Music Playlist: Songs You Need to Hear While Driving Around Puerto Rico


driving-ir-prFrom our archives.

In my almost four-month backpacking trip throughout the Caribbean, I backpacked Puerto Rico for five weeks. I spent more than half of that time driving around the island because public transportation is not readily accessible. During this journey, I didn’t have any portable music available (my iPod had been stolen earlier in the Dominican Republic). I had three bootleg CDs purchased in both nations of Hispaniola, but I needed more. I realized music is essential for a good road trip so I decided to create a playlist for all of you!

Whether you plan to travel extensively throughout the island, like I did, or just want to relax by the beach, let this playlist be the soundtrack to your Puerto Rican experience.

As I mentioned in my other Music Playlist: Songs you Need to Hear while on the Airplane to Cuba, Cuba’s musical forms has influenced the music of Latin America and the rest of the Caribbean. Cubans’ and Puerto Ricans’ special musical relationship initiated during the great Cuban and Puerto Rican exodus to the United States, especially to New York. Here, Latin Jazz and Salsa were born using Cuban musical elements, genres mainly popularized by Puerto Ricans due to the halt on Cuban migration after the start of the Cuban Revolution.

Bomba y Plena, usually associated as one, are two entirely different styles of folk music connected through dance. Bomba was inherited in the 17th century from African slave sugar plantation workers, who used it as a form of political and spiritual expression. Plena developed from bomba in Ponce in the beginning of the 20th century. It has one rhythm and its narrative lyrics speak of certain events or themes. Bomba y Plena remains popular in the island. Groups such as pioneer Los Pleneros de la 21 have kept the traditional form alive. 

Latin Jazz was introduced in 1940s New York City with the formulation of the Machito and the Afro-Cuban orchestra. The genre developed from the combination of Cuban son and jazz. While Latin Jazz was introduced by Cubans, over time Puerto Rican and non-Latino musicians such as Eddie Palmieri and Cal Tjader popularized it.

Salsa was also born in New York City in the late 1960s, deriving from mostly Cuban son and other elements such as mambo, cha-cha-cha, and rumba. The Fania All-Stars established in 1968, were the leading musicians who elevated Salsa to worldwide exposure. Legendary musicians such as Hector Lavoe, Johnny Pacheco, and La Lupe (known for her boleros) were part of the group.

Nuyorican music grew from a cultural movement called the Nuyorican Movement by Puerto Ricans who lived in the city. Incorporating Spanglish lyrics, Nuyorican music became popular in the 1960s with song releases by Nuyoricans Tito Puente and Ray Barretto.

Latin Bugalú was simultaneously created alongside Salsa and Nuyorican music. It is a fusion of soul music, rhythm and blues with Cuban mambo and son popularized in 1960s New York City originating among mostly teenage Cubans and Puerto Ricans. Jimmy Sabater from the Joe Cuba Sextet was a great Latin Bugalú musician.

Reggaeton historically was found in Panama by a Jamaican population who migrated for work to the Panama Canal in the 20th century. Today’s reggaeton artists are mostly Puerto Rican, which contributes to the common misconception that reggaeton is from Boriquen. In the 1980s, pioneer Vico C experimented with the style such as adding bomba y plena elements, but it wasn’t until 2004 song releases from both Daddy Yankee and Tego Calderon that the genre exploded with recognition.

Tell me, what is your favorite style of music and song from the playlist?

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