Ensemble hierarchy
(the mobility from choir member to primo)

by Edgardo Díaz Díaz

Becoming a member of a bomba ensemble requires extensive familiarity with the rules concerning every aspect of bomba as summarized in the introduction. Even for members of Familia Cepeda, the best known of all bomba groups, it has been necessary to take a walk through the thresholds of learning and the customary rite of passage required to ascend the ladder. Each member has to learn from the bottom, first by playing the cuá in order to understand the basic beat, or clave. Next in hierarchy is the maraca. From here, it is possible to get to play the drums (darle a los barriles):

"For me to get to play primo, I had to wait. And thanks [it] be to the U.S. Army! Otherwise, I'd never have played. When my oldest brother went to the Army, Modesto moved up to primo, Carlos moved up to buleador, and I moved up to the cuá. When Modesto went to the Army, Carlos moved up to primo and I moved up to buleador, and so on. We kept changing, until I reached what I liked most. The clever ones, like Roberto, became dancers and didn't have to go through the waiting, the hierarchy." (Jesús Cepeda, from the documentary Bomba, Dancing the Drum)

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