ROOTS IN THE WIND
the time of Cesar CONCEPCIÓN and Raphael
MUÑOZ, there was not much concern about the modernisation
of the Bomba and the Plena till the day Lito PENA’s Orquesta
Panamericana with Ismael RIVERA on one hand,
and Moncho LENA with Mon RIVERA on the
other, recorded two Plenas:
The different protagonists, in league with the musical world and the world of spectacle at the time, were banking on the values inherent in Cuban the mambo and cha cha cha.
We would have to await the coming of Raphael CORTIJO and his Comba formed on the 28th January 1954, with Ismael RIVERA joining the group the following year.
According to Mexican musicologist Raphael FIGUEROA HERNANDEZ, ‘what this group meant to development, with respects to music as well as the acceptance of Negroes, can not be swept aside.’
RIVERA, we finally see the shaping of the concept of the Puertorican
sonero, and its entrance on the international scene, in direct competition
with the then reigning Cuban music.
The second element indicating the entrance of these rhythms into ‘modernity’ is the replacement of the Bomba barils and the panderetas – perhaps too marked by the stigmas of the poorer districts and still representing the callejones sin salida – by the Cuban tumbadores, itself an instrument stripped of its tatters because it was deemed ‘too Congo’. From the formation of his original Combo, Raphael CORTIJO imposed the tumbadora, the bongo, and the timpani, for which he was implicitly reproached.
And so, with time, the Bomba barils and the pandaretas are again considered as ‘folklore’ instruments. But let us not forget the emergence in 1974 of the group Los Planeros del Quinto Olive, and its role in the regenerescence of the Plena.
It is often noted that the two most important Puerto Rican musicians, Tito PUENTE and Pablo Tito RODRIGUEZ, both based in New York, have attached little importance to this black Puertorican music. Tito Puente, in over 108 albums, will record three or four Bombas, among them one with La Lupe Victoria. There is no trace of this music in Tito RODRIGUEZ’s albums.
The modernisation of these two rhythms would take place in boricua land before the arrival of the road-roller called Salsa. For this, as with afro-cuban guaguanco, a certain number of musicians opened them up to modern melodic instrumentation. They adjusted accompanying melodic lines, especially on the piano. Arrangers like Eddie PALMIERI and Jorge MILLET introduced skilful orchestrations and, occasionally and felicitously, Latin music has left spaces like musical bridges on four or eight Bomba bars in certain pieces: Que Gente Averigua (1976), A la Verdegue (1970), Ola de Agua (1957), Compay Sapo (1970), Bomba de Corazon (1963), La Sazón de Abuela (1953), Alo ! Quien Llama ? (1957), Se Escapó un León (1968) are just a few of hundreds of recorded Bombas and Plenas which were born in the popular social circle.
Eddie PALMIERI’s Bomba de Corazon steps off the path traced by Loiza. The then young ‘new-Rican’ maestro’s piano and his muntuno accompaniment, supported by Barry ROGERS’ trombone, not forgetting the lessons in that of Joe COTTO, gave a special ambience to this theme played in New York in homage of boriquen.
Maestro Lito PENA’s La Sazón de Abuela with the young sonero Ismael RIVERA, aged 22, marked a ‘break point’ on the road to modernity, Maelo se la comió!
have flavours of our tropical world: plena-mambo, calypso-plena, plena-cumbia.
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