Now Available: El Alma de Puerto Rico by Ecos de Borinquen
On October 21, Smithsonian Folkways releases El Alma de Puerto Rico: A Jíbaro Tradition by Ecos de Borinquen, the 46th installment of the label's “Tradiciones” Latino music series of new albums that showcase the diverse musical heritage of the more than 50 million Latinos living in the USA. For the past 35 years, the GRAMMY and Latin Grammy–winning ensemble Ecos de Borinquen has captured the heart and soul of jíbaro creole folk traditions; with their distinctive, soulful sounds and progressive instrumentation, the group represents a unique balance between tradition and innovation. The collection features 16 tracks lasting a total of 59 minutes and is accompanied by a 40-page booklet with bilingual notes that delve deep into the jíbaro musical tradition.
With El Alma de Puerto Rico (The Soul of Puerto Rico) — the group’s second release with Smithsonian Folkways — Ecos de Borinquen showcases a variety of traditional genres considered the essence of jíbaro music, including seis, aguinaldo, and cadena. Revered trovadore and founding member Miguel Santiago Díaz’s poetic mastery of traditional decima is cradled in progressive instrumental arrangements by fellow member Ramon Vázquez Lamboy for two cuatro guitars. The cuatro, a six-stringed guitar, is jíbaro music’s most iconic string instrument.
Rooted in the rich history of Puerto Rico, jíbaros were originally rural farmers who descended from the racial mixing of peoples that coexisted on the island through 400 years of Spanish rule: indigenous Taino, European and African. Jíbaros developed a creole culture and music distinctly different from the urban communities at the time. Whether dancing to mark the end of harvest season or singing to tell stories during work in the fields, jíbaros incorporated music into their daily life.
On El Alma de Puerto Rico, “Cadenas” is a stunning example of a song sung during work, describing a rural scene in which a loved one washes clothes in the river. The celebration of folk Catholic traditions played a pivotal role in jibaro music, and “Un sol de esperanza” and “Plegaria” are traditional aguinaldos, displays of the vows Catholic devotees sang to patron saints at domestic altars or large celebrations.
Using his knowledge of tradition while recently incorporating young talent into the group’s sound, Ramon Vázquez has continued to keep Ecos de Borinquen in the forefront of jíbaro music. El Alma de Puerto Rico will become a memorable recording for both jíbaro and folk music fans.