Plena was born in the working class barrios of Ponce, Puerto Rico about
100 years ago.
It was known as "el periodico cantado" (the sung newspaper) because it
contained stories about the history and everyday life of the people.
Plena's origins can be traced back to the changes in society
caused by Puerto Rico's transfer from Spanish to U.S. rule, and the
abolition of slavery which caused displaced colonial sugar cane workers
to seek economic opportunities in the growing cities of the island.
Plena was born of African roots and was transformed into a uniquely
Puerto Rican expression by the influences of Jíbaro, native Taino, and
European musical traditions,
in addition to the contributions of freed slaves from English-speaking
Caribbean Islands who travelled to Puerto Rico seeking work.
By the later part of the 20th century, Plena primarily existed as part of our
folklore. However, in the 1990s Plena was given new life thanks to music
groups in Puerto Rico and New York who modernized its sound for a new
generation. Whether folklore or modern sound, it's the panderos --
three or more handheld drums of different sizes/pitches (seguidor, segundo,
and requinto), and the guiro -- a gourd percussion instrument of native Taino
origin -- that together create the explosive rhythm of Plena.
The white "Panama" hats typically worn by Plena musicians will always be
a beloved icon of Plena.
While it is important to study Plena given the popularity of its folkloric
style, it is equally as important because it is a living tradition that is
still an active part of Puerto Rico today, marking important occasions in the
lives of our people, from birth to death, and even street protests.
References and Suggested Reading
- Francisco Lopez Cruz, "La Music Folklorica de Puerto Rico", Troutman
Press 1967. [Book]
- Dufrasne-González, J. Emanuel, "Puerto Rico también tiene Tambó,"
Impreso en Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, 1994." [Book]
- Dufrasne-González, J. Emanuel, "Los Instrumentos Musicales AfroBoricuas,"
La Tercera Raiz: Presencia Africana en Puerto Rico, Institute of Puerto Rican
- Lopez, Ramon, "Donde esta el golpe de Plena," Cultura, Institute of Puerto
Rican Culture, Ano 4. Num 8, June 2000, pp87-89.
- Los Pleneros De La 21, "Somos Boricuas/We Are Puerto Rican:
Bomba Y Plena En Nueva York," Henry Street 1996. Excellent liner notes by
Roberta L. Singer. [CD]
- Peter Manuel, "Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to
Reggae," Temple University Press, 1995. [Book]
- Smithsonian Folkways, "Puerto Rico in Washington", 1989. [CD]
- See References and Resources
for where to find these treasures and additional suggested reading.
We hold the banner high for Puerto Rico everyday!
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