Captivating and moving audiences over the course of a 25-year, 16-album career, this fine-tuned Puerto Rican-based ensemble of virtuoso musicians has only gotten better with age, as evidenced by their four Grammy nominations and world-wide touring schedule.
Plena Libre, the venerable ensemble that help put Puerto Rican roots music on the international map, wins the hearts of aficionados and newcomers alike. “The chemistry and emotions on stage – my God!” says bandleader, bass player and founder Gary Nuñez. “I am continually overwhelmed by the spirit of the band. It is the music of Puerto Rico as it should be experienced. This train will just run you over!”
Plena Libre stays true to the island’s unique African-based “plena” and “bomba” pulse, while flirting unabashedly and engagingly with sounds from across the Caribbean and Latin world. Dancing with genres from smiling merengue and Cuban “songo” to Latin jazz and rock, the band takes a no-holds-barred approach to, keeping the rhythmic core of Puerto Rican music and adding layers of complex, good-spirited brass, string and hard-hitting hand percussion.
“We emphasize the sound of the drum in the eternal dialog with the voice and the rest of the musical ensemble” says Núñez, “as we adapt elements of jazz, rock and other Latin and Afro-Caribbean music to our roots.” Intense horns meet Plena Libre’s lush, traditional vocal harmonies, and gritty arrangements take “plena” gems to the next level.
But Plena Libre isn’t just about playing music and winning hearts among their Puerto Rican and international audiences. It’s about making music with heart, with a core of integrity and dedication to the community. The band has long spoken boldly for change at home, a role that fits perfectly into the community-oriented genres of “plena” and “bomba,” which traditionally acted like the local paper in Puerto Rico’s barrios, keeping people informed and sparking discussions of current events. Plena Libre maintains this side of the music, in outspoken, evocative calls for more thoughtful, incisive approaches to the island’s problems.
Plena Libre infuses their contemporary Caribbean compositions with a deep sense of the unique indigenous musical traditions, known as “plena” and “bomba,” which developed on the island over a century ago. Unlike salsa bands, who usually only have two singers, Plena Libre features five vocalists singing in lush three- and four-part harmonies; a musical representation of a traditional community gathering. Further giving their live performances a memorable standout quality, occasionally, the entire band will vocalize the percussion parts of the “plena,” creating an a cappella polyphonic polyrhythm. These artistic choices drive home the core of the tradition in an aesthetic that appeals to broad audiences and aficionados alike.
With an aggressive, tight, yet sensitive style, which balances the traditional with the contemporary, the global and the local, Plena Libre creates a brand of music and live performance that is both profoundly Puerto Rican and universally appealing. Filtering the sounds of various Afro-Caribbean forms like merengue and cumbia, and Afro-Cuban like mambo and yes, salsa if you ask nicely through a unique set of artistic sensibilities, this versatile collection of expert performers create a celebratory spectacle and engaging sonic ecstasy. Thrilling audiences around the world, from the Fez Festival (in Morocco) to the Playboy Jazz Festival, Plena Libre is a train that just keeps picking up steam as it charges ahead in unexpected and exciting directions.