Music in difficult times
Music has played an important role in Puerto Rican culture and history, particularly during difficult times when the island has faced crises or challenges. During the 1960s and 1970s, Puerto Rican musicians created nueva canción, a movement of socially conscious music that expressed resistance to U.S. colonialism and celebrated Puerto Rican culture and identity. Music has also been used to help Puerto Ricans cope with trauma and loss, such as after natural disasters and other crises. For example, following Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rican musicians organized benefit concerts and composed songs that expressed solidarity and hoped for the island recovery. In 2019, Puerto Rican artists Residente, iLe and Bad Bunny created a song that was released in the middle of the protests again the then governor, Ricardo Roselló, whom ended resigning to his post on July 17th. In the song, the artists rap about the unity among Puerto Ricans and Rosselló’s corruption that has led his own people to not want nor love him. They talk about the former governor’s homophobia, money misused, homes still left roofless by hurricanes and neglect, manipulation of news outlets and much more.
Music has also been used to promote cultural pride and identity among Puerto Ricans, particularly those who have faced discrimination or marginalization. Bomba and plena, for example, have historically been associated with Afro-Puerto Rican culture and identity, and they have been used as a means of celebrating and preserving this heritage.
Community-based musical ensembles, such as the jibaro ensembles of rural Puerto Rico, have been important in preserving traditional music and culture, as well as in providing a sense of community and support.
Rafael Hernandez‘s song “Lamento Borincano” is deeply connected to the economic struggles that Puerto Rico faced in the 20s and 30s. During that time, there was significant economic hardship on the island. Puerto Rico was still a colony of the United States at that time, and the island’s economy was heavily dependent on the export of sugar and other agricultural products.
At the time, workers were working under a jornalero system that paid low wages and had jibaros subjected to harsh living and working conditions. Many of them lived in substandard housing provided by their employers, and were often forced to work long hours. Before the jornalero system was abolished in Puerto Rico, in the mid-1940s, thousands of workers had to leave the island looking for better conditions.
The lyrics of “Lamento Borincano” express a deep sense of longing and sadness for the hardships that Puerto Rican jibaros were facing at the time. The song acknowledges the poverty and suffering that many people were experiencing. The song continues to resonate with people who are fighting for economic and social justice. Hernandez’s llegacy as a composer and musician is an important part of the island’s cultural heritage.
Lamento Borincano Lyrics
Sale loco de contento con su cargamento
Para la ciudad ay, para la cuidad
Lleva en su pensamiento todo un mundo
Lleno de felicidad ay, de felicidad
Piensa remediar la situacion
Del hogar que es toda su ilusión, sí
Y alegre, el jibarito va pensando así
Diciendo así, cantando así por el camino
Si yo vendo la carga, mi Dios querido
Un traje a mi viejita voy a comprar
Y alegre, también su yegua va
Al presentir que su cantar
Es todo un himno de alegría
En eso lo sorprende la luz del día
Al llegar al mercado de la ciudad
Pasa la mañana entera sin que nadie quiera
Su carga comprar ay, su carga comprar
Todo, todo está desierto, y el pueblo está lleno
De necesidad, ay, de necesidad
Se oyen los lamentos por doquier
De su desdichada Borinquen, sí
Y triste, el jibarito va pensando así
Diciendo así, llorando así por el camino
¿Qué será de Borinquen mi Dios querido?
¿Qué será de mis hijos y de mi hogar?
Borinquen, la tierra del Edén
La que al cantar, el gran Gautier
Llamó la perla de los mares
Ahora que tú te encuentras con tus pesares
Déjame que le cante yo también, yo también
Yo también (Aah)
Overall, music has been an important means of expression and resilience for Puerto Ricans during difficult times, allowing them to cope with challenges, promote cultural identity and pride, and build community and connection.
Triste navidad, song by Rafael Hernandez
How Bad Bunny influenced Puerto Rico’s 2019 Movement, ‘Ricky Renuncia’
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