On the night of June 25, the sounds of Puerto Rican plena, bomba, and Afro-Latin jazz echoed from the Smithsonian Folklife Competition’s Ralph Rinzler Stage, as dozens of stellar musicians from Puerto Rico, New York, and California gathered to have fun the life and the loves of Héctor René “Tito” Matos Otero. The concert traced and interpreted the numerous aesthetics of plena, an Afro-Puerto Rican folks music apply, that Tito, a consummate plenero, educator, and group chief who handed away instantly in early 2022, not solely mastered however additionally helped affect. Every track introduced all through the night was both written by Tito, made fashionable by Tito, recorded with Tito, or created in his voice and spirit.
However these performances weren’t merely a commemoration of Tito and his life’s work. It was a labor of affection and a gathering area for therapeutic, as each musician on stage thought of Tito greater than a instructor or a bandmate. He was their pal. And true to Tito’s power—one far too giant and charismatic to be contained—the musicians continued bellowing their call-and-response refrains in procession, from the stage and onto the grounds of the Nationwide Mall, becoming a member of tons of of Competition guests in a closing descarga (musical launch), singing plenas properly into the recent summer time night time.
Whereas the music was unbelievable, maybe the most important highlights of the night had been the areas in between the songs and units. On the two forty-foot LED screens flanking the stage, a sequence of brief movies supplied vignettes and intimate moments of affection and recollections shared by Mariana Reyes Angleró and Marcelo Matos Otero, Tito’s widow and youngest son.
Shot on the grounds of La Casa de la Plena Tito Matos—Tito and Mariana’s newest, and final, challenge—the movies present a novel introspection into Tito’s spirit and unwavering dedication to safeguard and showcase the resilience of la plena and his hometown group of San Mateo de Cangrejos, a neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Mariana and Marcelo’s phrases, smiles, quiet moments of reflection, and at occasions watery eyes supplied equal moments of solemnity and inspiration.
What was clear to many was that whereas Tito’s void was palpable, his legacy and work proceed on, particularly by the efforts of La Casa de la Plena de Tito Matos, a individuals’s archive, studying, and performing area of los angeles plena. Libertad Guerra, a lifelong pal to each Tito and Mariana, masterfully linked the movies with the musical performances because the night’s emcee. Her passionate oration spoke of moments and milestones of Tito’s forty-year profession, bringing the viewers to snicker, cry, and cheer with delight.
Sure, the night was a labor of affection—one deserving of a man whose voice, work, and legacy emanates from Cangrejos and spans throughout the globe. And as Marcelo, solely eight years outdated, traversed the live performance grounds all night—hanging out together with his father’s buddies backstage, taking part in his pandero drum on stage, lastly watching himself and pictures of his mother and father on the large display screen, and operating by the grass, laughing alongside the way in which—there was little question that Tito Matos’ spirit and la plena están asegurados—are assured.
Julia L. Gutiérrez-Rivera, a Smithsonian Folklife Competition contractor since 2019, curated the celebration live performance and brief movies. Julia is a second-generation practitioner and instructor of bomba and plena music. As the daughter of Juan Gutiérrez, founder and director of Los Pleneros de la 21, a gaggle Tito was a longtime member of, Julia and Tito had been shut pals, having shared many levels, songs, and laughter collectively for over fifteen years.