Bomba y Cabezudos: Symbols of Caribbean Power in Bad Bunny’s Grammy Performance
Until a few years ago, only a handful of Latinos crossed genres and made an appearance at the Grammys. In fact, there is a whole separate category for Spanish-language music.
However, since Ricky Martin’s Livin’ la Vida Loca, few Latinos have gotten gringos dancing like Bad Bunny did this past Sunday at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards.
Celebrities couldn’t stop swaying their hips when the Puerto Rican singer burst out to the sound of bomba y plena… including Taylor Swift.
But El Conejo Malo’s performance was full of symbolism that filled Latinos with pride.
Here are some of them:
Bomba, plena, and merengue, the musical languages of the Caribbean
Although for many, Bad Bunny’s “vamos pal’ mambo” was an invitation to any Latino rumba, the reality is that the singer was paying tribute to one of the most important musical traditions of the Caribbean.
The bomba and plena are Puerto Rican percussion traditions that reflect the island’s African heritage.
According to the Smithsonian Institution, the bomba dates back to the early European colonial period in Puerto Rico. It comes from the musical traditions brought by enslaved Africans in the 17th century. For them, bomba was a source of political and spiritual expression. The lyrics conveyed a sense of anger and sadness for their condition, and the songs served as a catalyst for rebellions and uprisings.
The music evolved through contact between slave populations from different colonies and regions of the Caribbean, including the Dutch colonies, Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Haiti.
The Cabezudos of Viejo San Juan
In keeping with the mythos of his native island, Bad Bunny brought a centuries-old tradition to the Crypto.com Arena: the cabezudos.
The cabezudos are icons of the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian in el Viejo San Juan. It is a tradition of dancers with giant heads inspired by the celebration of the Three Kings in Spain, who usually also dance to the sound of bomba and plena.
For the occasion, El Conejo Malo brought with him the collective Agua, Sol y Sereno, who said they felt “immense pride” in being able to celebrate “our idiosyncrasy and cultural identity” by paying homage to the women and men who enrich it.
A powerful crossover
Finally, Bad Bunny made history when his fourth studio album, “Un Verano Sin Ti,” became the first Spanish-language album to be nominated for a Grammy in the Album of the Year category in more than six decades of the organization’s existence.
Although he didn’t take home the album of the year award, Dr. Nate Rodriguez of San Diego State University, in charge of a new “Bad Bunny class” offered to graduate students, said the Puerto Rican singer’s breakthrough on the Anglo scene is a historic milestone.
“The U.S. population is growing exponentially with Latinx individuals who have migrated here and those born here in the United States. And for them to see somebody who looks like them, somebody who sounds like them on an American mainstream platform is important because it says you are not relegated to other countries, you are not relegated to the margins,” Dr. Rodriguez said in an interview with NBCLA.
For the Mexican-American professor, Bad Bunny is an example of how there is a huge demographic in the U.S. that is often overlooked or pushed to the margins.
“It’s not just about needing your own Latin Grammys or your own categories. It’s that we are all here and deserve to be included,” Rodriguez noted.
Notice any corrections needed? Please email us at email@example.com