"Because what is ours, appears to us as distant, exotic..."
Fragments from a 1996 interview with Professor Emanuel Dufrasne,
ethnomusicologist at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, PR
"...when I talk of urban culture, of mall culture, of the culture of the super-highway, the consumer culture, the television culture, I'm referring to the culture that is pervasive in Puerto Rico today. It's culture within which very little social interaction occurs due to the prominence of television; a culture where people no longer create music because it is handed to them ready-made. It's a culture where very little communal activity occurs, where there's nothing like bomba dances or trullas de promesas, or fiestas de cruz [feasts to honor the Holy Cross], which are all communal activities.
Because of television's power, communal activities such as these have been displaced; they've been relegated to obscurity. The average Puerto Rican has no idea what they are. My university students generally don't know what a fiesta de cruz is; they have never seen a baile de bomba performed as a communal activity--at most they've seen these traditions performed by professional troupes on stage, in an artificial way--not a real baile de bomba. They don't know what that is. They get the impression these are activities for a group to formally perform on stage; and that is not what they are.
When I refer to communal musical activity, I'm thinking of something that neighbors do, something which is their own, a natural behavior of theirs, a natural and normal activity, something they have been witnessing and participating in since they were born. And that is not what exists in today's urban environment.
In the urban environment, something else is created--a culture of consumption, a culture where what people hear and what they dance to is what is fed to them by radio and television. And generally speaking, that is how people in Puerto Rico live today. They live in urban areas, or urban developments. In contrast, at the beginning of the twentieth century, most of our population lived in rural areas. The result is a process of musical standardization; everyone listens to the same merengues, salsas, ballads, rock, and rap, and all of them are commercial products. Commercial considerations determine what people can buy, what they will hear, even what they will sing. And that is what I refer to when I speak of urban culture, the culture of the mall, the superhighway, of television, of ATM machines.
It is a culture where things native to Puerto Rican seem strange--as if they were from Mars--but where the foreign seems completely familiar. The product of Chicago streets, or of New York City--like rap music--is more familiar than a baile de bomba to the average Puerto Rican, even to those who don't actually live in urban areas, because it is a culture that pervades the whole country.
Things are turned on their head; what is Puerto Rican-- what is native--seem distant and exotic. What is foreign is what is most natural, and most familiar."