Rafael Cepeda

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Rafael Cepeda Atiles
"The Patriarch of the Bomba and Plena"
Patriarch of the Cepeda family, exponents of Puerto Rican-African folk music.
Background information
BornJuly 10, 1910
San Juan, Puerto Rico
DiedJuly 21, 1996
Carolina, Puerto Rico
GenresPuerto Rican-African folk music
Occupation(s)Composer. He is the founder of the Puerto Rican folkloric group called "Grupo Folklorico Trapiche"

Rafael Cepeda Atiles [note 1] a.k.a. "The Patriarch of the Bomba and Plena" (July 10, 1910 – July 21, 1996) was the patriarch of the Cepeda family, known internationally as the exponents of Afro-Puerto Rican folk music.

Early years[edit]

Cepeda was born in Puerta de Tierra, San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Modesto Cepeda and Leonor Atiles. Cepeda was born into a family who have passed the traditional dances of the Bomba and Plena from generation to generation. The Bomba is a music, rhythm and dance that was brought to Puerto Rico by the West African slaves. The Plena is another form of folkloric music of Puerto Rico of African origin. According to Cepeda, he was born while his mother Leonor was in the middle of a Bomba dance. He attended San Augustin Catholic School until the 8th grade in San Juan. After Cepeda finished 8th grade he took up amateur boxing and worked as a carpenter. During his free time he continued to practice dancing the Bomba and Plena.[1]

Grupo Folklorico Trapiche[edit]

External audio
You may watch and listen to Rafael Cepeda's interpretation of "Oye Rosa" here

In 1932, Cepeda married Caridad Brenes Caballero, a Bomba and Plena dancer. Together they had ten children. Cepeda decided to form a folkloric dance group with the help of his wife Caridad who would be the groups choreographer and the designer of the traditional costumes. In 1940, his first group, called "ABC", made their artistic debut in the local radio show of Rafael Quiñones Vidal "Tribuna del Arte" (Art Tribune).[2][3]

In 1957, Cepeda formed a second folkloric group which he called "Grupo Folklorico Trapiche". This group held shows in all of the major hotels of the island and participated in the following three movies: "Carnaval en Puerto Rico" (1961) (Carnival in Puerto Rico), "Felicia" (1963) and "Mientras Puerto Rico duerme" (1964) (While Puerto Rico sleeps). In 1973, members of the family which included his children, formed the "Ballet Folklorico de la familia Cepeda" (The Folkloric Ballet of the Cepeda Family). This new group gained international fame and participated in the 1975 film "Mi Aventura en Puerto Rico" (My Adventure in Puerto Rico). The group which became a Puerto Rican institution, has made presentations in the United States, South and Central America, Europe and Asia. The Government of Puerto Rico named Cepeda "The Patriarch of the Bomba and Plena" in recognition of his contributions to the islands African musical culture.[1]


Cepeda wrote and recorded over 500 pieces. Among those are the following:[1]

  • "El Bombon de Elena"
  • "A Bailar Bambule"
  • "Madam Calalú"
  • "Mofongo Pelaó"
  • "Habla Cuembé"
  • "A la Verdegué"
  • "Juan José"
  • "Santígualo"
  • "Bambulaé seá Allá"
  • "Mi Goleta"
  • "Mi Caela"
  • "El Chivo"
  • "Sobina Santos"
  • "En Prueba de su Amistad"
  • "Guaguaracengo"
  • "La Negra Toto"
  • "Vira Más"
  • "Cuando el Negro se Alzó"
  • "Lero de mi Lero"
  • "Conde Kirico"
  • "Candelario Alomar"
  • "Ana Celía"
  • "Anaízo"
  • "Candela"
  • "Zumbador"

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Among the many awards and recognitions bestowed upon Rafael Cepeda are the following:

Later years[edit]

In 1977, Modesto Cepeda, son of Rafael, founded the Rafael Cepeda Atiles School of Bomba and Plena which is located at Calle Union #71, sector Playita de Villa Palmeras, Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico.[4] The school teaches the youth of Puerto Rico the fundamentals of the traditional dances. Cepeda's wife Caridad died on February 25, 1994. Rafael Cepeda died from a heart attack on July 21, 1996 in the city of Carolina, Puerto Rico. He was buried with his wife in the Cemetery of Villas Palmeras which now bears his name.[1]


Jesus Manuel Cepeda, son of Rafael founded the Cultural Folkloric Foundation Rafael Cepeda {Fundacion Folklorica Cultural Rafael Cepeda}. In 1997, the family inaugurated The House Museum Rafael Cepeda. In his honor the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture established the Rafael Cepeda Festival of Bomba and Plena which is annually celebrated in San Juan.[2][3]


  1. ^ This article uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Cepeda and the second or maternal family name is Atiles.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]