An excellent update has just been added to the AfriColombia blog on Puerto Rican "jíbaro" music (see sidebar for the list of "Blogs We Like"). The articles are in Spanish. There are also some nice album covers and MP3s.
I love this "country" music of Puerto Rico's highlands, which is heavily played around Christmas time. The long-form, improvised verse styles are influenced by Spanish/Andalucian oral poetry, and the more finely grooved Puerto Rican guiro, or gourd scraper, gives a characteristic, sandpaper-like groove. Some of these rhythms sound to me like distant relatives to North American jug bands. Maybe I'm not crazy, since according the article, música jíbara is a "favorite dish" for black Colombians in places like Palenque, Barranquilla and Carthagena.
The first singer profiled, Chuito El de Bayamon, is said to have been an important influence on Hector Lavoe. It's easy to hear it in Hector's distinctive salsa phrasing, and he even recorded several Christmas albums of jíbaro music with Willie Colon and Yomo Toro in the early '70s. I was discussing this one time with Rei Alvarez of Bio Ritmo, a Ponce native like Lavoe, and he concluded nostalgically that, had Hector lived, he probably would be making albums of jíbaro music right now. A lovely hypothetical. Come to think of it, maybe Rei should consider it one day.
Another all-time favorite in this genre is Ramito, whom you can also hear on the Africolombia page. I remember talking to Yomo Toro a few years ago about some radio shows and albums he did with Ramito in the 50s and 60s, and he recounted a gruesome story of how Ramito ended up taking his own life due to some terminal illness. A sad ending for a really, really happy guy (just look at him). Ramito had two brothers who also sang (maybe still living? don't know) and I have one CD they recorded as a threesome in the 90s. Ramito albums are around, that is to say he made many, and they sold well, or so I deduce by the fact that it's not that unusual to find them in used vinyl bins or on eBay.