by Mary Trinity, PTA Coordinator of Cultural Arts
On Tuesday, January 24th, the PTA hosted an exciting assembly program for the children of Seth Boyden, featuring Los Pleneros de la 21, a community organization devoted to celebrating the African-related music and dance forms of Puerto Rico: Bomba and Plena. Students clapped and danced in their seats as the music of the exuberant perfomers filled the auditorium.
“Our music is about sharing and celebrating.” comments Juan Gutiérrez-Rodriguez, musical director and founder of Los Pleneros. “And we continue to play it at an effort to introduce it to new audiences hoping to bolster a tradition.” In addition to Juan Gutierrez, five other musicians performed for the two Seth Boyden shows on Tuesday: Julia Gutierrez, Nicky Laboy, Alex LaSalle, Jose Rivera and Matthew Gonzalez.
Los Pleneros launched their exhilarating show with an introduction to century-old Plena music. More than a dozen eager students were invited to try out the drums or sing on stage with the group.
Next, Los Pleneros burst into the four hundred year old Bomba tradition, an exciting music that derives from central Africa. Julia Gutierrez danced, while the other musicians played traditional instruments. At the end of the first song, Ms. Gutierrez asked the students to figure out whether the musicians were responding to her dancing or if she was following their music. An attentive student correctly answered that the musicians were following the cues of the dancers! It was exciting to watch, especially when more than thirty students and teachers were invited to the stage to try it!
According to the organization’s website, www.losplenerosdela21.org, this music has roots hundreds of years old, from the days when Spanish colonists brought West African slaves to cultivate Puerto Rico’s sugarcane. It melds European, African, Native Taino musical traditions. Los Pleneros De La 21 has a distinctive New York performance style which goes back forty years, to when LP21 ‘s original members learned to play Bomba and Plena in Puerto Rico. Their enthusiasm, showmanship, and command of the genre has won Los Pleneros de la 21 a respected place in folk and world music circles, with their performances being described as “magical melting of the invisible curtain between performers and audience…”, (The Albuquerque Journal) and their drumming “…incendiary, complex and precise, made the room rock.” (The New York Times)