Ama Ríos is a Puerto Rican percussionist, music director and bandleader who flows like a river from the bomba folk tradition into reggaeton and Latin alternative with a lot of girl power.
- One of the first female bomba lead drummers in Puerto Rico
- Reggaeton star Tego Calderon’s touring music director
- Leader of Émina, an all-female Afro-Caribbean Latin alternative band
Everybody Loves Bomba
Ríos became a musician through Bomba, the Puerto Rican drum, song and dance tradition that has become an expression of Puerto Rican identity. It’s a fun way to connect for both young and old. The tradition has African roots, but everybody loves bomba.
Most folk traditions are only done on stage or on the street for tourists, but bomba is very alive. There are bombazos (gatherings) every night all over Puerto Rico, especially when the moon is full.
You hear rhythms in the distance, and know you can follow the drum to a group of people expressing the joy of being alive. When you drum, sing or dance bomba, everybody smiles and smiles are viral.
The African drum is a healing instrument. After a bombazo, you feel content and really connected with your community (el pueblo Boricua). That feeling stays with you. Bomba really is Puerto Rican power.
One of the First Ladies of Bomba
Ama Ríos is a groundbreaking artist. She is one of the first ladies of bomba, one of the very first female lead bomba drummers in Puerto Rico.
That’s not a small thing. Most Latin cultures are very machista (male chauvinist), so to break that barrier was a big deal. Not only is she a great drummer, she opened the road for other women to become lead bomba drummers.
Ríos got her bomba drum, song and dance training on the street, but also earned a bachelor degree in Jazz & Caribbean Music from the Conservatorio de Música de PR. She is currently working on a masters in Computer Science & Interactive Technology at Atlantic University.
Bomba is a form of human animation that takes African call and response traditions into the dance itself. The drum makes you move and your moves make the drum. This gives Ríos a unique vision of the possibilities for making music even more interactive. We can’t wait to see where this leads.
We noticed something strange but powerful about Ríos. She is young and full of that youthful joy of life, but there is also something much older and wiser in her. It’s unusual to see the young and the mature woman in one person at the same time. We think it means she has a great future because she already has the whole package.
Tego Calderon’s Touring Music Director
Tego Calderon is a famous Puerto Rican rapper and actor. He’s a Latin Grammy winner and Grammy nominee who is also known for his work in the hit “The Fast and The Furious” movie franchise. If you don’t know his work, he’s worth checking out because he really captures the feel of the Puerto Rican street in all its pain and all its glory.
Ama played on Calderon’s Latin Grammy winning album “El Que Sabe, Sabe” (He Who Knows, Knows) and was the tour’s music director. The record won Best Urban Music Album in 2015. You can hear her drumming up front on “El Papá (La Receta De Mazucamba).” Listen to it (YouTube). It makes your body move. That’s Ama. She’s going to move you.
If you watch a bombazo, and then watch family and friends dance reggaeton, you can’t help but notice the similarities. The way people gather in a circle, shout encouragement and jump in to strut their stuff are the same. The dance line in the 1970s TV show “Soul Train” is another expression of this tradition. All provide a way to connect with family, friends and community while also expressing your own individuality. Connection is the key.
Ama has performed on some of the world’s greatest stages including Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot, el “Choliseo,” Puerto Rico’s big stadium.
We saved the best for last. Along with everything else, Ríos is the leader of Émina, an all-woman Afro-Caribbean Latin alternative band with Janice Maisonet, Angelica Kolsan and Aniela Batres.
The band’s name is a contraction of “fémina” (female). To our ear, it also suggests the English word “emanate” which means to share something abstract.
Émina plays sultry Latin Alternative that you want to listen to over and over. Janice Maisonet plays a more seductive sax than any snake charmer. Aniela Batres on Xylosynth sounds a bit like a Rhodes piano of the 1970s, but she is stylishly playing an electronic xylophone. Angelica Kolsan keeps the bottom moving on bass.
The music slips in and out of the foreground and background like a tropical dream. All you need is some palm trees and a drink and you’re there.
Ama’s voice reminds us of jazz singer Norah Jones and early Bebé, a Spanish singer who also sings about the interior lives of women. Émina covers themes that all women can relate to. They sing about what it means to be a woman today.
Now that anything is possible, womanhood has become much more complicated. But Émina is so soothing that you get the feeling that even though we have important things to talk about, we are okay. “Estamos bien.”
Ríos also plays with reggaetoneros Plan B (Instagram) and Chencho Corleones (Instagram), Puerto Rican jazz drummer Paoli Mejías (Instagram) and El Laberinto del Coco by Hector “Coco” Barez, the guest curator who we thank for introducing us to Ama. Ríos is sponsored by Meinl Percussion (Instagram).
Ama’s first name “Amarilys” roughly means “loving” and that perfectly describes the music of Ama Ríos.