the artist.
During Puerto Rico's colonial years, a series of musical traditions evolved that were based on the folk songs and romantic ballads of 18th and 19th-century Spain. Much of this folk music is part of the heritage of the jíbaro with origins in the Andalusia region of Spain. Eventually these became fused with music either imported or native to the Hispanic New World.

Décima
The décima is the root of what we call jíbaro or country music. This folk music genre originated in Southern Spain is probably the earliest example of the fusion of native rhythms to the lyrics and melodies of Spanish music.

All the songs are sung and the frequent use of ten improvised couplets of eight syllables each, called décimas. This is derived from the poetic form common in 16th century Spain. Two of the most frequently encountered genres based on the décima, are the 'aguinaldo' such the Jíbaro and Orocovis and the 'seis'.

For an excellent description and thorough analysis of the Puerto Rican décima, see The Puerto Rican Décima page at the The Puerto Rican Cuatro Project.

Seis
The seis has its roots in the musical genres that came to Puerto Rico in the latter part of the 17th century from southern Spain.

The 'seis', which literally means 'six' is, in fact, a great number of different melodic motifs each of which can then be used as the basis for sung poetic improvisation. The melodies and harmonies are simple and accompanied by a cuatro, guitar, and güiro, as can be heard in this example of a seis mapeye. The bordonúa, tiple and requinto were also used sometimes to accompany the singer. In fact the number of singers could be one or two. The güiro and the guitar kept the 2/4 rhythm together although the güiro player occasionally improvised.

The seis was supposed to be danced by six couples although many more were commonplace. Men and women would form separate lines, facing each other. The lines would cross each other several times during the course of the dance. The dancers would tap their feet at certain points and the dance would end with a vals, just as with the contradanza.

There are two distinct theories on why this music is named "seis". One holds that it comes from the sixth figure of the contradanza. It is the only dance figure in a seis where the dance partners link up and twirl. The other theory is that is was customary to have six dance couples.

One interesting aspect about the 'seis' in Puerto Rico is the naming. There are four different naming conventions: many are named after a particular town on the island. Thus we have the Seis del Dorado, named for Dorado. This is in parallel to the practice in Spain of naming different types of fandangos after the particular town or region of Andalusia where the variant form was developed. In point of fact many seises are fandangos in origin.

However, a seis may be named by its dance form or correography. Thus there are seis with names like seis chorreao, zapateao, bombeao, or enojao. A seis may also be named after its author or possibly some other characteristic by which it is known, such as seis con decimas or tumbao.

Aguinaldo
The 'aguinaldo' or Christmas offering is based on an old form of Spanish Christmas carol. Aguinaldos are traditional Christmas tunes, many of which are also known in other parts of Latin America. In Puerto Rico, the Christmas season would be the time for what is called parrandas in which a group consisting of family, friends or neighbors would sing and play these Christmas carols, going from house to house in the area, and invited in for food and drink whever they sang. Gradually, these aguinaldos came to be used as vehicles for the improvisation of décimas and have come to be used almost interchangeably with the seises.

Artists
Many artists have recorded Puerto Rican folk music, thus preserving a rich cultural legacy. Artists such as El Gallito de Manatí, Ramito, Chuito el de Bayamón, Baltazar Carrero and El Jibarito de Lares. Another popular singer is Andrés Jiménez, also known as "El Jíbaro". His rustic songs of Puerto Rican folklore were honoured at a Christmas concert in 1993 with the Symphonic Orchestra of Puerto Rico and the Choir of the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, in which many traditional instruments were used. Likewise, the group Mapeyé, is well known for its renditions of jíbaro folk music.

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