Puerto Rico is an island with roots of several types of music. One of the most prominent of these is a Spanish folk music called “plena”. Plena is one of Puerto Rico 's oldest forms of folk music (Miller 2004). It was a gateway for political expression among the lower class laborers and slaves of the nation. Today plena reaches out to a new generation, but still remains “el periodico cantado”. (Miller 2004).
The island of Puerto Rico is located between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, just east of the Dominican Republic . A Caribbean island known for it's warm hospitality and “paradise” atmosphere, it has become a destination for numerous travelers. Within the racially mixed community lies a deep, complex culture. With residents from German to Lebanese descent, Puerto Rico offers a unique cultural experience for both visitors and residents. Though a U.S. territory, the residents here have been known for their tremendous pride in their island. Puerto Rico has been noted for it's rich foods, tropical landscape, and of course it's many types of music. One of the well-known musical genres in Puerto Rico is called plena.
Puerto Rico is one of the smallest Caribbean islands and the most eastern. It has what would be considered a tropical climate. The weather is warm and sunny for most of the year and daily temperature are usually around 80 degrees ( welcome.topuertorico.org ).
Puerto Rico is an extremely mountainous island. In the regional coasts of the island one can find landscaping varying from rainforests to deserts to beaches. Another feature of the island are the caves found in an area called Cueva del Inferno. Within the rainforests there are several thousand plant species and wildlife.
Plena originated in the city of Ponce about 100 years ago. According to musicofpuertorico.com , it encompasses strong West African roots and is influenced by various European styles of music. It became popular in the early 20 th century, especially in the sugarcane growing areas in southern Puerto Rico .
This music style resulted from the interactions between farmers, sugarcane field workers, slaves and their music. Plena became a musical outlet for peasants and slaves to express the hardships of their lives. Called “el periodico cantado” (the sung newspaper), Plena artists have been known to use this music to address political issues and current events. It shows “details pains and ironies of the people and life in their communities” ( welcome.topuertorico.com ). but Plena is not only used as a political outlet, one can also find songs that are humorous and fun.
The main instrument of Plena music is the pandero, which is a small, tambourine-like drum.(Bloch 1973). One will hear guitar, the maraca, and conga drum when listening to the upbeat sounds of Plena. Another very important instrument is the guiro. The guiro is a scraped out gourd that is used to play the fixed rhythm that the soloist will usual follow. This rhythm is important because of the “call and response” structure of this music. There is usually one soloist and a chorus of about two to three members. Sometimes there will also be dancers moving to the rhythm of the music.]
Today, Plena is no longer considered “old folk music”. Contemporary artists, such as Willie Colon and Plena Libre, have taken Plena into a new, urban era. Mixing the original style of the pandero drum, guitar, and maraca with salsa and wind instruments, artists have re-introduced Plena to younger generations in Puerto Rico . (Cobo 2004).
Plena has survived for years in Puerto Rico . It is as much part of the people's heritage as it was 100 years ago. The music not only is used for entertainment, but can be used an education tool to look at the struggle and up rise of the people of Puerto Rico . It is still used to as an outlet to express feelings on political and life issues and will continue to serve that purpose into future generations.
Bloch, Peter. “La-le-lo-lai; Puerto Rican music and its performers”. Plus Educational Publishers 1973
Cobo, Leila. “Latin Notas”. Billboard 2004. Vol 113 Issue 33 p.32
Miller, Marilyn. “Plena and the Negotiation of “National” Identity in Puerto Rico ”. Central Journal. Spring 2004 Vol 16 Issue 1 p 36.
Vega Drouet, Hector. “ Historical and ethnological survey on probable African origins of the Puerto Rican bomba : including a description of Santiago Apostol festivities at Loíza Aldea / Hector Vega Drouet 1979
This song is available on LP in the Amos Music Library at Miami University. The record, "Folk Songs of Puerto Rico" can be checked out overnight or one can listen to it inside the library. For more contemporary versions of plena music please visit: