Billboard Latin Music Awards Nominees La Tribu de Abrante Refresh Puerto Rican Street Sound

Gary Bonderenko
La Tribu de Abrante

Debut album lands the band in two 2017 Billboard Latin Music Awards categories.

The 2017 Billboard Latin Music Awards’ tropical album of the year category includes recordings by some of the most recognizable Latin stars, regardless of genre. Not coincidentally, Aventura, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico and Gente de Zona are all artists who have earned their popularity by putting their own trademark on a particular sound from a particular place and expanding its reach: Dominican bachata, Puerto Rican salsa and Cuban reggaeton, respectively.

Also among the finalists is La Tribu de Abrante, whose studio debut, Otro Formato de Musica, joins those nominated in the top tropical album category. La Tribu’s inclusion in the heat may be surprising to those who have not heard the band’s music, but it shouldn’t be for those who have.

Hiram Abrante sang backup vocals for Tego Calderon for years, and the music of his own group is similarly street-wise. But Abrante has a particular mission: to take Puerto Rican bomba to the world.

“Bomba was born in the barrios,” says Abrante, who lives in Carolina, the city east of San Juan that became known as the cradle of reggaeton. “People hear it, people dance to it, but a lot of times they don’t even recognize it for what it is.”

Abrante notes that the African-rooted music is anchored by two barrel drums, one which keeps a constant rhythm, and the other which responds to dancers’ movements.

“The interesting thing about bomba is that the dancers mark the beat,” says Abrante, who is 33 years old. “I wanted to make the music less rough, not as hard. But it’s still our bomba, it’s still about the drums.”

The 10 musicians in La Tribu include Abrante’s brothers and his 17-year-old son, and the family spirit extends to the group’s repertoire. La Tribu’s party sound fuses rap and reggaeton with bomba and Puerto Rican plena, but, Abrante stresses, the music is suitable for all audiences.

“My idea was to take this native music and give it fresh lyrics,” he says. “But nothing dirty. I want it to be music that everyone can listen to.”

La Tribu gained a grassroots following playing in small clubs in San Juan before signing with White Lion Records, the Puerto Rican urban indie label whose roster has included Calderon, rapper Voltio and Calle 13.

“People need to refresh their ears,” Abrante says. “The success we’ve had so far has come from going against the current. I think we’re going to reach a lot of people who aren’t Puerto Rican as well.”

La Tribu de Abrante is a two-time Billboard Latin Music Awards finalist this year, with a second nod in the tropical albums artist of the year, duo or group category. The Billboard Latin Music Awards are the culmination of the Billboard Latin Music Conference, taking place April 24-27 at the Ritz Carlton Miami Beach. To register, visit BillboardLatinConference.com.

Billboard Latin Music Awards and Conference 2017