The story of La Sonora Ponceña is the story of La Salsa

La Sonora Ponceña (The Ponce Sound) is one of the legendary Puerto Rican salsa bands. “Moreno soy, porque nací de la rumba…”

Lehman Center

Saturday, November 2, 2019 ~ La Sonora Ponceña plays Lehman Center in Jerome Park, The Bronx at 8pm. From $45

Lehman Center is one of the best places in New York City to listen to Latin music. It’s in a Latin community. Even though it’s a real theater, the room has the same vibe as if we were all together at one of the fiestas patronales (patron saint festivals) that happen in little towns somewhere in Puerto Rico every weekend. ¡Mi Gente!

The Ponce Sound

The band is from Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second biggest city and the main town on the south side of the island.

A center of Indigenous Taíno and then Afro-Puerto Rican culture, Ponce is less diluted by U.S. culture than San Juan, the main city in the north.

Ponce still has the feel of a small Puerto Rican town. It has one of Puerto Rico’s oldest Carnivals and has influenced Puerto Rican bomba, plena and salsa.

The Sonora Ponceña Story is the Story of the Salsa

La Sonora Ponceña was part of the evolution of son Cubano dance music of the mid-nineteenth century into the salsa of 1970s New York City. Every region has its own sound and the blending of those sounds is what created the salsa.

  • Cuba has the son of the eastern mountains around Santiago de Cuba and the rumba of the northwest around Matanzas and Havana.
  • Puerto Rico has the bomba and the plena with variations in Loíza in the northeast and Ponce in the southwest.
  • The U.S. has the Creole jazz of New Orleans and the swing of Harlem in New York City.

The son started as small groups of tres guitar, violins or flute and percussion. In the 1920s son bands expanded into sextetos (sextets). In the 1930s son bands added a trumpet and became septetos (septets). In the 1940s son bands added congas and piano and became called conjuntos.

This is where La Sonora Ponceña comes in during the 1940s. They picked up the new Cuban conjunto format. But being Puerto Rican, they had bomba and plena in their music. This changed the sound. Now it was La Sonora Ponceña.

In its purest form salsa can be defined as Cuban dance music of the 1950s played mostly by Puerto Ricans in New York City in the 1970s and 80s.

Remember that Cuba got cut off from the rest of the world in the 1960s. When young Cubans heard the salsa in the 1990s, they wondered why we were still playing the old music of their fathers from the 1950s. Their son had evolved further into the timba which reabsorbed African rhythms, bebop jazz, and rock played by the excellent musicians trained in Cuba’s classical music schools.

That’s where Latin music is now. The musicians are so well trained and have absorbed so many influences that the music doesn’t have the same feeling as the old school salsa from the streets and the mountains.

El Conjunto Internacional

1944 ~ The band that became La Sonora Ponceña was started by Quique Lucca as El Conjunto Internacional.

One day Quique’s son Papo surprised the band when he started playing the congas during a practice when he was just five years old.

Conjunto Sonora Ponceña

1954 ~ The band reformed as Conjunto Sonora Ponceña. Soon Quique brought his young son into the band.

The band’s first recording was a 78 with No puede Ser on one side and Tan Linda que Era on the other.

Puerto Rico was traditionally a subsistence farming economy. The island is a natural paradise where things grow like crazy.

The island had a sugar economy. That has been a mess everywhere it took root.

It began to industrialize during World War II (1939-1945). Puerto Rico’s first governor Luis Muñoz Marín sought to fully industrialize the economy.

In the 1950s his Operation Bootstrap pushed the traditional farmers, jíbaros, off the land. Without any work, many immigrated to New York City where there were jobs. They landed in El Barrio East Harlem, the South Bronx and the Lower East Side.

New York City

1960 ~ Back in the day, the drum never stopped in El Barrio East Harlem or in the South Bronx. La Sonora Ponceña played in New York City. The band was welcomed by the Puerto Ricans there. They were a little bit of home and La Sonora had this amazing 12-year old pianist Papo Lucca.

Across Fifth Avenue from El Barrio was Harlem and Harlem was swinging. La Sonora picked up that sound. In La Sonora’s music you can hear melodies from some popular jazz tunes and the ever present sirens of New York City.

Hacheros Pa’ Un Palo

1968 ~ The band made their first 33 rpm record Hacheros Pa’ un Palo which became one of their signature songs.

From that beginning they made one great album after another.

La Ceiba

1979 ~ The ceiba is a sacred tree. It is the tree of life. On the road from San Juan to Ponce, there is a spot with two beautiful giant ceibas.

In 1979 La Sonora Ponceña recorded an album La Ceiba with legendary Cuban singer Celia Cruz.

Papo Lucca appeared with Cruz in the television documentary Salsa. He also played on the FANIA All-Stars album Habana Jam.

50th Anniversary

2007 ~ The band celebrated 50 years of performing with a live album 50 Aniversario, En Vivo.

Fiestas Patronales

Every little town in Puerto Rico has a patron saint and an annual festival honoring that patron saint. There are two or three or four of these festivals every weekend all over Puerto Rico.

The big draw at night is dancing on the street or in a park to a live salsa band. One of the great salsa bands you can dance to is La Sonora Ponceña.

Everybody in Puerto Rico knows their most popular songs and many sing along while dancing.

Hachero Pa’ Un Palo, Juana Bayona, Boranda, Canto Al Amor, Moreno Soy, El Pío Pío, and Feugo en el 23. The list goes on and on.

SummerStage in Coney Island

Sunday, August 18, 2019 ~ La Sonora Ponceña plays a SummerStage concert with another salsa legend, Dominican salsa singer Jose “El Canario” Alberto, at Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island at 6pm. DJ Lucho of the Bronx keeps the crowd moving. FREE

Here is the band at the Aibonito Flower Festival in Puerto Rico in July 2019.

La Sonora Ponceña at the Aibonito Flower Festival in Puerto Rico. Courtesy Keith Widyolar.

La Sonora Ponceña at the Aibonito Flower Festival. (Keith Widyolar/New York Latin Culture)

Moreno soy porque nací de la rumba
Y el sabor yo le heredé del guaguancó

From Moreno Soy by La Sonora Ponceña (1978)

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