Music is central to Latino culture

The roots of música típica (folkloric music) were planted in Rochester by the first waves of Puerto Ricans who arrived as migrant workers in the 1950s.

And soon after those early days, the local Catholic churches served as hosts to annual holiday parties that helped keep those musical roots alive, said Agustin Ramos, who teaches tango with Flower City Tango.

"At St. Michael Church (in Rochester), every Christmas, we have the fabulous tradition of música jibara," the folkloric sounds of the people who live in the countryside of Puerto Rico, which include plena and bomba, he said. "And throughout the year, all kinds of parties expose the culture (to others)."

Music is central to the Latino culture, noted Hector Arguinzoni, a disc jockey, artist and director of the former Puerto Rican Arts and Cultural Center. Former Puerto Rican Arts and Cultural Center recalled

"Music has always been a strong point because of the social needs" of Puerto Ricans who enjoy dancing and singing at nearly every event, he said. And in the Latino community’s early days in Rochester, this music was an easy way to preserve their traditions, he added.

And offering the younger generation classes on playing the unique instruments associated with the music, he said, such as the cuatro (a 10-string guitar shaped like a violin), also helps to keep those customs alive.

Maintaining that cultural music connection for generations to come is the goal for Felix Martínez, a St. Michael Church parishioner, who sings with a band called Ecos Borincanos.

His is one of several local groups that play el campo (the countryside) music of his childhood in Puerto Rico. Others include Pedro Nuñez, Luis Carrión, Los Pleneros de Rochester, Los Pleneros Boriken and Trio Los Arpegios. Resurgence seen in Latino arts

And like the new, local Latino theater and arts groups, he said that Latino music will likely continue to grow in popularity and diversity as the Latino population increases, Martínez said.

This new reality contrasts dramatically from when he moved to Rochester at the age of 17, when some local Latinos worried that their music — their main tie to the island — would disappear, he said.

"People in Puerto Rico don’t want our music, our culture, to die," said Martínez. "Here, Pedro (Nuñez) played it for a long time. He’s been keeping it alive. And we have a new generation coming and continuing to run with it."

But nowadays, the cuatro even plays prominently in modern Latino songs performed by such singers as Ricky Martin, Jennifer López and Marc Anthony, Martínez noted. He even maintained a friendship with Christian Nieves, a cuatro guitarist that played at the Puerto Rican Festival years ago who has gone on to perform with Martin. (

Hispanic heritage festivals in Syracuse and Buffalo also help bring this music to other cultures, as does the annual Puerto Rican Festival in Rochester, he said.

"I like and support all kinds of music," Martínez said. "But it’s like my heart sings for música típica."

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