Ecos de Borinquen - Jíbaro hasta el hueso
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Ecos de Borinquen
Jíbaro hasta el hueso: Mountain Music of Puerto Rico
Smithsonian Folkways (folkways.si.edu)

cd cover Among the effects of globalization-the accelerating transnational flow of people, culture, media and technology-uneven processes of cultural separation, hybridization and social exchange have intensified the deep sense of linkage between cultural identity and particular forms of musical expression. This certainly has been the case for Puerto Rico, brought involuntarily into the U.S. orbit in 1898. Its people enjoyed uneasy second-class access to mainland society under a cultural injunction to leave behind their past for a homogenizing national culture not their own, and by the mid-20th century, the acoustic string and percussion music of the island's rural jíbaro or mountain people seemed destined for extinction. However, the cultural alienation of many Puerto Ricans under U.S. hegemony has produced a rather different outcome.

Illustrating the way that once-fading traditions have been revitalized to give voice to Puerto Ricans' cultural and political aspirations is Ecos de Borinquen (echoes of the island as named by the native Taino people). An acoustic ensemble composed of two singers, two cuatro players, a guitarist, and a rhythm section of güiro and bongos, its music represents the contemporary expression of a long process of cultural recuperation traceable to the 1930s, when the instrumentation and repertoire of the jíbaro style of música típica began to gel.

The group's founder and leader, Miguel Santiago Díaz, son of a trovador (ballad singer), grew up during the island folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. He learned to sing and compose the complex décima lyrical form by performing with his father, brother and uncles. Today his dramatic vocal presence and poetic flair make him one of the island's foremost trovadores. A generation younger, Karol Aurora de Jesús Reyes grew up listening to música típica performed live by local artists, began singing at the age of five, and won her first competition at seven. Now 18, with three solo albums already to her name, her translucent intonation and evocative voice promise to elevate her as a definitive interpreter of jíbaro vocal style. The result is a recording that not even the commercial style setters at the Grammys could ignore. Indeed, Jíbaro hasta el hueso won a nomination in traditional world music this year, and for the best of reasons.

Enjoying superb instrumental backing, the vocal pairing of Díaz and Reyes is really at the core of this affecting interpretation of Spanish-language verses, composed mostly by Díaz. It stands as a keen reminder that the intensely poetic foundations of Puerto Rican folk music make it anything but a poor cousin to its Cuban analogue. For Puerto Ricans who retain any sense of identification with their homeland, the musings of Ecos de Borinquen upon island culture, life and history represent an expression redolent of national identity, and an assurance of its distinctive continuity in a relentlessly globalizing era. - Michael Stone

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