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Plena Libre

The Latin music explosion personified by Puerto Rican pop stars such as Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, and Jennifer Lopez has perhaps mislead many music lovers that were not previously familiar with all of the Latin genres. They have probably not heard the plena, but Plena Libre is ready to change that with their high-energy interpretation of Puerto Rico’s national rhythm and folk genre.

Plena Libre has changed the traditional genre of plena with its upbeat style. The group has innovated; incorporating contemporary music and other caribbean rhythms into the native plena, resulting in a very modern product that has been eagerly consumed by the public. It is no surprise, then, that they have been the top-seller in the plena genre.

Plena developed on Puerto Rico in the late 18th century as both a dance and a musical style. “It’s rich music, with a lot of variety, and it’s been a well-kept secret,” said bandleader, arranger and bassist Gary Núñez. He founded the group in 1994 and claims: “We aren’t a straight plena group, but we reflect our generation and the way it sees the world. Ultimately we want to make plena as popular as any other music in the world.”

Over time plena became the core sound of Puerto Rican music. Rafael Cortijo recorded big-band plena in the 1960’s with an orchestra with the renowned lead singer Ismael Rivera. Most acknowledge that Cortijo popularized the plena and made it more palatable for the public.

Plena had largely disappeared by the 1990’s, however, when Plena Libre released their first album, Juntos y Revueltos. It evoked the past in a new context, with a large modern vocal sound and horn section, as evident in a song from that album: Cucú. That album won the “Tu Música” and the “People’s Choice” awards, as did the following two releases. The Mas Libre album included “Plena Bien Sabrosa”, an excellent example of the band’s sound and spirit.

The band, which includes horns, pandeiro hand drums and singers, has developed musically well beyond the plena that inspired their genesis. “Quiéreme,” with its reggae rhythm, is a good example and jazz seems a natural fit, too. “Tema de Luis Gabriel,” is based on another folkloric Puerto Rican rhythm, the bomba, before moving to improvisation on top of the plena rhythm. Their performances often feature pandeiros wending their way through the audience, playing as they head to join the others band members onstage.

Plena Libre’s most recent album was Mi Ritmo, in 2003.

Discography

Mi Ritmo (2003)

Estamos Gozando (2003)

Mas Libre (2000)

Juntos y Revueltos Vol 2 (1999)

Plena Libre (1998)

Plena Libre Mix (1998)

Plena Pa' Ti (1997)

De Parranda (1997)

Cojelo Que Ahí Te Va (1969)

Juntos y Revueltos (1964)

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