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Bomba and Plena with Juan and Julia

Genre and Artist Overview

Bomba and plena stand at the core of Afro–Puerto Rican music. They are often grouped together, but each has its own trajectory and musical identity. Bomba is said to be one of the oldest musical expressions of the Americas, dating back 500 years with direct connection to the African ancestry of enslaved people. Plena is a product of the early 20th century, growing amid a developing sense of Puerto Rican national identity. Both have been used to voice freedom, individuality, cultural affirmation, and even labor reform. As such, bomba and plena are considered to be the main vehicles that express Puerto Rican resistance, resilience, and pride.

Juan, who also goes by Juango, is the founder of Los Pleneros de la 21. Since 1983, the group has been fusing the traditional rhythms and dance of bomba and plena with contemporary and urban styles, like son, salsa, jazz, and hip-hop. The group inspired the creation of dozens of bomba and plena bands in the US. Julia is Juan’s youngest daughter. She has dedicated herself to continuing this tradition and has become a well-respected bomba and plena dancer and educator.

Meet Juan and Julia!

Introduce your students to Juan and Julia with this “Meet Juan and Julia!” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Juan and Julia and the other Spring Semester artists.


People wave flags along a parade route
Lesson 1: Learning “Estoy Buscando un Árbol”
Students will learn about the rhythms and instruments used in a bomba song, and learn about the relationship of dance to music.
An old car driving in a parade
Lesson 2: Learning “Ola de la Mar”
Students will explore the rhythms and instruments used in a plena song, and learn about the social context of plena music.

Resources for Teachers

The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.



Literacy Extension

New York City Resources

  • Puerto Ricans are the longest-standing Latinx group in New York City. There is not one Puerto Rican neighborhood but many, and they are often referred to differently in Spanish than in English.
    • El Barrio (Spanish Harlem), Manhattan
    • Loisaida (Lower East Side), Manhattan
    • El Sur del Bronx (South Bronx), Bronx
    • Los Sures (Brooklyn Navy Yard), Brooklyn
  • Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, Los Pleneros de la 21’s headquarters with weekly events in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem), Manhattan
  • El Museo del Barrio in Harlem, Manhattan
  • Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in Harlem, Manhattan
  • Casita Rincón Criollo (also known as La Casita de Chema) in the Bronx, New York
  • Pregones Theater / Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in Midtown, Manhattan
  • BomPlenazo Fest, biennial festival by the Hostos Center for Arts and Culture in the Bronx, New York
  • Clemente Soto Velez Center / Teatro SEA in in Loisaida (Lower East Side), Manhattan
Image Credits

“Puerto Rican Day Parade” by Boss Tweed is licensed by CC BY 2.0.
“The 56th Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade” by kowarski  is licensed by CC BY 2.0.

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