I decided to do some shopping in Old San Juan today. As I was walking out of a shoe shop I heard this amazing percussion rhythm coming from someplace nearby. Before I knew it, I was dancing, along with nearly everyone on the street! The music filled the air and the rhythm was contagious.
Our tour guide, Lola, grabbed my arm and we both followed the music. The music got louder and louder as we approached a band playing in the square. They were playing in front of the Christopher Columbus statue and fountain. The small plaza was starting to fill with people. Some were dancing with a partner, some were jamming by themselves, and others, like me, just watched, entranced by the music.
Lola pointed out to me the instruments the band was playing. There was a lady on a single standing drum, a man playing a güiro (like a gourd), and a lady singing. They were really rocking out, but not one electric instrument was present.
After about ten minutes, Lola started shouting over the music, telling me the history of music in Puerto Rico. She said that traditional music started with the influence of the Taínos, Spaniards, and Africans in Puerto Rico. From them came the birth of dances such as La guaracha, La plena, La bomba, and Salsa. I’d only heard of Salsa. I made a mental note to Google the rest when I got some free time.
Then before I knew it, the rhythm changed. The woman stopped singing and this young guy came out the crowd and started rapping in Spanish. It was like something out of a movie. When I looked around nobody was dancing, but everyone was bopping their heads. Old people, young people, babies in their strollers, everyone! Flo said this is where reggaetón came from. The guy was rapping so fast I could hardly catch any of his words, but the beat was awesome! And in a flash, just as soon as it began, it was all over.
Lola and I walked back to the shoe store together to meet up with the rest of the group. Lola kept talking about the music and dance culture of Puerto Rico. She said that most of the music has piano, sometimes violin, and a few other jazz instruments. She went on and on about how Puerto Rican music is so diverse. They have Puerto Rican rock, nueva trova (socially- and politically-related ballads), merengue, salsa, rap, and reggaetón. And of course every Puerto Rican is has to bring up their famed singers, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony. I was sad that the experience was over, but once I heard the coquíes I knew it was dinnertime and my tummy was growling.
People say that music is the town’s soul and a town with no music is like a town without a soul. If this is the case then Puerto Rico has both heart and soul. You can feel the music in Puerto Rico, and I’ll never forget that impromptu concert in the square.