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Band Brings Sound Of Puerto Rico To The Folk Festival…Some Like It Hot

Band Brings Sound Of Puerto Rico To The Folk Festival

Bartley Kives

July 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.

THEY speak a different language, feel their culture is unique and love to debate the pros and cons of independence.

Are they Quebecers? Hell, no -- St. Jean Baptiste Day has come and gone.

The distinct society of the week is Puerto Rico, the Spanish-speaking U.S. commonwealth smack in the middle of the sunny Caribbean.

Just like Quebec, only a minority of people in Puerto Rico actually want a fully independent state. The U.S greenback, like the Canadian dollar, makes a strong case for remaining part of a greater federation.

But all Puerto Ricans feel like a separate nation, in the sense that boricuas -- which is what residents of this island nation call themselves -- have a very clear cultural identity.

"All Puerto Ricans feel like Puerto Ricans. Even those of us who want to achieve U.S. statehood still want to remain Puerto Rico," says Gary Nunez, bandleader for Plena Libre, a seven-piece boricua outfit that plays plena, a style of Afro-Caribbean music unique to Puerto Rico.

Here this weekend for the Winnipeg Folk Festival, this band is on a mission to show the world what real Puerto Rican music sounds like, as opposed to the stylized Latin pop of Ricky Martin, the island nation's most famous musical export.

"There are a lot of Puerto Rican artists who are well known internationally, but our music is not well known outside of our country. I thought it's time we shared it with the rest of the world," says Nunez, who plays bass and arranges most of the music for the 10-year-old septet.

The sound of plena differs from salsa (a term that usually refers to Cuban-inspired, New York City-bred Latin jazz) in that the rhythms are far more syncopated.

"It's more complicated, but easier to dance to. It's comprised of three different patterns from three different hand drums," explains Nunez, pointing out that only plena uses a small drum called the pandero.

"Plena is our music. It's been in our traditions for more than 100 years. It started off with the farmers in the fields, singing songs and telling stories."

Plena Libre is part of a small Latin music contingent at this year's Winnipeg Folk Festival, sharing the daytime Shady Grove stage Saturday at 2:15 p.m. with Manitoba's Papa Hijo and also kicking off Sunday night's Mainstage concert at 6 p.m.

The other Latino act is Cuban vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer and members of Buena Vista Social Club, who kick off tonight's Mainstage concert at 6 p.m.

This weekend's shows will mark Plena Libre's first visit to Manitoba, but Nunez is prepared.

"I know mosquitoes, at least the ones we have here in Puerto Rico."

Festival Goes To Show That Some Like It Hot


October 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.

PINELLAS PARK - An estimated 20,000 people attended the Puerto Rican Patron Saint Festival on Sunday, taking in salsa music and Caribbean food and dancing amid a sea of flags.

"This is a way to unite the Puerto Rican communities that are always dreaming of coming back to the island," said Sandra Acevedo, president of the festival.

Held at the England Brothers Bandshell, the festival celebrated its fourth year in Pinellas County during Hispanic Heritage Month. According to the 2000 census, Pinellas Park - a city working its way toward 50,000 residents - was home to more than 1,200 Puerto Ricans, about double the number from the previous census.

"We keep to the traditions," Acevedo said. "If we don't, we will lose them. That is why this event is important, because this is a celebration for all Hispanics."

One tradition that has held strong through centuries of cultural and political changes is the music. In no time at all, a group of six men calling themselves Johnnie LaTraburo had folks gathered 'round and singing Que bonita la bondera Puertoricana (how beautiful the Puerto Rican flag).

Young and old circled around the musicians, clapping and dancing with the beat.

"This is a type of Caribbean music. It was a form of communication brought over by the slaves of Puerto Rico. Through the years it turned into songs of love for culture, history and pride," said Pablo Rivera, a member of the band.

The Puerto Rican flag was everywhere - on shirts, hats and jackets. Some people draped the flag over their cars.

One local man expressed his love by including the Puerto Rican flag in most of his paintings. Obed Gomez combines his love of nature, country and God in his artwork.

"I want to send a message of Puerto Rico through my work, but more importantly I want the Lord to give a message through my work," Gomez said.

The festival was filled with messages of passion and pride. Two representatives of Sila Maria Calderon, the governor of Puerto Rico, flew in to the festival, saying it is important to unite the Puerto Rican community, whether here or on the island.

"I hope that the United States and Puerto Rico will continue to be a team. I hope to encourage tourism to the island and spread pride for our culture," said Eduardo Martinez, a special assistant to her.

"It is important to continually make a difference and positively influence everyone," said Nelson Cintron, another assistant. "We also want to encourage all Hispanics to vote in this presidential election."

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