The African Roots of Latin Music
• Home
• About
Puerto Rican Community


The Puerto Rican Community: A New York Latino Experience

The following four modules were developed for The Puerto Rican Community, an urban studies course focusing on New York City’s largest Latino group. Students enrolled in this course access materials through Blackboard, where the discussion board and external links functions provide rich opportunities for inquiry learning. If you would like access to the course Blackboard site, please contact Professor Max Rodriguez at However, the assignments used in the course in connection with the African roots of Latin music are described and linked below.

Module 1: Yoruba and Bantu Traditions in Puerto Rico
Soon after Juan Ponce de Leon began the colonization process of Puerto Rico in 1508, the first West African slaves were introduced into the island. They were brought in primarily to replace the dwindling Taino population in the workforce. But, when gold mining proved unprofitable in the island, the Spanish king was forced to make economic concessions to put an end to the migration of settlers to Peru and Mexico. Thus, the emerging sugar industry was encouraged as official economic policy in Puerto Rico by the late 1530s. This new development required a larger importation of slaves from Africa during the next two hundred years. African slaves were brought to Puerto Rico from present-day Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, and the two Congos. As a result, the two main African traditions represented in Puerto Rico are the Yoruba and the Bantu, which will influence the development of music and religion in the island.

Assignment 1: The Colonial Period
Become familiar with the geography of West Africa and some of the cultural traditions that the slaves brought to Puerto Rico.
Assignment 2: Religious Syncretism
Discover the origins of Santeria and some practices of this Afro-Caribbean religious experience.
Assignment 3: African Music
Explore the characteristics of African music and learn about the musical instruments and rhythms.

Module 2: Afro-Puerto Rican Music
The music and dance styles that flourished among African slaves in Puerto Rico during the 1700s and 1800s resulted from a process of syncretism or the blending of two heterogeneous cultural traditions that brings about new cultural patterns. Bomba, plena, and danza are examples of the incorporation of African music and rituals into Puerto Rican culture. Today, bomba and plena have been further refined as popular music forms, which are played in cities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland.

Assignment 1: Danza
Explore the origin and development of the Puerto Rican danza. Analyze how danza incorporates African musical elements.
Assignment 2: Bomba
Discover the oldest of music and dance forms rooted in the ritual celebrations of slaves working on the sugar plantations. Learn about its characteristics and revival in the 1900s.
Assignment 3: Plena
Experience a musical form that chronicles the daily life of the community or brings the latest news to an audience. Acquaint yourself with traditional and modern forms of plena.

Module 3: Puerto Ricans in New York City—Latin Jazz and Salsa
The Puerto Rican community in New York City grew at a steady place since the first decades of the 20th century. However, the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans and opened the door to one of the largest Latino migrations to the U.S. mainland. By the mid-1920s, East Harlem had been transformed into El Barrio or Spanish Harlem providing a focus for the New York Latin music scene. The generation that was born in New York, who grew up speaking Spanish and English and listening to American music wanted a broader musical experience than the popular music of Puerto Rico. It is not surprising that the first generation of Neuyoricans produced a music, which incorporates elements of both musical traditions.

Assignment 1: Latin Jazz
Learn how the fusion of jazz and Latin music links two musical genres that share a common source: the African elements distilled in Haiti and exported to Cuba and New Orleans in the late 1700s.
Assignment 2: Salsa
Salsa developed in the late 1960s as Neuyoricans began to assert the uniqueness of their own musical culture, and the influx of Cuban exiles reached a critical mass in the U.S. Explore the rhythmic elements associated with salsa. Identify what are some of the those elements.

Module 4: Afro-Puerto Rican Influences on Classical Music
Afro-Caribbean influences on classical music began in the mid-1800s in Puerto Rico. The reason for this development is attributed to the arrival of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a native of New Orleans, who lived in Puerto Rico for three years in the mid-1850s. Gottschalk was exposed from an early age to the rich Caribbean and Creole cultures that thrived in the cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic city of his birth. In fact, he made his musical debut at age eleven playing a Latin dance tune at the Hotel St. Charles (Fernández 17). While living in Puerto Rico, Gottschalk composed “Souvenir de Porto Rico” (1857) among other works using the danza form. More importantly, Gottschalk proved to the Puerto Rican audience, who usually looked to Europe for inspirations, that popular themes could also be treated with refinement and good taste.
Assignment 1: Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Assignment 2: Awilda Villarini


This site was developed by Ana María Hernández, 718.482.5697,
Humanities Department, LaGuardia Community College (CUNY)
31-10 Thomson Avenue, L.I.C., New York, NY 11101
This site was created with support from the LaGuardia Center for Teaching and Learning and is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Design Credits
Music Credits
Photo Credits