En Español
In English

The Décima in Puerto Rico
...an ancient poetic genre is the basis of the jíbaro's traditional song

Origins of the Décima

Vicente Martínez de Espinel (1551? - 1624) Spanish poet, novelist and musician from Ronda, Andalucía, Spain, is recognized as the one who revived the ancient poetic form, known today as the espinela, because it was he who gave it its modern form.

So the Puerto Rican jíbaro singer/poet tradition can be traced back to Espinel, and to medieval Spanish and Moorish roots. A jíbaro traditional singer is expected to sing the many traditional forms both passionately as well as accurately. The décima, when sung in Puerto Rico, is invariably sung to the tune of a slow seis---the music which has been fused with the décima and which is traditionally played with a cuatro, guitar and güiro, or scratch gourd.

In some Spanish-speaking countries, décimas are written and recited; in others they are written, read, recited and sung. In yet others (such as Puerto Rico), the décima is written, recited, sung and during special events, improvised.



  Listen to Isidro Fernández 
improvising a décima on the spot: 

In response to the question, "don Isidro, complete this phrase: The décima is..." he responds:

"Pure thought and action
For the jíbaro it is culture
And the greatest geniune interest
It is now, as it is afterwards
What jibaros dream
And in this small island
That is my land and my nation
What emerges from my heart
Is the Puerto Rican décima" 

 The foundation for the melody and rhythm of Puerto Rican mountain music is the seis. But the foundation of the it's song lyrics is the poetry of the décima. A complete décima is composed of four stanzas (or cuartetas) of ten lines each (hence the term décima). Each line is composed of seven, eight, or nine syllables and rhyme with each other according to ancient and complex rules. 

Distinctive forms of the décima exist all over Latin America. The Puerto Rican décima descends from medieval Spanish ballads. The aguinaldo is the décimas smaller cousin, sometimes called decimilla. The singer of décimas and aguinaldos sings of love, of the human condition, of the beauty of the Puerto Rican countryside, of persons the singer wants to honor, of impressive events, and of holiday cheer.

Origens of the Décima: at left
Examples of Décimas: see below
How to compose a Décima: find it
How to perfect the décima: find it here
Different kinds of Décima artists: see below
What is a pie forzao? learn

Troubadours answer questions about the Décima (in audio) in Spanish, here.
Other Décima resources, in English, 
here and here

What is the le-lo-lai?

Clearly, a kind of lyrical "scat" exclaimed by the traditional jíbaro singer,  "la-le-lo-lai" o "lai-le-lo-lai" o "ay-le-lo-lelo-le," heard between stanzas (cuartetas) of the sung décima, also exists among the ancient Spanish workers on the small farms of Castille, Murcia and Almería. And it may have even originated from an even older place, from the Moorish lands; because they actually sound like certain ancient sung exclamations of North Africa.

Listen to the great Ramito sing the LE-LO-LAI

The different kinds of décima poets

by José Gumersindo Torres

The true-blue jíbaro that has his Island of Borinquen in his heart, expresses the fact in the native chant of the mountains, at the same time that he dresses our folklore in traditional dress and conserves the flame of the Puerto Rican song. He continues to sow the furrow with what our land produces, germinates and plants. En the Bacardi troubadour contests, sponsored by the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture, or in the Décima festivals, we can listen to pure-bred espinela composers creating their Indian-African-Spanish song, weaving their muse, their prose and their spirit together into a theme that concludes with the Pie Forzao.

There is a variety of them: there is el bardo (the bard), those who know the poetic décima scheme and may be able to improvise one or two lines, based on practice and experience without necessarily being a naturl improviser.

 On the other hand, there are singers that simply are rimadores (rhymers) of the décima. They can create verses with simple rhymes, but the verse itself is empty, incoherent and lacking of any message at all. They look for rhymes that fit easily such as (-ar / -cantar), (-or / -trovador) or (-ción/ -lechón) to elaborate sparse verses.

Then assuredly, there is el versador, the kind that can sing verses that are memorized or embotellados (bottled up), as the jibaros say it.

The essence of the great troubadour, the one who can connect his lines to round off a perfectly aligned verse, stands out in a crowded field. The improvisador is the one settles into his rhyme, and can continue rhyming, embellishing and expressing  a chain of verses with ease that comprise complete thoughts, images, similes and metaphors of his own original inspiration. In conversation with an adversary troubadour he can, in song inquire and respond in a lyrical way, in flowery language, without resorting to vulgarity and crassness. 

A décima...that explains the rules of the décima (more about the rules here)
La Décima
Por Isidro Fernández

El primer verso rimado
Con el cuarto y con el quinto.
El dos y el tres con distinto
Sonido se han combinado.
Seis y siete y pie forzado
Otra rima diferente.
El ocho crea el ambiente
Igualándose al noveno.
Así hace el poeta bueno
Una décima excelente.

Con un buen vocabulario
Y divina inspiración
Juntando con gran pasión
Las flores del diccionario.
Con los vocablos que a diario
Usamos en cada tema,
La piedra se vuelve gema
Con metáforas y similes.
Usando formas disímiles
Para crear un poema.

Cuando la palabra llana
Es la concluye el verso,
La métrica en su universo.
Ocho sílabas hermana
La palabra aguda gana.
Una sílaba al final
Cuando son siete en total.
Y en rima esdrújula, nueve
Una sílaba remueve,
La regla grammatical.

Las reglas de la poesía
Aplican los versadores,
Exaltando los valores
Del canto de serranía.
Muchas más cosas tendría
Que explicar este cantor.
Mas le dejo esta labor
Al que escucha interesado.
Una cosa he demostrado
No es fácil ser trovador

La Décima (a literal translation)
By Isidro Fernández

The first line rhymes
With the fourth and the fifth.
The second and third, with a different
Sound have been combined.
Six and seven and the last
Yet another rhyme.
The eighth creates the mood
Rhyming like the ninth.
That's how a good poet
Creates an excellent décima.

With a good vocabulary
And divine inspiration
Joining together with great passion
The flowers of the dictionary.
With the terms that daily
We use on each subject,
The stone becomes a gem
With metaphors and similes.
Using dissimilar forms
To create a poem.

When a llana word [explanation here]
Is at the end of the line,
The prosody is your universe.
Eight syllables match
The aguda word gains
One more syllable at the end
When seven is the sum.
And in an esdrújula rhyme, from nine
You remove a syllable
That's the grammatical rule.

The rules of the poem
Are applied by the poets
Exalting the values
Of the mountain song.
Many more things this singer
Would have to explain.
So I will leave that task
To the interested listener.
One thing I have demonstrated
Is that it's not easy to be a troubadour.