The Latin jazz led by the pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill and thebomba and plena (musical genres from Puerto Rico) performed by the Pleneros de la 21, a well-known group formed in New York, will come together to celebrate the beginning with a great party of Christmas.
“Una Navidad Nuyorkina” is presented this December 2 at the Hostos Community College theater in the Bronx, and also serves to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Pleneros de la 21, founded by percussionist Juan “Juango” Gutiérrez and the maestro plenero Marcial Reyes, who for four decades has made the island’s folklore known and made many dance to the rhythm of tambourines and drums.
Several classic songs by the group formed in 1983 in the Latin Quarter of Harlem have been arranged by Pleneros bassist Alex “Apolo” Ayala, to be played by the jazz orchestra directed by O’Farrill.
“It will be very nice to celebrate music that is not traditionally played with brass, but on this occasion we are going to amplify the music of the Pleneros for a ‘big band,'” the award-winning musician told EFE.
🎶✨ Christmas Is Coming! Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra @Pleneros21 at @HostosCenter as they celebrate 40 years of Los Pleneros de la 21. 🎺🥁 🌟 Click the link in bio to get tickets today! pic.twitter.com/otKXxzxddR
— Belongó | Afro Latin Jazz (@afrolatinjazz) November 17, 2023
“Los Pleneros de la 21 – which takes its name from a bus stop in the capital of Puerto Rico – is one of the most important groups of our music in the world and I think Juan is a genius, a historian, a very important,” he said.
Other Puerto Rican artists have fused elements ofbomba and plena with jazz before, including William Cepeda and David Sánchez.
O’Farrill, associate dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of California (UCLA), lamented that many people are unaware of the tradition of this music – which emerged in coastal towns of African heritage – despite the fact that it is “such an important inheritance.”
“Latin music is not complete without that of Puerto Rico, its Afro music, thebomba and the plena,” he commented.
He stressed that it will be a Christmas celebration, as Latinos are used to, and particularly in Puerto Rico where the festival begins very early and is the longest in the world, since it extends beyond Three Kings’ Day.
“We will have the opportunity to do jazz improvisation, but more than anything the concert will focus on the Christmas bomb and plena,” said O’Farrill, who proposed the collaboration of “Belongó”, as his band is now called. Afro-Latin jazz, with the Pleneros de la 21.
“The bomb and the plena have an incredible freshness, life, a lot of movement, it is the closest we have to Africa,” he argued.
“Juango” Gutiérrez highlighted that in the four decades of work in which the group has been a pioneer for the presentations of thebomba and plena in New York, there has been “satisfaction, regrets, tragedies, triumphs… everything, like in the life”.
“But,” he added, “very satisfying for me, a great reward, and all because of the desire to know my roots more deeply,” he told EFE.
He recalled that when he arrived in New York he met Puerto Rican musicians, who had emigrated long before, who welcomed him and from whom he learned.
“The greatest possession they had was not material, but an accumulation of experiences, which is the essence, the identity, and part of that is what they promulgated, the tradition, they were an important voice in the culture,” he indicated.
“I was lucky that they hugged me, they opened the door for me,” he said.
According to Folk Ways Recording, the Smithsonian Institution’s record label, the success of the Pleneros de la 21 helped spark a revival of thebomba and plena in the U.S. as dozens of other groups emerged, inspired by their example.
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