by Edgardo Díaz Díaz

Bomba, one of Puerto Rico’s quintessentially Black-centered traditions,
may be understood in at least six ways.

What is Bomba?

First, bomba is understood as a converging group of styles comprising dance, music, speech, and drumming introduced and developed in Puerto Rico from the 16th through the 19th centuries by people of African ancestry. Perhaps since the first African slaves were shipped in the 1500s, bomba has also been used in its plural form (bombas) in reference to the set of drums conveying various meaningful rhythmic patterns (known as toques) for these styles. Since approximately the 1800s local popular culture often alluded to bomba as toques de bomba. One example of toques de bomba is the drumming-based language once devised by slaves as a way to communicate with their peers at distant plantations during their frequent rebellions. Otherwise, the form on which toques de bomba are primarily performed consists generally of responsorial chants engaging a singer and a choir in various identifiable songs, or repeated phrases that may be understood as sones de bomba. Various dance styles introduced by slaves are also identified within the realm of bomba, and so, they are referred to as bailes de bomba. A few of these dances are creolized adaptations of quadrilles that were in vogue among French aristocrats around the early nineteenth century. Bomba practitioners distinguish these European dances from the rest so that they constitute an established sequence of bailes de bomba. At times, this sequence is understood as seis de bombas (not to be confused with seis bombeao

If someone asks you what bomba is about, you may tell that bomba may be defined as:

1.       A group of various styles (toques, sones, bailes, seis de bomba)
2.       Two or more barrel-shaped drums, then referring to bomba (or bulá) drums
3.       An inventory of rhythmic patterns (toques)
4.       A repertoire of identifiable songs or phrases (sones)
5.       A gamut of dances (bailes)
6.       An established sequence of bailes de bombabomba)

Content credits Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Image Credits: Cortesy of Edgardo Díaz Díaz| All Rights Reserved