History of Bomba
The origins of the Bomba music and dance date back to 16th-century Africa and the advent of the slave trade. Bomba became an important means of communicating the political and social conditions of these colonial times, and served as a form of cultural resistance for those in bondage. Bomba adapted again with the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico in 1873. For generations now bomba has remained central to community, with the drum acting as an instrument of social and artistic expression and entertainment and the lyrics often speaking to community sentiment and/or social conditions of the day. More recently, bomba’s resilient spirit has become more pronounced in the face of Puerto Rico’s economic crisis and the vast devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. During the height of the Hurricane Maria crisis, “bombazos” were held throughout the island, bringing together community residents to dance, sing and provide temporary respite from the crisis facing the island and its residents.
A recent article by the New York Times describes the bomba as follows:
“This playful exchange between dancers, singers and drummers is the rhythmic backbone of Afro-Boricuas here. Developed in the 17th century, when the Spanish were still in control, it is one of the oldest musical traditions on the island. Some of its earliest practitioners were West Africans working on sugar plantations; their bomba dances offered a means of social connection and catharsis, and according to the ethnomusicologist Salvador E. Ferreras, sometimes helped to disguise revolts”.
The core components of bomba are drumming, singing and dance. Bomba is comprised of three or more backup singers and a lead singer. The singing has a dynamic similar to that of the "Son" where the lead singer sings a chorus and the others respond, and in between choruses the lead singer will improvise a verse. The traditional drums used in bomba are called barriles, since they have long been built from the wood of barrels. The high pitch drum is called "subidor" (riser) or "primo" (first), and the low pitch drums are called "buleador" or "segundo" (second). No less important are the "Cuás" - two wooden sticks banged on a wooden surface, and a large Maraca that keeps time. Unlike other dance and percussion forms where the dancer follows the drummer, in bomba the primo follows the dancer. The other drummers or buleadores keep the rhythm, while the singer is joined by a chorus in a "call and response" pattern of singing.. The theme of most bomba songs is everyday life and activity.