Jazz Caliente: Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba and Plena

Jun 9, 2017

What we call "Latin Jazz" is usually jazz played over Afro-Cuban or Brazilian rhythms.  We've explored Afro-Peruvian jazz, and now it's time to look to Puerto Rico.  

The folkloric Afro-Puerto Rican styles of Bomba and Plena also lend themselves nicely to latin jazz.

The Bomba is a dance, typically played in a 6/8 rhythm.  It involves two or three drums called "barriles de bomba."  These drums were originally made from rum barrels, so they are shorter and wider than conga drums.

Normally, there would be singing along with the Bomba dancing, but I'm partial to this instrumental version of "Bomba a Puerto Rico."

The Plena is a narrative song form, sometimes referred to as "the newspaper of the neighborhood."  Plena songs describe the ironies of life, poke fun at politicians, or address current news items.

Crucial to the Plena are the drums known as panderetas, which bear a close resemblance to the pandeiros used in Brazilian music.  They look like enhanced tambourines.  

Plena uses three different sizes and tunings of panderetas, and the musicians can actually make them harmonize.

Here's the genius saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón with his "Esta Plena."

Listen for "Bomba Sabrosa" by Mariano Morales and his band Pikante on Saturday Jazz Caliente this week.

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio