European Influences in Puerto Rican Music

Several genres of music have originated on Puerto Rico, but much of the island's sound has its roots in other parts of the world. European, Caribbean, and American styles have inspired Puerto Rican music, and Spanish culture in particular has been extremely influential on the music of Puerto Rico.

When the Spanish colonized Puerto Rico, they brought with them their own cultural identities and practices, which included various styles and genres of music. The Spanish government imposed a dictatorship-style of government over the island, which repressed the culture of the native people and imposed upon them a European way of life. One of the Spanish governors of Puerto Rico once stated that "The locals can be ruled with a whip and a violin." In response to the Spaniards autocratic rule, the islanders developed a Creole upper-class society of their own.

Birds of a Feather

Puerto Rico and Cuba share many aspects of culture and heritage because both islands were colonies under Spanish rule during the European colonization of the Caribbean. On both Puerto Rico and Cuba, the Spanish wiped out the Taíno Indians, who were indigenous to both islands, and replaced their native culture with their own. As Puerto Rico became populated with people from various European countries, namely Spain, the European style of living began to infiltrate the island's native culture. Puerto Rico and Cuba both developed anti-European sentiments, and from the early 1800's until the present, Puerto Ricans have borrowed some Cuban music styles such as the danza.

Various Genres

These are a few musical genres popular on Puerto Rico that have derived from early European music, particularly Spanish:

  • Decima: Found in the folk genre of traditional Puerto Rican music, the decima is at the foundation of jibaro, or Puerto Rican peasant music from the countryside. Decima originated from the southern region of Spain and was brought to Puerto Rico during the colonization of the island. This folkloric genre of music is one of the earliest embodiments of the integration of native Puerto Rican melodies and Spanish music. From the decima derived genres like the aguinaldo, or traditional Puerto Rican Christmas music, which includes jíbaro and orocovis and the seis.

  • Seis: Rooted in 17th century Spanish music, seis was introduced to Puerto Rico from southern Spain. Seis, which means six, is usually sung while accompanied by the cuatro, guitar, and güiro, and is designed to be danced by six couples. The men and women would form separate lines facing each other, and during the dance, they would cross each other several times. At different points in the movement, the dancers would tap their feet, and the dance would end with a vals. Puerto Rico has four ways of naming the seis. The first way is after a town or particular region, like the Seis del Dorado. Secondly, the seis may be named after its dance or choreography, like the Seis Bombeao. And finally, some seis music is named after its author, or other characteristics of the musical movement.

  • Danza: It is believed that the danza began on Puerto Rico around 1840. Characterized by its rich melodies and harmonic sounds, the danza is considered by some to be one of the greatest artistic expressions in Puerto Rican culture. Danza is a musical genre of the New World and in many ways mirrors the classical music of Europe. The danza can be categorized into two types: the festive and the romantic danza. The romantic danza sounds very different from its counterpart and is divided into four sections: the introductions, and the first, second, and third themes. Many of the romantic danzas have a melancholy sound and have a rhythmic accompaniment. The sounds of the romantic danza can be described as a waltz with an Afro-Caribbean beat. While the romantic danza is a structured musical movement, the festive danza doesn't follow any particular form. Festive danzas are characterized by their upbeat and fast rhythms.

  • Mambo: Although the rhythmic mambo resonates with African sounds, the roots of this genre of Puerto Rican music go back to both Africa and Europe. The mambo is derived from a European country dance of the 17th century. From there, it 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 black slaves on Cuba and took on many African elements. At the end of the 19th century, it 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 the mambo as its own genre of Latin music.

  • Son: Son was started by the Spanish colonists on Puerto Rico 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.

  • Classical: As the wealth of planters on Puerto Rico increased, so did their desire for a better social status. Some planters sent their musically inclined children to Spain to nurture their musical talents. One of the Puerto Rican composers who helped to pave the way for other classicists from the island was Manuel Tavares.

Various genres of music can call Puerto Rico their birthplace. Although Puerto Rican music has an individualized style, most of the island's music has origins in other countries, including Spain and a few other countries in Europe.


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