Puerto Rican music

Conjunto del Sol takes Rincon, PR

Suerte!... our band, Conjunto del Sol, has been active this month with three public performances. The most recent was last night at a fund raising and social gathering of the International Friendship Club. The setting was the restaurant Fagon de la Curva on Carr 115 in Rincon. We played on the roof top bar as the sun set. Our play list consists of about 12 numbers. What makes our group distinctive is that we play traditional Puerto Rican songs on traditional instruments. Here on the island the ancient hill's tradition is for small groups of family and friends who gather to play and listen to the old tunes... and so we participate by sharing with others our love of the Isla and of its traditions.

Last night friends from the North were down visiting... we had not seen them for many many years and so it was a double pleasure... to play and to visit. Denny took some video of the group... Bella playing the Tiple, Charlie on the Bordonua, Chela on the Guiro and Chucho on the Bongo. In the first clip, we are playing Fiesta en Naranjito, a lively song with an engaging lilt. In the second clip, we are playing an island favorite, Verde Luz. Many people started to sing as we played this song. The words are below.
Here are two clips (only a small segment of each song)... enjoy.

These are the words to Verde Luz...first in Spanish and then in English.

Verde luz de monte y mar, Green light of mountain and sea,
isla virgen del coral, virgin island coral
si me ausento de tus playas primorosas, if I miss your exquisite beaches,
si me alejo de tus palmas silenciosas, if I move away from your palms silent
quiero volver, quiero volver. I want to return, I want to return.

A sentir la tibia arena To feel the warm sand
a dormir en tus riberas, to sleep on your shores,
isla mía, flor cautiva, Island mine, flower captive
para ti quiero tener. I have for you.

Libre tu cielo, Free your sky,
sola tu estrella only your star
isla doncella, quiero tener, island girl, I have,
verde luz de monte y mar. letra traduzca light green mountains and sea.

Don Jaime Alicea, and heart of Puerto Rico

This Sunday, we and our friend Dennis, had a very powerful experience. We visited Master Artesano Don Jaime Alicea in Vega Baja. Don Jaime is a maker of the traditional instrument of Puerto Rico, the Cuatro. He welcomed us into his very modest home, sited up in the hills with the La Cordillera Central in the background and just a glimpse of the Atlantic. His workshop has an uneven dirt floor and wooden shutters for windows, and yet, from the ceiling were hanging some of the most magnificent musical instruments I have ever seen. In the center was his workbench with several unfinished cuatros in various stages of construction. The cabinet doors around the shop are fully adorned with some old, some newer signed pictures of world class musicians who have come to Don Jaime for cuatros which he has created for decades from native Puerto Rican woods.

Its difficult to convey in words the quality of the workmanship he puts into the instruments but I can give you a sense of how they sound. Check out this and this and this for a bit of heaven as played by Don Jaime. He passionate playing is of the tradition of the hills of Puerto Rico - powerful and with exuberance.

We felt honored to have the opportunity to see his taller and to handle and pluck the strings of his instruments. We shared an intimate hour with him, listening to him play his powerful songs, drinking the sweet coffee brought to us by his wife and simply basking in the warmth and gentle glow of his taller.

Visitors to Puerto Rico usually focus on the high rise mega hotels and beaches of the San Juan metro area or the beaches of Rincon and the west. What are often missed are the treasures of the hills and mountains. Up high, people have been living for centuries, buffered from drag of popular culture. Here the musical traditions of Puerto Rico's past continue. Musicians like Don Jaime and hundreds and hundreds more are called marquesetta (sort of like back porch) musicians. They are passionate players of Puerto Rican music and have unbeatable skills, yet are modest, religious, and steeped in family and the traditions of 500 years. It is through this music of the island that the cultural integrity of Puerto Rico continues to be lived.

Reflecting on our visit, I realized that it wasn't just the quality of the instruments or the passionate music that we left considering. We left realizing we had just met a great and gentle man. He isn't puffed up or boastful, he is simply a master artesano of the cuatro who continues to create them to be played by others who share his passion.