Although the actual origins of the word Jíbaro are unclear, it was originally used to describe criollos or mestizos (people of African, Spanish and Native descent) from La Española- today the Dominican Republic and Haiti-, Puerto Rico and other islands. In the 17th and 18th centuries the criollos maintained, at least on the surface, the traditions and values of their Spanish colonizers. However, they never completely abandoned their own culture and customs. On the contrary, they camouflaged them in order to appear more loyal to the Spanish. It is from this “merging” of cultures that some of the richest elements of Puerto Rican culture, including La Música Jíbara, were born.

La Música Jíbara

La Música Jíbara (or Jíbaro Music) is considered to be one of the most important elements of Puerto Rican culture. Although often referred to as “music from the mountains”, this music developed primarily in areas on or close to the coast (in Puerto Rico, the mountains are located at the center of the Island). Consequently, it would be much more accurate to say that La Música Jíbara is from the countryside.

Although it is melodically and harmonically linked to the Spanish Villancico and Arabic music (another by-product of colonization), its rhythmic core can be found in the music brought by African slaves. It is believed that the Cimarrón (a term used to describe African slaves that escaped their masters and fled into the countryside) are the ones who provided the rhythmic elements that give La Música Jíbara its unique personality. These rhythms come from a music called Bomba, one of the strongest indications of African culture on the Island.

Seis and Aguinaldo

With very few exceptions, Jíbaro Music is divided into two major categories: Seis and Aguinaldo.

In many Latin-American countries the word Aguinaldo means, “gift”. And considering the huge influence of Christian religion in the cultural landscape of these countries, it more specifically refers to a “Christmas Gift”. By studying the Promesa, another very important Puerto Rican tradition, we can clearly see the relation between the “gift” side and the “musical” side of the Aguinaldo.

The Promesa consist of an individual making a promise of a deed to a figure from the Christian religion (it could be God, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a specific Saint) in exchange for a granted petition or prayer. The fulfillment of this promise usually takes place around Christmas and involves the individual gathering a group of people and paying a surprise musical visit (or parranda) to a family member or close friend. It is not unusual for these Promesas to take place on the same day of every year and for as many years as possible. The Aguinaldo plays a very important part in the Parranda de Promesa because it is the first thing that is played once the group arrives at the selected house. It is always played outside of the house in order to make the host aware of the musician’s arrival. In this way, the musical Aguinaldo serves as a “gift” to the owner of the house and in return the musicians receive the “gift” of food and drink.

In contrast, the historical information that explains where the style of Seis (Six) got its name from is not very clear. It could refer to the sixth string on the guitar; the sixth figure in the Contradanza (a dance from colonial times); or even come from the Niños Seises, a group of six children that performed altar dances at the traditional celebration of the Corpus Cristi. What is clear is that the Seis, like the Aguinaldo , plays an important role in the tradition of Promesa. It is performed once the musicians are inside of the house, and it has a more festive or dance-like quality (as opposed to the Aguinaldo, which is often slower and more reflective).

There are some other key differences between Seis and Aguinaldo:

•Although both the Seis and the Aguinaldo have many subdivisions within their own family trees, the Seis has a considerably larger amount of subdivisions. (Their names could be in reference to a specific region or town in Puerto Rico, as in Seis Fajardeño (from Fajardo). They could also refer to a person or to an element from nature, as in Seis Villarán (a last name) or Seis Enramada (from the word rama which means ranch)

•Harmonically speaking the Seis usually has a motion of I – IV – V on a major key while the Aguinaldo has a motion of IV – I – V – I. These vary slightly on minor keys.

•Some Jíbaro musicians and historians call the Seis a Décima and the Aguinaldo a Decimilla (diminutive of Decima). This distinction is made because every line of a Seis verse has eight syllables while the Aguinaldo has six. Although seemingly unimportant, this is one of the key elements to consider when studying the organization of a Jíbaro verse or Décima.

La Décima

Like many examples of popular music, La Música Jíbara relies heavily on vocals and lyrics. The themes range from nostalgia to humor to love or to just plain confrontation. But structurally, what gives this music its identity is the Décima (which means tenth in Spanish), a word used to describe how each verse is organized.

The Décima has a very specific and consistent rhyme pattern. Below is a classic example by one of the masters of the music, Chuito el de Bayamón. It is called “Ochenta Años”, (an Aguinaldo Jíbaro) and it tells the story of a son who is worried that his 80-year-old father is too old to be a womanizer:

Vengo a aconsejarte (A)
Viejo en tu capricho (B)
Porque a mi me han dicho (B)
Que vas a casarte (A)
Yo quiero evitarte (A)
ciertos desengaños (C)
Y terribles daños (C)
Porque a mi entender (D)
Tu que vas a hacer (D)
Con Ochenta Años (C)

With examples like the Punto Cubano from Cuba, Los Cantos de Saloma from Panamá and also music from places like Brazil and Venezuela, we can clearly see that the Décima plays a very important part in the music of many Latin American countries.