Caribbean Influences in Puerto Rican Music

The music of Puerto Rico has been influenced by countries across the globe, but the island's closest neighbors, such as Cuba, Jamaica, and even the United States, have been especially influential in creating Puerto Rico's signature sound.


Cuba and Puerto Rico were both sister colonies of Spain and were under Spanish rule until 1898. With the arrival of European colonists came the eradication of Cuba's and Puerto Rico's indigenous people, the Taíno Indians. Most of the native culture was lost, but some traces of the Taíno's musical traditions were kept alive by blending them with music from the Spanish culture, which created many of the new genres of music that are still popular today. These are some of the musical genres of Cuba that have become popular on Puerto Rico:

  • Mambo: Although the rhythmic mambo resonates with African melodies, the roots of this genre of Puerto Rican music can be traced to both African and European sources. The mambo derives from a European country dance of the 17th century, which evolved into the Spanish contradanza. From Spain, the contradanza went on to become popular in Cuba where it became known as simply the danza. The dance became popular among slaves on Cuba, where it took on many African elements. At the end of the 19th century, the dance was transformed into the danzon. In 1938, Orestes Lopez composed a danzon called " The Mambo." The mambo was then marketed by Pérez Prado, who also popularized it as its own genre of Latin music.

  • Son: Son was originated by the Spanish colonists in the Sierra Maestra mountains of eastern Cuba and is performed with traditional Spanish instruments, such as maracas and the tres. Although son was originated by the Spanish, this sensual genre of Puerto Rican music was highly influenced by slaves on the island. The African rhythms resonate throughout the son, which is a music genre especially for dance.

  • Bolero: The musical genre of bolero began in Cuba in the 19th century and originated from the canción, which means song. Although similar to the Spanish bolero, the Cuban version is accompanied by a different style of dance. Bolero quickly became popular on Puerto Rico and rapidly spread across the island, especially through the talents of noted Puerto Rican bolero composer Rafael Hernándezand Pedro Flores.

Dominican Republic

Located just west of Puerto Rico, the music of the Dominican Republic, particularly merengue, has been influential to Puerto Rico's sound. The heritage of the merengue remains a disputed topic. Some say this genre of Latin music was invented by Colonel Alfonseca, while others say it was born as a Dominican melody after the island's victory at the Battle of Talanquera. This form of music is specifically for dance, and the basic choreography of the merengue is a somewhat simple two-step, but with a twist of the hip to the right, which can make it somewhat difficult to perform. Despite its Dominican origins, the merengue has become a very popular style of music on Puerto Rico.


Reggaeton is a new musical sensation to hit the island of Puerto Rico from Jamaica. Although reggaeton has its origins in Jamaica, various genres of Puerto Rican music, and hip-hop music of the United States, have also been influential to its style. Reggaeton is extremely popular with the youth of Puerto Rico, and some believe that this genre of music will be even more popular than salsa.

U.S. Influence

Because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth territory of the United States, there are plenty of American influences on the island's culture, including its music. The most influential style of American music is jazz. It is commonly believed that jazz began in New Orleans, but it has evolved into many variations, with ethnic twists. Afro-Latin jazz is a very popular style of jazz fusion on Puerto Rico.


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