Percussionist Héctor “Tito” Matos dies, a bastion of the plena

A report from The Goa Spotlight.

The country’s cultural scene is in mourning. Puerto Rican percussionist musician Hector “Tito” Matos passed away this morning at the age of 53, he confirmed to The new dayhis family. For decades, the exponent specialized in promoting two traditional Puerto Rican rhythms: the bomba and the plena.

This plenero, born in the Río Piedras Medical Center and raised in the Chícharo neighborhood of Parada 25 in Villa Palmeras, in San Mateo de Cangrejos, now known as Santurce, in addition to standing out as a musician with an extensive career, distinguished himself for being a culture manager.

At the moment the causes of his death are unknown. In addition to his wife, Mariana Reyes Angleró, he is survived by three children: Héctor, Celiana and Marcelo.

Ever since his grandfather Felipe gave him a tambourine on Three Kings’ Day, Tito has not stopped playing the instrument which, according to himself, took him to many places in the world. He learned to play the bomba barrels and all the tambourines -including the follower and the plucker- but he specialized in the requinto, becoming one of the most creative requinteros of his generation.

His extensive work took him to stages and festivals around the world, being a member of groups such as Pleneros de la 21 and Pleneros de la 23 Abajo in New York.

Water Wind is the musical project that he founded in New York City in 1996 with the musician brothers Ricardo Pons and Alberto Toro. It is a progressive and contemporary approach to the Afro-Puerto Rican genres of plena and bomba. The group modernized traditional rhythms by including piano, bass, a brass section and, for the first time, a drum set. With this he achieved four record productions with the full band: “De Puerto Rico al Mundo”, “Fruta Madura”, “Opus IV” and “Sonidos Primarios”.

He also founded the group The Island Machine, with which he recorded “Materia Prima”, a back to the roots album featuring the bomba and plena genres, with their original sound using only traditional instruments. With this group -with which he kept working- he offered digital workshops during the pandemicto continue educating and keeping alive the oral tradition of plena and bomba.

Committed to Puerto Rican culture and childhood, in the midst of the global health emergency, he had given virtual plenary workshops for children in order to educate them. His community self-management led him in May of last year to inaugurate “La Casa de la Plena”, an exhibition that preserves the history of the native musical genre in a rescued school in the La Goyco Community Workshop, located on Loíza Street.

This project has a collection of books, crafts, records and photographs that belonged to the late anthropologist and artist Ramon Lopez, along with instruments and other materials curated by Matos, who managed to obtain funds to cover the expenses of the space for a year. The exhibit is also a place for community education—continuing the work of Ramón López—and a research archive on gender.

And it is that, within the work in the plena and the bomb, for Tito it was always important to continue documenting, recording, educating and practicing all the musical forms that identify us and differentiate us from the rest of the cultural traditions of the planet.

As recently as last Saturday, January 15, together with his group, he met at the Community Workshop – La Goyco and together with the collective Water, Sun and Serene they gave life to a small troupe in the Machuchal sector and Loíza street to recreate The San Sebastian Street Festivals.

Along with a group of pleno friends, he was one of the creators of the “Los Plenazos Callejeros” movement, which emerged to create a space to play. The invention became a monthly event that traveled throughout the island, making 71 stops, provoking the pleneros and keeping the street and corner tradition of the plena alive.

In 2015, together with his partner Mariana Reyes Angleró, they created the La Junta cultural space, located on Loíza Street, in the Machuchal neighborhood where he lived. In this there were cinema, theater, workshops and live music was played. In 2017, Hurricane Maria destroyed it.

During recent years, Tito appeared together with other pleneros in what he called “Monday of Plena” in El Boricua, in Río Piedras, where he invited the attendees to bring their instruments and integrate.

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