Plena Libre is a fine-tuned twelve-piece Puerto Rican‒based ensemble of virtuoso musicians that infuses contemporary Caribbean compositions with a deep sense of traditional Puerto Rican plena and bomba.
Plena music is uniquely Puerto Rican, generally thought to have originated in the early 20th century in the city of Ponce, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. It’s a hybrid of African, Spanish, and Caribbean sounds. Traditionally, plena functioned as a “singing newspaper,” allowing residents of the barrio to hear about events of the day. The various drums would establish the basic plena rhythm and then interact rhythmically with call-and-response vocals and the melodic instruments.
Plena Libre, founded in 1994 by Gary Nuñez, is among the most significant modern torchbearers of Puerto Rico’s musical roots, augmenting these sounds with jazz, merengue, cumbia, and mambo, and overlaying the rhythms with lyrics—in the tradition of plena—that highlight relevant social issues affecting the island. The resulting music is a marriage of the traditional with the modern, built on the ever-present core of plena and bomba and adding new instrumentation and new compositions to the repertoire. With drums, horns, and five vocalists singing in three- and four-part harmonies, Plena Libre has become the top-selling plena band. This is music that is both profoundly Puerto Rican and universally appealing. Boasting four Grammy nominations, some of Puerto Rico’s top musicians, and increasing international acclaim, Plena Libre is now one of the elite live bands on the current Latin music scene.
A mad weave of polyrhythms that simply sizzle.
Young, talented and spicy, and full of young followers, Plena Libre is the new face of the Puerto Rican plena.
—Latin Beat Magazine
A fascinating blend of folkloric tunes with contemporary beats such as salsa, samba and reggae. To watch a Plena Libre’s performance is to witness a realm where tradition truly meets modernity.
—New York Mosaico