Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bomba - Traditional Puerto Rican Music & Dance

Edited by Azizi Powell

Familia Cepeda - Petrolina Guilbe

Uploaded by salsero79 on Feb 11, 2007

Classic footage of Bomba from Puerto Rico
Note: An English translation of the song is superimposed at the bottom of the screen.

Comment #1
Excerpt from Alma Concepcion: "Dance In Puerto Rico: Embodied Meanings", pps. 168-169 in Caribbean Dance - From Abakua To Zouk(edited by Susanna Sloat; University Press of Florida, Gainsedville, 2002)
"The bomba, which has been a key means of expression for slaves living in Puerto Rico since the seventeenth century, shares traits common to the traditions of diverse African groups throughout the Caribbean. Percussiv, melodic, and kinetic elemnts from ancint ceremonies persist in bombas as they are performed today. As defined by Hector Bega-Drouet (1983, 42) these elements include: a circle of performers and audienc, the drum as the main instrument, th basic rhythmic pattern played by the second of two drums, the singer next to the drums and the chorus behind the singer, rhythm presiding over melody, songs couched in responsorial form, a dialogue between the first drummer and the dance. Two additional characteristics are equally important: an improvisatory style and audience participation. The music is inseparable from the dance and the dialogue between drummer and dance converys a processthat has been handed down from generation to generation.

The dance bgins with a simple march in place, the women flashing their skirts from side to side, the men keeping their arms close to their bodies. Bodies are held inclined. The march is two stepped and later three stepped. The bodies displace themselves, but the most important element is segmentation and movement of the body, which in general is almost stationary, with the dance stemming from a controlled movment of the muscles of the feet. Instead of following the beat as modern Latin dances do, bomba dances are structured within the improvised dialogue with the music. Because this knowledge is transmitted in community life, one has to belong to really dance well. Each individual dances in dialogue with the drum. Due to these distinct characteristics, african ethnic groups arriving at or from diverse parts of the Caribbean were able to maintain and provide their own variations to musical patterns."

Comment #2
"Bomba was played during the festival of St. James, since slaves were not allowed to worship their own gods, and soon developed into countless styles based on the kind of dance intended to be used at the same time; these include leró, yubá, cunyá, babú and belén.

Bomba often begins with a liana, or a female singer who is answered by the chorus and musicians with a 2/4 or 6/8 rhythm before the dancing begins. Harmony is not used. Dancers interact with the drummer, who is usually solo and dance in pairs without touching each other, similar to calypso and soca.

The dancers challenge the drummers in a kind of competing dialog, like the controversia mentioned earlier. The drummers respond with a challenge of their own. Sometimes one group of dancers will tempt another group to respond to a set of complicated steps. As the bomba proceeds, tension rises and becomes more excited and passionate. It is not unusual for a bomba to end with all the performers thoroughly soaked with perspiration".

Example #1 - Familia Cepeda - Petrolina Guilbe

This video is posted at top of this page.

Example #2: BOMBA

Uploaded by DISK DARIAN on Jun 25, 2007


Example #3: Viento de Agua perform a traditional bomba

Uploaded by SmithsonianFolklife on Jun 20, 2011

Bomba is percussion-driven music created by enslaved Africans in Puerto Rico during the 17th century. To them, bomba was a source of political and spiritual expression. The lyrics conveyed a sense of anger and sadness about their condition, and songs served as a catalyst for resistance and uprisings. But bomba also moved them to dance and celebrate, helping them create community and identity. The music evolved through contact between slave populations from different Caribbean colonies and regions. As a result, bomba now has sixteen different rhythms to mark the pace of the singing and dance. This Viento de Agua performance demonstrates the gracimá and hoyoemula rhythms. [Catalog No. - CFV10007; Copyright - 2005 Smithsonian Institution]

Example #4: Historia de la Bomba y de la Plena/Grupo PlenaSon

uploaded by Amarilis Tavárez on Mar 2, 2009

Grupo de plena boricua, PlenaSon. Del disco "El reclamo de la Plena, la cancion esta cancion relata la historia de la Bomba y de la Plena, generos musicales que nacieron en Puerto Rico. Autor: Omar Santiago. Canta: Mingo Vazquez con PlenaSon.
Here's some information about "Plena" music from
"Plena is a narrative song from the coastal regions of Puerto Rico, especially around Ponce. Its origins have been various claimed as far back as 1875 and as late as 1920. As rural farmers moved to San Juan and other cities, they brought plena with them and eventually added horns and improvised call and response vocals. Lyrics generally deal with stories or current events, though some are light-hearted or humorous."

Video Example #5: La Música tradicional puertorriqueña, las raíces.

Uploaded by carlosantonioperez on May 12, 2011

documental sobre las raíces de la música puertorriqueña, incluyendo el seis, la bomba, la plena y la danza.
The narration in this video is in Spanish (which unfortunately, I can't speak or read). However, some visitors to this blog may be able to understand what is said. Besides, the visuals alone are so stunning that even without understanding Spanish, this video definitely merits a wider audience.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I love your website, but I wish I could have a way to search for things. Your research is wonderful. I am looking for info on the "cakewalk", an african american dance.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous.

      A search engine has been added to this blog.

      Click for a post on the cakewalk & one of its dance sources, The Grand March.

  2. This a great site.. I just found it today.

    Do you have any input as to were I could find the lyrics to Bomba Songs?
    thanks again for making this information available

    1. Thanks for your comment, anonymous.

      I'm glad you found this blog.

      Unfortunately, I don't know how to find any lyrics for Bomba songs except through internet search engines such as Google.

      Best wishes!

  3. Growing up in Dorado PR I use to dance bomba plena in every parade I would like to write a play and do this in New York to show all my young Puerto Rice's in New York what beautiful things our culture has. Brings back wonderful memories...que viva Puerto Rico

    1. Thanks, Unknown.

      I appreciate your comment.

      Please follow your dreams and write that play!

      Best wishes!