Grammy-nominated Plena Libre appointed ensemble-in-residence

Contemporary group to bring Puerto Rican genres to UChicago community

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 the upcoming season.

They will hold their first residency from Nov. 4-8 and return for a second stint from March 2-7, 2020. Plena Libre’s final visit, which starts on April 28, 2020, will conclude with a UChicago Presents concert on May 3.

The group succeeds the female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock, currently in residence for the 2018-19 season. During their residency, Plena Libre 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. The group has toured internationally and has worked with some of the biggest names in Latin music, including Eddie Palmieri, Papo Lucca and Nestor Torres.

“We are very excited to be coming back to Chicago once again,” said Gary Nuñez, the group’s founder. “We’ve developed some great fans performing there multiple times over the years and are excited to bring our plena and bomba rhythms to the University of Chicago and around the city.”

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

“We are super excited that our first ensemble of Latin music will have its debut with this multiple Grammy Award-nominated group,” said Berthold Hoeckner, chair of the Department of Music. “Students will have opportunities to interact with the ensemble in concerts, classes and workshops, and in 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 Prof. Emeritus Don Michael Randel, a noted musicologist, who served as the 12th president of the University of Chicago. 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 for information.

—This story first appeared on the UChicago Arts website.