Bomba Lab: Chicago's SRBCC teaches Puerto Rico's oldest music genre, expression of African history

'I believe that bomba is the most magnificent tool for healing'

ByMark Rivera and Blanca Rios WLS logo
Monday, October 3, 2022
Puerto Rico's Bomba music provides sense of healing on West Side
Puerto Rico's oldest music genre, bomba, has been taught at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in the city's Hermosa neighborhood since 1989.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Hundreds of years ago the music of bomba emerged from Puerto Rico's colonial sugar cane plantations.

It's rhythmic beats and story-filled lyrics provided healing for the enslaved people of the island. That healing power still resonates today in Puerto Rico and in the United States, including Chicago.

Considered Puerto Rico's oldest music genre, Bomba fills the walls of the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in the city's Hermosa neighborhood.

"Bomba is kind of our direct heritage from Africa," said Brenda Torres-Figueroa. "I believe that bomba is the most magnificent tool for healing."

Torres-Figueroa is the Director of Education and Programming at SRBCC which is making sure future generations keep the musical tradition alive with a new series of Bomba Labs now through December.

"Bomba is past, present and future. It's an opportunity to re-imagine the future in a community based setting," said Torres-Figueroa. "We have to understand where's it's coming from. It has to be present that this is music and this dance and this singing and this expression of our African ancestors."

Born out of tragedy, Bomba can release an explosion of emotions through its variation of rhythms.

"When I play bomba I feel that it's a tool to kind of release whatever I feel - whether it's happiness or sadness - there's different rhythms that kind of express those feelings and serve as kind of an outlet for the person to kind of relieve themselves which is also the historical context of bomba," said Quincy Raggs. "So it's pretty cool that bomba continues to do the same thing, even in our modern day world that we live in."

Raggs said he discovered bomba about 17 years ago. He is now a teaching artist at SRBCC.

"I see myself as a bomba ambassador. I want to give back to the people what bomba has given to me. whether it's teaching dance, drumming or basically I just want people that I feel for bomba," said Raggs.

"It is such a beautiful way of being able to connect with the history, especially when the history is such a dark history to look at," said Taina Ramirez.

Ramirez, 17, has been learning to drum, sing and dance to the music of bomba at SRBCC for the past five years.

"I think for me it's just kind of appreciating my culture and I kind of just close my eyes and I soak it all at times in the middle of it," said Ramirez.