Los Pleneros de la 21

Based in New York City, Los Pleneros de la 21 is a group of Puerto Rican musicians, dancers and artisans who perform bomba and plena, two genres of traditional music deeply rooted in African traditions. The group was formed in 1983 by Juan Gutiérrez to foster and teach the African-related Puerto Rican folk traditions through the presentation of concerts, lecture-demonstrations, traditional community festivities, classes, workshops and apprenticeships.

Los Pleneros de la 21 is a 12-piece ensemble that spans three generations of Puerto Rican musicians and dancers, long before plena and bomba re-emerged with the force it has today.

For years now Puerto Ricans have been feeling the resurgence of traditional music genres, with the plena’s incendiary and complex drumming. It may still be too early to talk about a plena explosion, but it appears that with their resurgent pride in their native folk music genres, a lot of Puerto Ricans are dancing to this traditional sound.

Los Pleneros de la 21 get their name from the Santurce, Puerto Rico neighborhood famous for its plena musicians. The band leader is Juan Jose Gutierrez, whose extensive career includes performances with Eddie Palmieri, Paul Simon, and Bobby Valentín. Nellie Tanco’s beautiful voice sings lead, and she’s backed by panderetas (the traditional plena drum) and the rest of the band including Edgardo Miranda, Alberto “Tito” Cepeda, Hector Matos, Sammy Tanco, Ricardo Pons, and composer/pianist Jose Lantigua.

Los Pleneros play the kind of music that celebrates and creates community-they say them aim to make “the spirit of the barrio come alive”, and that means incorporating history into what’s going on right now. With their complex, multi-part vocal harmonies set to the rhythms of hand-held plena drums and barrel-shaped bomba drums, the group resurrects the African-rooted bomba and plena musical styles of Puerto Rico.

In an effort to revitalize these traditions, Los Pleneros received charitable status from the State of New York in 1985, and since then, has received numerous grants, including a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1996, to develop and implement projects that constitute their ongoing programs.

“The presentation of our performances and events in the various neighborhoods of the city, as well as out of state locations such as New Mexico, has given our organization the opportunity to expose Puerto Rican traditions to more diverse audiences,” notes Gutiérrez. “As a result, our folk traditions are more widely acknowledged locally, throughout the state, and nationwide.”

Billboard has praised the band for its “exhilaratingly deep Latino explorations of Afro-Caribbean grooves,” the New York Times wrote, “the melodies are gorgeous and the tunes perfectly arranged, precise rhythms making way for singing or a drum section.” “Los Pleneros’ presence in the artistic and cultural scene has definitely motivated the revitalization of Puerto Rican folk traditions...” remarked SITE Santa Fe director and curator Louis Grachos.


Puerto Rico Tropical (1997)

Somos Boricuas (1996)

Puerto Rico Puerto Rico (1990)