Puerto-Rican music ensemble Los Pleneros de la 21 is set to perform Christmas in El Barrio on Sunday, December 10, 2017 at Kumble Theater in Brooklyn, New York City.
Los Pleneros de la 21 draw from Puerto Rican traditions in music and dance, including the drum driven bomba and plena. Christmas in El Barrio celebrates community, family, and cultural identity.
The current lineup includes Juan Gutiérrez, Camilo Molina Gaetán, Julia Gutiérrez-Rivera, Nelson Matthew González, Nicholas Laboy, Zaccai Curtis, Alex Apolo Ayala, Iván Renta, Hommy Ramos, Flaco Navaja, Karenly Nieves, and Gabo Lugo.
Puerto Rican ensemble Plena Libre performs a unique mix of Afro-Puerto Rican plena, salsa, bomba, jazz and other Afro-Caribbean genres.
“Más Libre,”(Freer) was released in October 2000 on RykoLatino. Their eighth recording and third for RykoLatino, came a year after their critically acclaimed “Juntos y Revueltos”. Más Libre drew from an even wider sonic vocabulary – jazz, reggae, salsa, samba, songo, bomba, merengue, and cumbia.
Since their inception in 1994, Plena Libre, led by bassist, arranger, composer and producer Gary Núñez, has become a strong force on the musical scene of Puerto Rico.
Plena Libre was born out of plena jam sessions in which Gary Núñez participated. In those sessions Gary began to focus on this rhythm that had been brushed aside by the more popular salsa and merengue. He also decided to break this genre out of its folkloric mold. Since then, Plena Libre band has been expanding the borders of plena music.
“When I was 20 years old,” remembers Gary, “I met Noel Hernandez, who is now my compadre. He opened my eyes to my Puerto Rican heritage, got me into studying my history and my musical roots. I realized then that, as much as Puerto Rican musicians were known worldwide in many fields of music, the music that was truly traditional to Puerto Rico was hardly known. I wanted to change that, to devote myself to the music that is based on our African heritage, the plena and the bomba. Up to then they were relegated to holiday get-togethers and in danger of disappearing entirely. That’s how Plena Libre, or ‘free plena’ was born.”
Plena Libre has performed hundreds of shows in Puerto Rico, and has toured in the U.S., receiving extraordinary reviews for their performances and for their recordings that have generated over 15 hit songs and sold over 150,000 copies in Puerto Rico alone.
Plena Libre became the first group to hit the charts with a plena tune in almost 15 years with “El Party” from their first recording “Juntos y Revueltos” (1994) that was re-released by RykoLatino (RLCD 1005) for the international market .
In May of 1999 Plena Libre became the first plena group to perform at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum with their unique presentation “Puerto Rico Sabe a Plena”. A crowd of over 5,000 and the critics applauded Plena Libre’s performance that was later broadcast on commercial TV.
Their list of accomplishments includes an award by the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico’s Legislature (1999), “Fundación Rafael Cepeda” (1997), and an award given by Loiza, the town known as the birth place of the bomba y plena, (1995).
Los Pleneros de la 21 are masters of the African-derived bomba and plena drumming styles of Puerto Rico. Led by drummer and composer Juan José Gutierrez-Rodriguez, this twelve-piece New York-based ensemble that also includes keyboards, bass, and string instruments, is one of the outstanding proponents of traditional Afro-Puerto Rican music.
There are at times special musicians with the utmost talent and creativity. Angel “Cachete” Maldonado is this type of musician. We will refer to him as “Cachete” during this interview. Cachete has played the rhythms of Puerto Rico, which are bomba and plena, with his folkloric groups; but he also preserves the Afro-Cuban guaguanco (rumba) style, with Cachete’s style and flavor.
Cachete had, and still has, an outstanding Latin orchestra by the name of Batacumbele that performs on a regular basis on the island of Puerto Rico. Let’s see what Cachete has to say about his life in this interview.
Cachete, tell me a little bit about your childhood background. Where in Puerto Rico were you born?
I was raised in the Barrio Obrero, the nest of a lot of musical groups, as well as sportsmen, playwrights. A nest of all the big ones, like (composer) Tite Curet Alonso, adopted son of the Barrio Obrero, The Rodriguez, Tito Rodriguez (Latin orchestra leader), Arturo A Shimburg, Rubén Gómez, to mention a few.
Were any of your parents or family members musicians?
My father was a bassist and guitarist. My sister was a singer and my aunt Ana Maria Cruz was a singer, of the famous Fiestas de Cruz, very well known on the island.
What is the first group or band that you were in and what was the instrument that you played?
The first professional group was with Johnny El Bravo López and Danny González. I would play bongo and cowbell with Johnny and timbas with Danny González. Prior to that I would perform with other groups, although they were not known and I used to sing at 13 and 14 years of age.
What bands have you performed with during your musical career?
Larry Harlow, La Conspiracion, Luis “Perico” Ortiz, Eddie & Charlie Palmieri, Leandro “Gato” Barberi, Machito, Tito Puente, Típica 73, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Jaguares, Ricky Martin, Lucecita Benitez, Celia Cruz, etc., etc.
What gave you the idea to form the band Batacumbele?
It was my first trip to Cuba. It was born out of a development concern for rhythmic music. There already existed rhythmically an example, Los Van Van with Changuito, creator of the songo rhythm that revolutionized the musical wave in Cuba. The Ritmo Oriental de Cuba, Irakere and other groups who spearheaded the new wave of music. A new form of playing the drums of the Ritmo Oriental and the tumbaos (beats) of Nino Valdes with four tumbadoras (conga drums) and Batun Bata, etc.
I have a love myself as a conga drummer for Afro drums of Rumba music. What inspired you to love and play that type of music?
Even when I was really young, studying drums, my love for the rumba and its drums (congas) was born. I remember that my father would take me to a rehearsal of Rafael Torres Silva. That was my first contact with the percussion of conguero Celso Clemente. He was the first person I saw play the timbas.
Later, Papo Román, the second conguero that I saw in the group. Then I began to listen to Mongo Santamaria; Carlos Patato Valdez; Francisco Aguabella; Julio Collazo, my first teacher of bata drums; Tommy Lopez; Mr. Ray Barretto; Ray Romero; Francisco Aristides Soto, better known as Tata Guines; Yeyito Iglesias; Guillermo Barretto; Tito Puente; Willie Bobo; and Jose Mangual.
Cachete, what’s the latest with Batacumbele these days?
With Batacumbele, now I am working with a group of young talents in union with Luis Marin, the musical director, and Pablito Rosario one of the original members. Noel Rosado, Tono Vazquez, Angie Machado, we have continued with the hard work of continuing with the group.
Due to my condition, I had to readjust my involvement with Batacumbele, but I keep working with the group Batacumbele Sangre Nueva (New Blood) and Los Majaderos de Cachete Maldonado, a group of rumba, bomba, and plena.
What are the future plans for you as a drummer, bandleader an artist?
Right now we are currently in the process of finding a location to give workshops and classes of Afro-Antillean dances, bomba, plena, rumba and other rhythms of the Caribbean, where all local and international people can enjoy the work in a patio.
I await to serve the public in general this year, 2016.
I would like to thank Cachete Maldonado for his great time and effort to make this interview possible.
At times, when I’m writing, I’m aware of conditions suffered by artists or craftsmen that due to age, and the fact that we are all human beings, have maladies that are not discussed on our Facebook page(s) Timbales Congas Bongo Bata & Bells, nor in our interviews for personal reasons. At given times, there are impolite or abrupt remarks made by readers that are unaware of the condition of the artists and craftsmen because they do not know them personally; those are overlooked at this time.
I would like to give a “great thank” you to Pablito Rosario for making this interview possible. Thank you Pablito!
New York, USA – Puerto Rican group
Plena Libre will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a 10th record, Estamos Gozando!, slated for June 8th on Times Square Records.
“Even after five centuries of colonial rule, the Puerto Rican personality is clearly defined regardless of our relationship to the US,” says Plena Libre bassist-bandleader Gary Núñez. “It is impossible to dilute the character of Puerto Rican people, because we have strong roots. And plena is an important part of it.”
Estamos Gozando! brings the story of plena full circle, paying homage to the greatest plena and bomba (another Afro-Rican genre) composers.
Represented here is music by Ángel Torruellas, one of the most prolific plena composers; Los Pleneros de Quinto Olivo, an important plena band of the ’70’s who first popularized the folkloric song Canario Blanco; César Concepción, a trumpeter who adapted plena to big band “salon” scores in the ’60’s; Rafael Cortijo, master percussionist who with singer Ismael Rivera popularized many Afro-Rican genres in the ’60’s and ’70’s; Mon Rivera, creator of a humorous delivery style and introducer of four trombones to Afro-Rican music; Rafael Cepeda, known as the ‘Patriarch of Bomba and Plena’; Toñin Romero, who wrote many hits in the ’50’s and ’60’s; and Manuel Jimenez “Canario”, the first plenero to be commercially recorded (RCA) and one of the greatest plena innovators of the ’20’s and ’30’s.
Plena emerged in the late 19th century when the repertoire of Barbados immigrants mixed with local genres, and along with the bomba, has been the mainstay of Afro-rooted music of Puerto Rico. But paradoxically, today many Puerto Rican artists are known for salsa and merengue, genres that originated in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. “By the early ’70s, the Puerto Rican music
industry came down,” explains Nuñez. “Our rhythms took a back seat to other nations’.” Playing plena takes on a complex form of pride, affirming Puerto Rican identity within the dominance of genres that originate elsewhere.”
Núñez asserted Puerto Rican identity in the ’70s with his band Moliendo Vidrio, in line with the Nuevo Canción movements of Latin America, which rallied folk music against colonialism. After 18 years of putting the cuatro (Puerto Rican guitar) on the map, he was ready for a new challenge. “Three things kept the plena alive from the ’60s to the ’90s,” says Nuñez. “First, when people gather for parties, the plena rhythm is always there. Second, plena took center stage during labor strikes. And third, folklore groups kept the roots of plena alive.” When Núñez picked up the torch by forming Plena Libre in 1994, he sought to reinvent the genre, taking it from folkloric status—which relegated its performance to holidays and folk revivals—and turning it into a living and breathing, popular, evolving form.
Traditionally, plena uses three different-sized hand drums of Spanish origin called panderos that are pitched low-to-high and play interlocking rhythms. The seguidor is the bass drum, laying the rhythmic foundation; the mid-pitched punteador plays a complementary pattern to the seguidor. The higher pitched requinto alternates between playing yet another complementary pattern and improvising solos that respond to the sung lyrics. The güiro (scraper) and the vocalists – with leader and chorus in call-and-response style – complete the basic ensemble. Over time, the plena took on different forms – from the simple addition of the accordion or cuatro to full orchestral variations. For migrant workers who followed the harvest of different crops, the plena was their orally transmitted newspaper, informing people of the latest news, and accompanying every celebration.
To the pandero ensemble, Núñez added bass, keyboards, timbales, congas, four trombones, and some of the best plena singers (soneros) found in Puerto Rico. With a style that draws on both the traditional and the modern, and arrangements that mix in other Caribbean rhythms and sizzling dance-floor charts, Plena Libre topped the charts with one hit after another on commercial radio stations in Puerto Rico, returning plena to the center stage.
In support ofEstamos Gozando!, Plena Libre will be touring North America in July and August. Confirmed dates so far include:
Wednesday, June 30th, Kimmell Center, Philadelphia, PA
Wednesday, July 7th, Montreal Jazz festival, Montreal, Quebec,
Thursday, July 8th, Sun Fest Festival, London, Ontario
Friday, July 9th, Sun Fest Festival, London, Ontario
Saturday, July 10th, Winnipeg, Canada
Thursday, July 15th, Chicago World Music Festival, IL
Friday, July 16th, Halifax Jazz Festival, Nova Scotia
Saturday, July 17th, Ritmo Y Color Festival, Toronto, Ontario
Sunday, July 18th, Puerto Rican Festival of Holyoke, MA
Friday, July 23rd, Stockton Performing Arts Center, Atlantic City, NJ
Saturday, July 31st, Celebrate Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, Aug. 7th, Puerto Rican Festival at Franklin Park, Boston, MA
Tuesday, Aug. 10th, Scullers Jazz Club, Boston, MA
Friday, Aug. 13th, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, New York, NY
Saturday, Aug.14th, Musikfest – Plaza Tropical, Bethlehem, PA
Sunday, Aug. 15th, Schenectady (Albany), NY