Puerto Rican Musical Recordings

The recordings date back to more than 100 years ago. >Courtesy of AGPR

The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP by its Spanish acronym) revealed that it successfully digitalized a series of musical recordings made in the early 20th century.

A joint effort between the Musical Archive of the Puerto Rico General Archive (AGPR), the Music Unit of the ICP Musical Performing Arts Program and Ramón Vázquez Lamboy, a musician and researcher, led to the digitalization of more than 50 celluloid cylinders that contain music recorded between 1909 and 1913.

Josilda Acosta, a specialist in Puerto Rican music with ICP’s musical program, affirmed that both the Institute and AGPR knew of these cylinders’ existence, but they lacked a phonograph and the resources to examine them with.

According to an official statement by the ICP, these cylinders were etched in wax in 1909 and transferred to blue amberol in 1912, which facilitated their duration.

Vázquez Lamboy offered his working Edison Amberola phonograph which they linked to a computer in order to download the musical pieces that were later uploaded to the ICP’s Musical Archive.

“There are more than 50 recordings, but we are dividing them into series as we study the findings. The first part is called the Puerto Rican Series and we managed to digitalize nine recordings. There used to be four in the AGPR, so now we have 13,” Acosta informed to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.

The musical expert explained that the recordings include ‘La Borinqueña,’ as performed by Félix Astol Artés; Seis Chorreao, which is regarded as a key component in jíbaro (country folk) music; aguinaldo, a folk genre that is popular in the Holiday season; guaracha criolla, which is more rapid in pace; copla, derived from the poetic form of the same name; danzas by Juan Morel Campos; canción, a popular genre from the 19th and 20th centuries and other pieces that are illustrative of Puerto Rico’s folkloric traditions.

“If we look at a well-known magazine like Revista de los Coleccionistas, the articles that we had been reviewing state that the first recordings date back to 1917. With this, we are turning back the clock,” she stated.

Acosta affirmed that this development effectively allows historians and educators to revise Puerto Rico’s musical history and to further study this important aspect of the island’s culture.

“This finding allows us to know more about the history of Puerto Rican music. It allows us to study interpreters of our music. We have here a great selection that enables us to learn about the musical genres that were played and sung at the beginning of the 20th century. We have been able to take a look at the past and rescue these musical treasures,” Acosta said.

In light of this discovery, the ICP celebrated the “The First Puerto Rican Musical Recordings” conversation at the Ricardo Alegría Amphitheater in the AGPR’s headquarters in Puerta de Tierra, San Juan.

The AGPR, located at 500 Ponce de León Ave., is hosting an exhibition showcasing this historic finding until August 29, 2019. To hear the digitalized recordings, visit www.archivoicp.com.

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Editor's note: This story was published on the August 28 print edition of The Weekly Journal. An earlier version was published on Aug. 21 at www.theweeklyjournal.com.

Reporter for The Weekly Journal. She is a journalist with experience in social media management and digital marketing. Giovanna is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Digital Narratives at Sacred Heart University in San Juan.

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