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The Puerto Rico Project 2: Plena Libre



PLena Libre

PLena Libre

Puerto Rico’s Four Time Grammy Award Nominee, Plena Libre Present “Amores En El Camino” (Love’s Journey)


In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the band wishes to recharge Puerto Ricans, living both on and off the island, with messages of hope, joy, and pride in our heritage, through their music.

The album is an homage to love in its many forms; love for a partner, for a friend, for a family member, for music, and of course, love for one’s homeland: this is our homage and tribute of love for Puerto Rico.

Plena Libre, the venerable, powerhouse ensemble that has helped put Puerto Rican roots music on the international musical map, delivers an explosion of musical sabor, delivering a cornucopia of melodies, rhythms and lyrics based on Afro-Rican musical traditions, with their new album “Amores en el Camino” (Love’s Journey”), to be October 28th.

The album’s release was postponed due to the recent and devastating path of Category-4 Hurricane Maria through Puerto Rico, which left the island in the dark and struggling for food, water and other supplies. While the band is eager to present their new project, it now has a new purpose.

“We have been hit hard by this natural disaster, but Puerto Ricans are resilient and happy people. This is the time for us all to unite and contribute however we can to help rebuild our confidence and rebuild our island,” says bandleader, bass player and founder Gary Nuñez. “In the most tragic and desperate moments, music is still one of the best ways to unite our people and bring happiness to all, even if just for a moment.”

Through “Amores en el Camino,” the Puerto Rican band hopes to do just that. The album pays homage to love in many forms: love for a partner, for a friend or family member, love for music and for one’s country – the album is both a tribute and an homage of our love for Puerto Rico.

More On “Amores En EL Camino”

The four-time Grammy-nominated Plena Libre brings to this album empowering poetry that reflects its theme, “Amores en el Camino” (Love’s Journey). Plena and bomba rhythms are presented by a battery of percussion, innovative hard-hitting horns, three-part vocal harmonies, and jazzy musical arrangements, while flirtingly engaging with music from across the Caribbean and Latin world.

The new album will be available for purchase on CD Baby, Amazon, ITunes, all digital platforms and select stores.

The album features original songs by a new generation of pleneros as well as the veteran, Nuñez, who together make this an essential album. It showcases a fresh take on Puerto Rican roots, yet is steeped in Plena Libre’s unique musical flavor and style. “The experience and reflections that we have encountered over our 25-year journey has given us a musical maturity that can only be achieved through an understanding that love of life and music is our greatest motivation during our journey, individually and collectively… it’s Love’s Journey (Amores en el Camino”), says Nuñez.

“With this album we emphasize the sound of the drum in the eternal dialog along with the voice and the rest of the ensemble, as we adapt elements of jazz, and other Latin and Afro-Caribbean music of our roots,” says Gary. Jazzed up, punchy horn lines meet Plena Libre’s lush, traditional vocal harmonies, and gritty, salsa-inspired arrangements taking plena gems to the next level. For example, “Lo que tiene Ella,” which incorporates trumpet player legend Luis “Perico’ Ortiz, whose solo will mesmerize you.

Bomba (seis corrido) “Bambulae” combines modern instrumentation, intense bomba drumming, and a new vocal interpretation that gives new life to this classic. Plena “A la mala no” incorporates steel drums, while adapting steel to an irresistible dance track. On tracks like “Puerto Rico” a tribute to their island home, the band motivates Boricua listeners to be proud and to keep on, despite the current hardships. All this with a touch of the island’s cuatro featuring guest artist Christian Nieves.

Jazz is also present in Solitaria, a bomba (gracimá), which includes bomba drums played by Víctor Vélez and bass solos by Gary Nuñez, sax by José “Furito” Rios and Galdy Santiago on drums. All these take you on a journey of sounds that reveals the group’s deep knowledge of a host of Afro rhythms, from Puerto Rico and beyond.

Gary Nuñez and Plena Libre pay tribute to one of their own, with “Recordando a un Amigo” in an acoustic street-savvy plena. The soulful, heartfelt song is both a tribute to and a demonstration of the the centrality of the hand drums to the musicians and the musical inspirations of its singers, Emanuel Santana and Víctor Vélez.

Other songs included are “Como te Quiero Yo,”  “A Son de Plena” and “Por la Ventana.”
Through this diversity of musical materials, the album shows off the flexibility and musicianship of Plena Libre. At the same time, the band has striven to redefine the performance possibilities for a group playing traditional Puerto Rican music. Plena Libre has performed everywhere from Morocco’s Fez Festival to the Playboy Jazz Fest and Lincoln Center.

Amores en el Camino (Love’s Journey) was made possible thanks to the contribution of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Group Website:

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

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New York Report

“Si Va’ Llover” and the Advent of Música Artesanal



Henry Cole

Henry Cole & Villa Locura release a new song featuring Alex López ‘El Callejero’ – “Si Va’ Llover” – and a new form of making and sharing music.

Alex López and Henry Cole met in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico sometime around 1992 when Henry attended the Manuel A. Barretto School.

Two images of Alex have remained forged in Henry’s memory. One is of Alex hanging out with Henry’s oldest sister, Tidzia Cole, and her friends in front of his grandmother Angelina Simon’s house on Calle Estación. The other is of Alex watching him from a little store next to the Cundo Rovira Pharmacy, where they sold “icys” (snow cones) and “empanadillas” (meat pies). Henry sensed that Alex was letting him know with his eyes that he was looking after him.

Henry Cole and Alex López
Henry Cole and Alex López

In 2006, the two met again in New York City during a Bomplenazo in which Henry participated as a guest of Los Pleneros de 21. Alex was part of the group Cocolay y sus Pleneros. As soon as they discovered they’re both musicians, they knew they wanted to collaborate. Whenever they met up, they talked about doing something together.

The opportunity arose in 2019. Henry was to appear with this group, Villa Locura, in Mayagüez for the first time, and he invited Alex to join them. He also asked Alex if he had a song that he’d like to adapt for Villa Locura. Alex sent him “Si Va’Llover.” Henry listened to several versions of the song and created a new arrangement within a couple of hours. And then, the gig in Mayaguez was canceled.

Henry performed “Si Va’Llover” in Santurce last December (2019) and although Alex didn’t sing with him, it was clear that people loved the song.

In 2020, Henry decided to record the arrangement of “Si Va’Llover,” this time with the participation of Alex López and a dream band. This is the result!

About The Process

The recording of the song entailed two experiments. The first was for Henry to see how his music would turn out with Villa Locura, his band made up of local Puerto Rican musicians, with the exception of keyboardist Jason Lindner.

The second experiment was to explore the legendary AQ30 Studios in Bayamón, which during the 1990s Merengue era recorded many greatest hits. Perhaps the most famous was, Elvis Crespo’s megahit “Suavemente.”

Henry Cole at AQ30 Studios in Bayamón, Puerto Rico
Henry Cole at AQ30 Studios in Bayamón, Puerto Rico

Discussing the process, Henry says: There’s a lot of analog equipment from that era that wasn’t being used because most of the work now is done with Pro Tools. I wanted to get the gears cranking again on the machine that had been so successful.

I started listening to some of the albums that were recorded there to relate the space to the music. I called trumpeter Luis Aquino and asked him how they recorded and what kind of equipment they used. Every time I saw the founder and recording engineer, Ricardo Marty I asked him a thousand questions and slowly I gathered fascinating information about the use and the history of the space.

Through these experiments I got a sense of what it would be like to record my next album in Puerto Rico.

At one point I felt that the equipment and the space spoke to me and welcomed me. This was confirmed in the takes that we recorded. Especially when I saw how the artists shone as their parts were added, and how easy it was done. It took Alex only one and a half takes to record his vocals. ‘I put on my headphones and went on a trip. I felt everything flow at once,’ he told me.

We only had one rule in the studio: no plugin’s (signal processor, equalizer, or compressor). The sound had to come from the subject to the analog machines without “filtering.”

About The Art

The artwork was inspired by the Portfolio de Plena series, a set of prints created by the Puerto Rican painter, printmaker, calligrapher, Lorenzo Homar, and painter and the draftsman, graphic artist, muralist, and illustrator Rafael Tufino, who celebrated Afro-Puerto Rican music in the 1950s.

Henry Cole - Si va a llover que llueva

Also, Henry called the painter, Martin Garcia Rivera, who is very familiar with Homar and Tufino’s works, and respects the Puerto Rican culture.

“Martin’s process was an incredible learning experience for me. In the middle of the pandemic he sent me photos and meditations about his process for creating the piece, a process called Intaglio, using Punta Seca. One day Martin called me and I heard the joy in his voice, and knew that he had succeeded. That call lasted about three hours. We talked a lot about the painter, Francisco Oller, Puerto Rico, our culture, and Martin’s story.”

“The press is manual, it’s like traveling back in time to a hundred, two hundred, even five hundred years ago. The past is the present with different actors and all that today has to offer,” says Martin Garcia Rivera.

La Música Artesanal is Born

Once the “master” was finished, Henry shared it with some people in the music industry, garnering the usual results. Some said, “Wow, this amazing, it’ll stick.” And others said, “We don’t know if it belongs on a playlist, it’s too long, it’s too instrumental, it’s too jazzy, it’s regional, people consume a more urban sound.”

The story was the same when presented “El Diablo” with Tito Allen and “Caminando” with Tego Calderón.

Henry was aware that even if there were some interest, he would have to give away his song for streaming, which generates less than a penny per play. And with a schedule of canceled concerts for the rest of the year, he realized he wouldn’t be able to continue in that direction, nor could he expect the industry to dictate what he should do with his music.

So Henry decided to take inspiration from the figure of the artisan, using this analogy: Craftspeople make their handiwork —whether it be jewelry, or furniture, or carved nativity scenes— but they would never expect to make a living by simply giving it away as if it were a free sample. This would leave the artisan with no profit to buy food or materials.

For example, there’s craft beer, craft coffee, craft jewelry. A craft beer is more expensive than a regular beer. Why? Because of the quality of the ingredients, the process by which it’s made, the attention to detail.

Henry developed the idea of launching his own platform to sell his art in conjunction with visual designer Abdiel Flores.

La Música Artesanal also seeks to bring together artists who share this same thinking and passion for their crafts. In this way, they’ll form a Mercado of craft musicians.

“And so,” says Henry, “I offer you here my Música Artesanal, created with the best musicians, artists, engineers, machines, and processes.”

“The ‘mission,’ was to create an aggressive, punchy, in your face, groovy, virtuosic sound. Also, I wanted to present my vision of New Plena and send a message to the other Plena, Bomba, and Salsa Bands in Puerto Rico, that, ‘This is 2020 and Henry Cole and Villa Locura is here!’ Aside from the lyrics, I composed all the parts. I brought in the bassist Ricky Rodriguez, who gave me the aggressive, nasty bass lines I was seeking. This virtuoso type of bass playing happens in Merengue but rarely in Plena. Also, there is Trap (a sub-genre of hip-hop ) played by musicians, not computers. ” — Henry Cole


Well, my people
Our Plena
Our Roots
Our Culture
If It’s Going to Rain, Let it Rain
Nothing Will Stop My Plena!



Henry Cole – Music, Drums
Alex López – Lyrics, Vocals
Martin Rivera Garcia – Art
Michael Brauer – Mixing Engineer
Emanuel Santamaria – Punteador
Axel Rodriguez – Guiro
Jason Lindner – Keyboards
Piro Rodriguez – Trumpet
Jahaziel Garcia – Trumpet
Jonathan Acevedo – Tenor Sax
Victor Maldonado – Baritone Sax
Javi Perez – Guitar
Giovanni De La Rosa – Guitar
Ricky Rodriguez – Bass
Jay Laboy – Coro
Antoinette Rodriguez – Coro
Sebastian Otero – Coro
Glorimar Nogueras – Coro
Recording & Editing
Giovanni De La Rosa
Wendell Sanders
Luis Rodriguez
Rubén Morales
Matt Burr
Hector Espinoza
Fernando Reyes
Idania Valencia – Mastering
Abdie Flores – Cover
José Diaz – Video
Joealis Filippetti – Promotional Voice Over

Tomas Peña – Promo, Editor

Artist Website/Source:
La Música Artesanal:

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