The Pregones Theater, together with Alex “Apolo” Ayala, a bassist, composer, musical director, and bandleader, did an outstanding job of reimagining the Afro-Puerto Rican repertoire of Los Pleneros de la 21 through the lens of a 25-piece Afro-Puerto Rican Jazz Big Band. Ayala also composed original pieces to celebrate the ensemble’s 40th anniversary and pay tribute to Juan “Juango” Gutiérrez, a co-founder, percussionist, educator, and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow.
Los Pleneros de la 21 is an East Harlem-based performing ensemble and non-profit community organization. They aim to raise awareness and appreciation of Afro-Puerto Rican and related cultural expressions. The Grammy-nominated ensemble has been tirelessly pioneering Bomba and Plena in New York City and worldwide for 40 years.
In the Program Notes, Ayala writes, “This concert encapsulates how I see myself: A Black/Afro-Puerto Rican man who speaks Afro-Puerto Rican and American music languages and brings them together. Like Rafael Cortijo, Edgar Miranda, Angel “Papo” Vazquez, William Cepeda, David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, and one of my heroes, Hector “Tito” Matos did. It so happens that this year is the 40th Anniversary of one of the Afro-Puerto Rican music staples in the world, Los Pleneros de la 21, and I couldn’t think of a better occasion to pay tribute to this iconic organization than to present them with a unique and bold vision: their repertoire in a BIG BAND setting.”
Ayala had a diverse range of musical pieces in his repertoire. This included original compositions such as “3D Plena,” “Bomba Carambomba,” “Bomba Pa’ Ana Luisa,” and “Ngudi.” Additionally, he composed Big Band arrangements of Los Plenero de 21’s famous songs, such as “Somos Boricuas,” “Ola de la Mar,” “Semillero,” “Don Pedro,” “Patria Borinqueña,” and “Puerto Rico.”
Ayala credits vocalist and dancer Julia Gutiérrez-Rivera for convincing Juan Gutiérrez to embrace the unconventional concept. Although Los Plenero de la 21 has previously incorporated brass, piano, and jazz improvisation elements in albums such as “Live at Pregones,” seeing the ensemble perform their extensive repertoire accompanied by a 25-piece big band was electrifying. Furthermore, the collaboration was a smashing success.
The event also showcased the musical talents of reed player, composer, and arranger Ricardo Pons. Additionally, it included an exhibition called “El Imaginario de Los Pleneros de la 21 – Re(Framed),” featuring the works of artists such as Máximo Rafaél Colón, Marisol Díaz, Tom Ehrlich, Hiram Maristany, Andrés Rodríguez, Joséan Viajero Román, and Manny Vega. The artwork above depicts just one of the pieces on display.
The collaboration is a significant boost for traditional Puerto Rican music, which is often undervalued and underrepresented in the media.
Alex “Apolo” Ayala-Berríos, a Puerto Rican bassist, embodies the essence of a multi-lingual musician. He possesses extensive knowledge of both Latin music and Jazz languages, making him one of the few bilingual bassists in the music industry. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he blends his Afro-Caribbean roots with Jazz, which allows him to effortlessly navigate through various genres such as Swing, Bebop, Blues, Bomba, Plena, Rumba, as well as other Latin-American expressions like Samba/Bossa, Tango, Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Colombian, and Afro-Venezuelan.
With over 20 years of professional experience, Alex Ayala has worked with many Latin music legends and renowned jazz artists. His resume includes Grammy nominations, a Latin Grammy award, and performances with Eddie Palmieri, Tito Nieves, Conrad Herwig, and many others. He has also recorded for Puerto Rican rapper Residente.
Ayala has been based out of NYC since 2013, starting music at 11. He graduated with honors from “Escuela Libre de música de Hato Rey,” and earned his BA in Jazz and Caribbean Music from Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music. He leads “The Bámbula Project” and plays with various other bands. He’s the Musical Director of Los Pleneros de la 21, and his acclaimed second album as a leader, “BÁMBULA,” was released in Feb 2022 under Truth Revolution Recording Collective.
THE BIG BAND
Alex “Apolo” Ayala – Bass, Arrangements, Compositions
Silvano Monasterios – Piano
Fernando Garcia – Drums
Jesus Ricardo Anduz Seoane
Juan Gabriel Lakunza
Nelson M. Gonzalez
Julia L. Gutierrez
Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater is an award-winning acting and music ensemble that presents multidisciplinary arts. They also own and maintain bilingual arts facilitiesd Manhattan. Their mission is to celebrate the Puerto Rican/Latinx cultural legacy of universal value through the creation and performance of original plays and musicals, partnerships with other artists of merit, and engagement of diverse audiences. The program they offer all year round is an affordable and attractive opportunity for NYC residents and visitors to access and participate in the arts. in the Bronx an
BAMBULA – Alex “Apolo” Ayala (2022)
LIVE AT PREGONES, 35 YEARS OF BOMBA AND PLENA – Los Pleneros de la 21 (2018)
BREAKOUT! – Papo Vázquez (2008)
RICANO – Jonathan Suazo (2023)
FUSION CARIBENA – Truco & Zaperoko (2017)
EL LABERINTO DEL COCO – Hector “Coco” Barez (2017)
ATABAL – Yo Soy Atabal! (2018)