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Lamento Borinacano (Puerto Rican Lament)
Early Puerto Rican Music 1916-39

Arhoolie (

cd cover Puerto Rico had been a colony of the United States for about twenty years when the first piece on this album was recorded. That relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States is present in many of the songs. All but two tracks were recorded in New York City and many of the lyrics deal with the island's beauty, economic problems, unequal relations with Uncle Sam, as well as the life of immigrants to the mainland (whose status hovered between citizen nor alien).

This two CD set of 50 cuts illustrates the wide range of European, African and Caribbean fusion that Puerto Ricans have employed to tell their stories. These were both homegrown and imported from Cuba, French Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, and Colombia, but little from the United States. (with the exception of one funky fox trot, that features fabulous guiro work, recorded in Puerto Rico).

There are appealing mixes of art and folk vocal and instrumental styles. The melodies are delivered with emotional, full voiced singing, often with stirring lyrics declaring love and loss for Borinquen, their homeland.

"Heroes de Boriquen"
Vocals are supported with the typical, beautiful duet harmonies below the melody. Some of the small combos are very close in feel to the old Cuban groups like Trio Matamoros. Some have Cuban style trumpet and clave, but most feature guitars and guiros, with occasional accordion. The guitars' solos are laid back and charming, without the bravura solo style that evolved in the heyday of salsa in New York City.

The genteel and swinging instrumentals feature various sized guitars and guitar-like instruments like tres and cuatro. Echoes of light classical-derived parlor music of the Nineteenth Century can be heard, however, vocals rightly predominate.

"Alma Boricua"
The majority of cuts are boleros, danzas (with full orchestras), the declamatory seis (with its mix of Moorish and art music vocal styles) and plenas (with more African influences, especially its hand drumming) well suited, like calypso, to tell stories. Add a few Christmas aguinaldos, Cuban style guarachas, and local rhumba genres and you have over two hours of classic Puerto Rican music.

Rescued from relative obscurity are such once great names as Manuel Jimenez "Canario" Otero (in several guises), Trio Borinquen (likewise), Los Reyes de la Plena and the great composer Rafael Hernandez.

Excellent notes with some translated lyrics are essential to the enjoyment of the selections. This is a wonderful album featuring the kind of music that, with luck, can occasionally still be heard in U.S. cities with Puerto Rican populations around Christmas and New Year's. Anyone who digs the recent Cuban revival will enjoy this. - Stacy Phillips

Songs: Canario y su grupo: "Heroes de Boriquen"
Grupo Aurora: "Alma Boricua"
Audio (c) & (p) 2001 by Arhoolie Productions, Inc., used by permission

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