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Solo drumming in the Puerto Rican bomba : an analysis of musical processes and improvisational strategies Ferreras, Salvador E.

Abstract

For over two hundred years, the drumming, dancing and singing of the bomba genre have maintained a vital presence among Puerto Ricans. Bomba reflects a syncretism of African and European musical concepts that have, over the past fifty years, experienced a renaissance and a socio-musical redefinition that have forged a unique contemporary musical culture. Drumming improvisation, a core musical element of bomba tradition, has never been analyzed in a manner that defines the relationship of phrases to rhythmic structure or that articulates its continual dialogue with an evolving tradition. This study will examine how many of the genre's foundational syncretic elements and techniques evolve in daily practice. The research undertaken over the past four years involved interviews, intensive fieldwork, participant-observation, historical research, and cross-disciplinary studies. The dissertation begins with historical accounts of bomba and then proceeds to surveys of prior research, identification of important communities, and the establishment of a classification of musical styles, sub-styles and processes. This data informs the analysis of six drum solos drawn from the principal styles and sub-styles that are the central concern of this study. These analyses propose that drumming improvisation in bomba reveals how precise musical processes equip the soloist with specific musicalnavigational tools while allowing for spontaneous inspirational moments. The transcriptions give a concise picture of the techniques at play, revealing how rhythmic cells and phrases relate to tradition, experimentation and innovation. Improvisation in bomba involves a complex network of incoming stimuli that encompasses, among other things, dance steps, song texts, non-musical influences and the diverse expectations of any given audience. Bomba soloing exhibits characteristics that are best examined through intercultural, cross-disciplinary studies of improvisational practice. Nationalism, identity politics, and an underlying racial ambiguity surface as important factors in bomba's renewal. Their relation to the processes mentioned earlier completes a portrait of the evolution of a musical genre deeply rooted in Puerto Rican society.

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