Plena Libre, |
(Times Square, 2004)
I dare you not to dance, or at least twitch your shoulders a little. Go ahead and try it. You won't last long. The newest release from Puerto Rico's rising star folk band, Plena Libre, is too bright and merry and vivid for silent appreciation. Estamos Gozando! is born and bred for dancing, for swirling bright skirts and thick crowds and parties filled with the promise of an exciting time.
For the uninitiated, Plena Libre plays a traditional form of Puerto Rican folk music known as bomba y plena -- two genres that are inextricably linked together by tradition and the inevitable marriage of dance (from bomba) and the merry call-and-response vocal style of plena. Bomba y plena have a pastiche of musical influences, but most folks agree that they started in Africa, since both grew popular amongst slaves and peasantry in the sugar-growing areas of Puerto Rico.
Estamos Gozando! showcases the facets of this resurging musical style well. All the songs pulse with rich Afro-Caribbean drumbeats, especially "Olvidalo." Others, like "Canario Blanco," have French-Caribbean influences, with a thread of accordian strung through the melody. Several songs shout out plena's lyrical origins as "el periodico cantado" -- sung newspaper, a living newscast of the poor's daily lives. Listen to the sensual horns on "Que Buena Son Las Mujeres" to see how the instrumental music sets up the headline's tone, hinting at a juicy, gossipy story to come. Others, like "Charlatan," tell tales of sadness or satire, hidden like shadows in the sunny rhythms and bright notes. But all the songs open a window into a section of American music we seldom see, one whose curtains anyone wanting to learn and dance ought to part.