Parranda, trulla, asalto… all these Spanish words are synonyms for the same thing in Puerto Rico: a group of people that show up at a house the night singing traditional Christmas songs and having a party. While in other countries parranda is a word meaning to go out to party, in Puerto Rico it is specifically used for this Christmas tradition, similar to Christmas caroling.
If you happen to receive a parranda, you are “forced” to open the doors of your home to the group, feed them, get them drunk and continue the party all night long.
Traditional Musical Instruments Used in Puerto Rican Parrandas
Parrandas can be as simple as a crowd of people playing only percussion instruments or can be a professional musical production with trumpets, guitars and Puerto Rican cuatros. These are the most common musical instruments that almost anybody can play in a parranda:
It is a hollow gourd with parallel notches cut in one side. It is played by rubbing the púa or metal stick along the notches to produce a ratchet-like sound. There are different kinds of güiros (and names) depending on the country. The Puerto Rican güiro looks like the photo below.
While rattles can now be found in different materials such as wood, coconut and plastic, the authentic Puerto Rican maracas are made from the fruit of the higuera tree.
Similar to a tambourine, but without the metal jingles. Panderos are actually a set of three, in different sizes, each with a unique name. The smallest is called primo or requinto (small), then segundo or seguidor (medium), and tercero, bajo or tumbador (large). Each one has a distinctive sound and way to play it. You may also hear that some people call these instruments pleneras, because they are use in plena music.
Basic and essential, these are two cylindrical hardwood sticks approximately 8 – 10 inches long and about 1 inch in diameter. These are the kids’ favorite!
But if you want to get a little more fancy you will need actual musicians that know how to play the following:
6. CUATRO PUERTORRIQUEÑO:
The Cuatro looks like a small guitar or even a violin. Originally it had only four strings and that is where the name cuatro (four) came from, but now it has 10 strings. Check out this short video that shows how the cuatro sounds.
The classic guitar
This is a Dominican drum, but since this instrument can be carried around easily and in Puerto Rico there is a big Dominican community you might see tamboras, in a parranda.
Now that you know all the names of instruments and how they look, the only thing you need now is to learn some of the traditional parranda songs. For that check out our article The Hit Parade of 17 Christmas Songs in Spanish from Puerto Rico.
Check out these other Puerto Rican Culture articles.