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Plenazo Y Bombazo! The Music Of Puerto Rico Comes To Dudley Square

Jorge Arce y Raiz de Plena practice for Saturday's festival. (Simón Rios/WBUR)
Jorge Arce y Raiz de Plena practice for Saturday's festival. (Simón Rios/WBUR)
This article is more than 7 years old.

Plena and bomba — two of the traditional musical styles of Puerto Rico. Both are deeply rooted in the island's African history — heavy on percussion and dance — and this Saturday Bostonians will get a chance to see them performed live in a concert called Plenazo y Bombazo.

"We're trying to bring back the roots," said Jim "Mondongo" Messbauer, one of three brass players in the band Jorge Arce y Raiz de Plena that performs Saturday.

Jorge Arce y Raiz de Plena will play alongside Bomba Sankofa in a free concert in Dudley Square.

Plenazo y Bombazo is organized by Roxbury-based musician and teacher Jorge Arce. Arce said the event is an alternative to Columbus Day, challenging the notion of the European "discovery" and emphasizing instead the "meeting of cultures."

"We're playing plena," said Messbauer, the trombonist, after rehearsing with the group in Jamaica Plain. "Plena is the message, plena is the news. Plena was a method of a communication at a time when communication was very limited."

The Encyclopedia of Latin American Popular Music defines plena as a dance music genre that is "Puerto Rico's foremost synthetic folk and popular expression."

One of the songs the group will perform Saturday is "Se Escapó el Leon," or "The Lion Escaped."

"It's about a lion that escaped from... the Mayagüez Zoo in the west side of the island," said Arce.

"I remember I was a child, and there was news that a lion had escaped from there," he said. "And the people — because the plena is a people's newspaper — they composed immediately a song about that escape."

Jorge Arce y Raiz de Plena practice for Saturday's festival. (Simón Rios/WBUR)
Jorge Arce y Raiz de Plena practice for Saturday's festival. (Simón Rios/WBUR)

Arce's daughter Charmaine Santiago will also be there Saturday, playing with nine other musicians in the band Bomba Sankofa.

Bomba was developed by slaves during the days of Spanish colonialism. It's a tradition primarily of dance and drumming. The Latin music encyclopedia goes on to say "there are between 27 and 52 different genres and substyles that fit under the umbrella of bomba."

The public is invited to bring drums — and willing vocal chords — to play along.

Messbauer has been playing plena and salsa music for 30 years. He said it's all about interactivity. "You need the dancers and the crowd."

"It's Boricua and everybody feels it in their bones, and everybody knows and so they all sing along, they all dance and they all participate. It's just amazing."

Here's a video of Bomba Sankofa:

Plenazo y Bombazo is free and will take place Saturday, Oct. 10, from 2 to 5 p.m in the public parking lot in Dudley Square, across from 2201 Washington St. In case of rain, the event will move indoors to Hibernian Hall at 184 Dudley St.

Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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