Interview with Gary Núñez of Plena Libre

Gary Núñez
Gary Núñez – Photo by FJM Photo
Plena Libre, one of Puerto Rico’s most exiting roots music musical acts, has a new album titled Corazon (Heart). Plena Libre has become the leading disseminator of the musical genre known as plena in Puerto Rico and abroad. Plena is a Puerto Rican folk song and dance style with African, Spanish, and Caribbean roots. Plena was born in the barrios of Puerto Rico in the early 20th century.

Plena Libre’s leader, bassist and composer Gary Núñez, discusses Corazon with World Music Central.

How would you describe Corazon?

The “heart” is our true guide. It could be the equivalent to emotion or intuition, that’s why the motto of the recording is “lo que el corazón siente hoy, mañana lo entenderá la razón” (what the heart feels today, reason will understand tomorrow). It’s a symbol of the source of love, of positive will, of the commitment to achieve our goals. This recording was achieved thanks to the commitment of many with Plena Libre and our Puerto Rican music, with pure heart.

Musically and thematically speaking, “Corazón ” is one of the most complete recordings by Plena Libre and its foundation is the expression of love through the spouse or partner, the homeland, etc.

In the songs Huracán and Tira la bola there are references to gossip and criticism. Can you explain what that’s about?

Plena Libre - Photo by FJM Photo
Plena Libre – Photo by FJM Photo
These are rejections to allowing selfishness and individualism to justify your own success by the defeating the other. In reality, we all lose. That’s the concept behind those pieces, and it’s something that all of us, especially Puerto Ricans, need to learn. It’s a topic that that we hadn’t approached in the past and the concern arose from the need of having more solidarity amongst ourselves as a basic rule to achieve collective success, and a clear reply to the “faultfinders”, who provide very little, or nothing, but they talk and talk and don’t produce anything. And they are incapable of recognizing the achievements of others.

“La Verdad” (as well as “Que Bonita Bandera”) is a call for national pride which is indispensable for us Puerto Ricans, who need to know our great achievements as a nation, and find solutions to our problems with deep creativity and ‘Puerto Rican effort”, as people and community..

My Puerto Rican friends normally associate plena with Christmas music, but Plena Libre’s music is not ‘Christmas music.’ I imagine Plena Libre’s intention is to have plena be heard year round.

Plena Libre live - Photo by FJM Photo
Plena Libre live – Photo by FJM Photo
That’s an idea that works to isolate, prevent and underestimate our native music. No one would say that Dominican merengue, or Mexican ranchera, or American jazz are meant to be listened to during Christmas, that’s ridiculous! It’s a myth created to take our music out of its natural space and replace it with the music that record labels and radio station owners are interested in. The reality is that our music is played and enjoyed year round in Puerto Rico (which is the natural thing) and its potential is huge!

In addition to plena, I see there is also bomba and salsa. Which are the main musical influences of the band?

Plena Libre is a plena and bomba group, committed to the development and dissemination of these genres. During that process, because we believe in development, we include influences from other musical genres of the world, but always under the perspective of musical growth and dissemination of our musical genres.

What is new in Plena Libre since the last album?

Plena Libre - Corazon
Plena Libre – Corazon
The most obvious is the addition of other instruments such as vibraphone, strings, etc. But the fundamental change is in the arrangements and the variety of styles, every piece is a different world that is joined by the themes. If you listen to the full album nonstop, you’ll notice that, it’s really varied, which means a very complete recording and an expression that musically Plena Libre is a band with multiple sides and possibilities. That makes us different and capable of continuing to follow a process of constant achievement.

Who are the band members now?

Basically the same as in the recording. It’s one of the great things about Plena Libre. I record with my musicians. That gives us an advantage of more unity, a guarantee of quality, and certainty that what you listen to in the recording is what you’ll hear live, or even better because adrenaline is involved in the issue (playing live!).

How’s the Puerto Rican roots music scene currently?

Since the creation of Plena Libre, things have improved quite a bit. I think it’s because we proved that you can have a success playing Puerto Rican music, and others have followed the path outlined. However, there is still much that needs to be done to put Puerto Rican music next to other genres from other countries as far as impact in Puerto Rico and abroad.

Is Plena Libre doing anything to educate the new generations and promote plena among young Puerto Ricans?

Plena Libre live - Photo by FJM Photo
Plena Libre live – Photo by FJM Photo
I think so and example is our best weapon. In addition, I must say that the majority of the members of Plena Libre are young, in their 20s, new blood which is the product of a new Puerto Rican musical generation with supreme quality, world class, and with great interest in our music. This last thing is a substantial change.

If someone wen to travel to Puerto Rico, what places should they visit?

Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan) is a must-see. There are few cities in the world like this, a city with a deep history and a vibrant musical scene, intellectual and social. Aside from that I would recommend Yunque with its extraordinary nature, the towns in the central part such as Jayuya and of course our beaches, especially in the south like Cabo Rojo. And of course a trip to Vieques or Culebra!!!

For musicians that go to Puerto Rico, where can they purchase musical instruments such as panderos (frame drums), panderetas (tambourines), bomba drums, etc?

There are excellent craftsmen throughout Puerto Rico that make these instruments. In fact, one of our singers, Víctor Velez is one of them. What no one should do is buy the Chinese imitations that have already arrived.

Are there any festivals or clubs where one can listen to good Puerto Rican music?

The best thing is to seek one of the multiple events that place throughout the year in the Puerto Rico.

What plans do you have to promote the new album?

We are very proud of the way the album has been received. In only a few days it hit the Billboard charts after its release in Puerto Rico. From there we will present the album in Puerto Rico. This will be followed by the release in the USA, Europe and Latin America, supported by performances by the band. We have a lot of faith in “Corazón” and know that it will open more hearts to Plena Libre.


Juntos y Revueltos I (1994)

Cógelo que Ahí Te Va (1995)

Plena Pa’Ti (1996)

De parranda (1997)

Plena Libre Mix (1998)

Plena Libre (1999)

Juntos y Revueltos II

Más Libre (RykoLatino, 2000)

Mi Ritmo (2003)

Estamos Gozando! (Times Square, 2004)

Evolucion (Times Square, 2005)

Plena Al Salsero (Times Square, 2008)

Corazon (GN Musica, 2013)

Web Site:

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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