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The beginning of the African Diaspora was marked by the displacement of Africans from their homeland and transporting black people to various parts of the world; in particularly the Western hemisphere. The African Diaspora resulted in the scattering of different aspects of African culture all over the Caribbean. The cultural traditions that came with the transportation of slaves included their forms of music, musical instruments, dance forms, religions and their general beliefs.1

Europeans and Africans influenced the elements such as sounds, styles, and lyrics that would be fused together to create the musical hybrid that we now recognize as the plena. Its origins derived from the coastal towns and areas near the Southeast parts of Puerto Rico that were highly populated by people of African descent.2 In the 1930’s, the plena was seen as the representative music of the Puerto Rican people and the plena was exceptionally used by the working class as a tool to document and express their struggles.2

Eurocentric musical ideologies depicted the simplistic and repetitive rhythm and lyrics of the plena as primitive and unsophisticated. From 1925-1950 the plena underwent a transformation influenced by Manuel “Canario” Jimenez; who promoted melodic instrumentation and sounds over the traditional African rhythm that had given rise to this music genre. This gave space to the systematic muting of the African elements in the music industry. (Aparicio, Frances “listening to salsa”) He had transformed the plena into a dance orchestra by adding winds, trumpets, and saxophones; forcing the plena to transition into a new form of genre called the plena mambo.2

In the 1950-1960s, a group of black musicians decided to form a musical revolution and take their music and identity back. They had lost their identity to the marginal subjectivity imposed on them by radical ideologies that systematically “whitened” the music; they were the ones who controlled the representative images of black people that went into the media and music mainstream. This system controlled part of the black culture by keeping its people marginalized and for centuries they remained further stigmatized by the stereotypes pressed upon them by the existing racial dynamics and superior powers that controlled the media and therefore controlled people’s perceptions of blacks. However, throughout the 1950-1960s, Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera helped revolutionize musical content and placed it back in the hands of his black people, where the music originated from in the first place. They succeeded in shifting the plena away from the orchestra and back to its Africanized roots. Once Cortijo and Rivera entered the media mainstream they became advocates for social change s they gave their people voice by expressing the needs and interests of their forgotten social sectors. This is what made Cortijo and Rivera such representative icons of the “revolution of the Puerto Rican black.”2

“during the plena’s third historical stage, the 1950s and 1960s, black musicians Mon Rivera, Rafael Cortijo, and Ismael Rivera vindicated the plena, doing away with what they saw as trivial entertainment, and returned it to the black Puerto Rican proletariat from which it originally emerged by making ‘full use of recording technology’ and creating ‘ingenious innovations to style.’ In this sense, Rafael Cortijo, like African-America rappers today, reappropriated the tools of the master- technology- to reaffirm the musical and cultural presence of the marginalized.”2 (Aparicio, Frances “listening to salsa” pg 34)

In this moment in time, Afro-Puerto Ricans were finally able to reaffirm their cultural identity. All of their efforts gave rise to a representational shift; allowing black musicians to undermine the negative stereotypes that had been associated to black people for centuries and finally gave them the opportunity to represent themselves and blackness in a positive light.

Curet is one of Puerto Ricos’s most influential and known composers of the 20th century. A recurring theme that can be seen in many of the songs he has composed over time is the “Africanized nationalistic dignity.” The struggle of black people in latin America can be seen in several of his songs like “El Conde” and “La Abolicion.”

“Through Cheo, Curet told the folk tale of the valiant “Anacaona,” a Taino Indian “Cacica” (chief) from the Dominican Republic who speaks of a long awaited struggle for her elusive freedom and break from slavery.”3

He was also the composer of “La caras linda de mi gente negra,” “El Mesias/ El cristo negro,” and “lo entierro de mi gente negra.” These songs were specifically written about the way he perceives his black people in society and provides its listeners with an insight into his spiritual and religious beliefs, which are also strongly influenced by his African rooted culture. In his song “Caras Lindas” he describes the faces of his black people as beautiful. In his lyrics he doesn’t only portray his people as physically beautiful but also refers to them as very loving and happy people regardless of the realistic harsh parts of life that they have had to encounter as a people. To him, black people are seen as beautiful, inside and out.

Lyrics: Caras lindas

“Las caras lindas de mi gente negra
son un desfile de melaza en flor
que cuando pasa frente a mi se alegra
de su negrura, todo el corazón.
Las caras lindas de mi raza prieta
tienen de llanto, de pena y dolor
son las verdades, que la vida reta
pero que llevan dentro mucho amor

Que lin, que lin, que lindas son.
Negrura de la pura.
Que lin, que lin, que lindas son."4

In this song he talks about giving a bouquet of colorful spring roses to someone who does not even remember him. Although the person has forgotten who he is he wants to offer them roses and in his last line, “la mujer es una rosa con espinas de pasión,“ he uses metaphor to describe women as roses with thorns of passion.

Song title: De todas maneras rosa
Artist: Ismael Rivera

De todas maneras rosas
para quien ya me olvidó,
mas vale un ramo de rosas
de primavera y color. (2x)

Aunque el hastío
la diferencia, el olvido,
caigan sobre lo vivido
al final como el telón.

Yo traigo un ramo
un ramo de lindas flores
de perfumados colores
para quien ya me olvido.

De todas maneras rosas
para quien ya me olvido,
la mujer es una rosa
con espinas de pasión.

Rosas, rosas, de todas maneras rosas.


  1. Anonymous., “The legacy of Negrismo/ Negritude: Inter-American Dialogues.” Guest editor’s introduction in The Langston Hughes Review 16:2. 1999-2001
  2. Aparicio, Frances R., “Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular music, and Puerto Rican Cultures.”Wesleyan university Press.
  3. Flores, Aurora., “A Man & His Music: Tite Curet Alonso.” 2008
  4. Lyrics for “ Caras lindas” -

Further Reading :

  • Flores, Juan."Cortijo’s Revenge: New Mappings Of Puerto Rican Culture." Divided Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity. Houston: Arte Público, 1993. 92-107. Print.
  • Aparicio, Frances R.,“Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular music, and Puerto Rican Cultures.” Wesleyan University Press. 1998.