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Albuquerque Journal

Rhythm Frees Plena Libre

David Steinberg Journal Staff Writer

June 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Albuquerque Journal, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

The 14-piece dance band Plena Libre takes its name from plena, an Afro-Caribbean rhythm.

"Plena is a single rhythmic pattern that was born and grew in Puerto Rico," Gary Nunez, the founder and music director of Plena Libre, said by phone from San Juan.

And an instrument grew up alongside the popular rhythm -- the pandero.

The pandero is a type of tambourine, but without the jingles around the perimeter.

"It's hand-held but just has skin and wood," Nunez said. "The pandero comes in three different sizes -- the requinto, seguidor and punteador -- and the three are what create the rhythm."

Each size produces a different sound.

Nunez, who founded Plena Libre 10 years ago, said the rhythmic pattern is in a steady 2/2 tempo and is produced by the two lower- register panderos.

On Saturday, the band will perform in the plaza of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The performance is part of a North American tour.

When Nunez, a bassist, founded the band it had the effect of taking the plena out of the folklore arena and into the realm of popular Latin dance music.

Initially, the plena was confined to Puerto Rican radio stations, but as the music grew so did Plena Libre's level of recognition.

The band has become a repeat performer in Europe. A 1998 review in a Paris magazine said: "Their music is irresistible. Their repertoire is authentic and creative. Their style, free and progressive."

The band's newest album, "Mi Ritmo," shows off the band's trombone-powered harmonies and its uptempo sound.

Nunez said he has studied a wide range of music of Puerto Rico as well as having played salsa, rock, jazz, classical and music of South America.

"I've been blessed in the sense I've had an opportunity to study all types of music," he said. "One reason I've stuck with plena is that being a dance music it is a very good way to present to the rest of the world what Puerto Rican music is all about."

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