Puerto Rico’s town of Loíza Aldea held a celebration on Saturday, July 9 for the installation of a new feature that commemorates the town’s Afro Puerto Rican heritage—and its reputation as the birthplace of the African-based musical genre of bomba y plena.
The “Grand Drum” of Loíza, a 7-foot-high wooden drum barrel, is now the largest drum in Puerto Rico. Created by local artisan Juan Fuentes Molina, the drum took Fuentes and four assistants from his Taller La Plena workshop four months to complete. “We heard from a friend that there is a 6-foot-tall drum in Haiti, and they use that to promote Vodun,” Fuentes said. “But this, this project is for promoting life and remembering.” The “Grand Drum” is situated along Loíza’s Herrera Medianía Alta bridge—it’s supported against the wind with ropes and Fuentes says they will be placing a roof above it to protect it from the sun.
Sheila Osorio, director of Taller N’Zambi, developed the idea for the “Grand Drum.” She told the AmNews that she petitioned for donations to support the craftsman who constructed it. Osorio, whose Taller N’Zambi conducts bomba y plena classes for locals and tourists in Puerto Rio and also holds regular classes in New York City, said that the drum “is a monument to the bomba which gives us our identity and is the unifying element of our Afro Puerto Rican heritage.”
“This has great meaning for the people of Loiza,” assured community activist Modesta Irizarry Ortiz. “It brings in people who had not visited our area and did not know about our town and allows them to share our culture and our people. And, Sheila, I don’t know if she told you, but she celebrates a special type of ceremony once a month dedicated to the ancestors with different young people who play drums at night on the beach. It is a spectacular experience, and it was what our ancestors did at night on the beach: our ancestors used to do it through the bomba, it was their way of expressing their feelings with the bomba, with the music, and this shows us how music transcends times and places. …I see it as a healing process, a process of embracing, because people can arrive with personal situations, and you see the change in their face and in their being and how grateful they feel for having participated in our bomba classes.”