Bomba is an Afro-Puerto Rican folkloric percussion music genre developed throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries by enslaved west African peoples forcibly imported to the island by the Spanish. It is a communal activity centered around the Afro-Puerto Rican drum, el tambor, which still thrives in its traditional centers of Loíza, Santurce, Mayagüez, Ponce, and New York City. The traditional musical style has been diffused throughout the United States following the Puerto Rican Diaspora, especially in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, California, and Florida. It also became increasingly popular in Peru, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, and has largely influenced Afro-Latino music styles within these countries.
More than just a genre of music, it’s most defining characteristic is the encounter and creative relationship between dancers, percussionists, and singers. Dance is an integral part of the music. It is popularly described as a challenge/connection, or an art of “call and answer,” in which the tambor primo plays the beats marked by the dancer’s moves while one or more buleadores maintain one of the many traditional bomba rhythms. The challenge requires great physical shape and usually continues until the dancer discontinues by bowing or tipping their hat to the tambor primo.
There are several styles of bomba, and the popularity of these styles varies by region. There are three basic rhythms, as well as many others that are mainly variations of these: Yubá, Sicá and Holandés. Other styles include Cuembé, Bámbula, Cocobalé, Balancé, Corvé, Belén, Seis Corrido, and Hoyomula.