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Sample some Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms in Latin jazz

wikicommons CC BY-SA 3.0
Barriles de Bomba

What we call "Latin Jazz" is usually jazz played over Afro-Cuban or Brazilian rhythms. The folkloric Afro-Puerto Rican styles of Bomba and Plena also lend themselves nicely to Latin jazz.

The bomba is a dance, typically played in a 6/8 rhythm. It involves two or three drums called "barriles de bomba." These drums were originally made from rum barrels, so they are shorter and wider than conga drums.

Bomba's roots go deep into the African heritage of Puerto Rico, and bomba performances have seen a resurgence as part of Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Here's an excellent primer in bomba as protest.

The plena is a narrative song form, sometimes referred to as "the newspaper of the neighborhood." Plena songs describe the ironies of life, poke fun at politicians or address current news items.

Crucial to the plena are the drums known as panderetas, which bear a close resemblance to the pandeiros used in Brazilian music. They look like enhanced tambourines.  

Plena uses three different sizes and tunings of panderetas, and the musicians can actually make them harmonize.

Here's the genius saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón with his "Esta Plena."

Listen for some Bomba jazz from trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda and from drum master Ray Barretto this Saturday on Jazz Caliente.

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The program is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.