February 26, 2019


Grammy-nominated group to bring Puerto Rican genres to new generation

Chicago (Hyde Park) – Contemporary masters Plena Libre have been appointed the Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Chicago for the 2019-20 season. 

Nominated for multiple Grammys and Latin Grammys, Plena Libre has earned acclaim for taking the once dormant style of plena music and reclaiming it for a new generation across a 25-year, 15-album career. The Puerto Rican-based ensemble will have a strong presence across the campus and Chicago community during three residency weeks in the upcoming season.

Plena Libre succeeds the female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock, currently in residence for the 2018-19 season. The group will participate in a rich variety of events and programs, including concerts, workshops and coaching sessions with music students and moderated public discussions.

“The University is honored to welcome Plena Libre as the Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence,” said David Levin, Senior Advisor to the Provost for Arts. “We look forward to sharing the distinctive musical style of Puerto Rico through a wide variety of adventurous and creative programming.”

Plena Libre features three vocalists singing in three- and four-part harmonies to complement the group’s danceable, Afro-Rican compositions. Current ensemble members include Gary Nuñez, founder, music director and bassist; Antoinette Rodriguez, singer, dancer and percussion; Victor Velez, singer and hand drums; Luisga Nuñez, chorus and percussion; and Rafael Falu, requinto. 

“We are very excited to be coming back to Chicago once again,” said Gary Nuñez. “We have made many friends in the area and have developed some great fans performing there multiple times over the years and are thrilled to bring our plena and bomba rhythms to the University of Chicago and around the city. Hasta pronto!”

Plena Libre infuses their contemporary Caribbean compositions with a deep sense of the unique indigenous musical traditions, which developed in Puerto Rico over a century ago. Unlike salsa bands, who usually only have two singers, Plena Libre’s multiple vocalists offer the musical representation of a traditional community gathering.

The group has toured internationally, with notable performances at the MoroccanFes Festival in 2008, the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl that same year and the World Music Festival Chicago in 2013. Plena Libre have worked with some of the biggest names in Latin music, like Eddie Palmieri, Papo Lucca and Nestor Torres. 

“The Music Department is thrilled to welcome the residency of Plena Libre to the University of Chicago Campus as the Don Michael Randel Ensemble,” said Berthold Hoeckner, Chair of the Department of Music. “We are super excited that our first ensemble of Latin music will have its debut with this multiple Grammy Award-nominated group. Students will have opportunities to interact with the ensemble in classes, workshops, concerts with the University Symphony Orchestra and UChicago Presents, and events co-sponsored by the Logan Center, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the International House.”

The residency was established with a gift from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to honor its departing president and noted musicologist, Don Michael Randel, who served as the 12th president of the University of Chicago and is an emeritus faculty member in the Department of Music. The funding supports an acclaimed musical ensemble for up to three years, providing a permanent home for world-class musicians to engage with the University and Hyde Park communities. 

Further information about Plena Libre’s residency concerts and events will be announced later in 2019. Visit music.uchicago.edufor information. To learn more about Plena Libre, visit plenalibre.com