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THE PUERTO RICAN CUATRO PROJECT

Cultural archives                Folkloric research              Cultural Events 


poster by Rafael Rivera Rosa

My Music

an exhibition of Puerto Rican
traditional instruments

From the Casa Paoli collection
Museo de las Américas in Old San Juan
opening December 6, 2014


ANNOUNCING AN IMPORTANT
NEW CONTRIBUTION TO
PUERTO RICAN CULTURAL HISTORY!



STRINGS OF MY LAND: A History of Puerto Rico's native stringed instruments: Cuatro, Tiple, Vihuela and Bordonua.

Hardcover, 300 pages, 350 photos and diagrams
In Spanish, including a 15-page chapter summary
of its content in English

A PRODUCTION OF THE PUERTO RICAN CUATRO PROJECT
NOW AVAILABLE

The culmination of 22 years of field research and oral history in the field of Puerto Rican folkloric music and music craft traditions.
 
"This book is the most complete encyclopedia of our native stringed instruments": Nestor Murray Irizarry, director Center of Puerto Rican Folkloric Investigations, Casa Paoli, Ponce PR.

ORDERING INFORMATION HERE


Eugenio Méndez:
Remembering a great maker 
of the Puerto Rican cuatro


Eugenio Méndez four months before his passing in 2003                       Photo by  Xiaomin Xiong

Spurred by the recent receipt of this wonderful photograph of the great builder, we pause to remember the passing of the man believed by many to be Puerto Rico's finest cuatro maker—precisely 10 years ago this December. Read about his craft in his own words here.
 


In memoriam for a great Puerto Rican icon

The Highbridge section of the Bronx celebrated the street re-naming of Ogden Avenue on 162nd & Summit to YOMO TORO PLACE on Saturday, July 27, 2013 on what would've been the King of the Cuatro's 80th birthday.  Known as the Jimi Hendrix of the small, ten stringed Puerto Rican cuatro, the "funky Jibaro" (hillbilly) was an icon of Puerto Rican culture and a Fania All-Star bringing the national instrument of the island into the commercial "salsa" world with his many recordings and compositions.
      It was the love of his daughter Denise Toro the engine for organizing this event in three weeks with no budget but with the help of a community and Yomo Toro's friends in the industry the small Bronx street that a superstar called home was re-ignited with the excitement, joy, and hope that many brought with them on this day. 
Even Paul Simon sent this statement:  “Yomo Toro was the fastest left-hander since Randy Johnson and Johnson couldn't play "Quitate Tu" or "Asalto Navideño" on the cuatro even if he wore a red felt hat. God bless Yomo Toro. May his street be as joyful and wondrous as his music. “
     Orq. Broadway's Eddy Zervigon sent a statement as well as Oscar Hernandez of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Adalberto Santiago sent a recorded message as well as the noted Fania All-Star em cee: Paco Navarro.  Ismael Miranda telephoned and spoke live to the crowd as he was patched in through the sound system before the street was unveiled to cheers from the many who attended & spoke about their memories of Yomo Toro.  Among the many were: Jose Alberto, El Canario; Larry Harlow, El Judio Maravilloso; Eddie Montalvo & Nicky Marrero, Jose Mangual Fania All-Star alums; Frankie Morales, Papo Vasquez; Benny Bonilla, Rene Lopez, Johnny Cruz, Chembo Corniel, Bobby Sanabria, Junior Rivera,  and Alex Masucci.  Even Congressman Jose Serrano recalled his days as an em cee at the Bronx's Club Cubano when he would announce and pall around with Yomo Toro alongside Lorraine Montenegro who recalled the many times Yomo would sit all day on two milk crates playing his little guitar next to her mother Evelina Antonetty who was registering Latinos to vote in the Bronx.

 Notes by Aurora Flores

 A video of the event can be found here.  


.

Mario Hernández
(1925-2013)

Representing the third great loss to Puerto Rican culture within barely five months, the gifted elder tresista [tres player] Mario Hernández (born Mario Casanova Clemente in 1925) passed away during the first week of January 2013, ending a long, illustrious career that established in great measure the manner in which his instrument is played today. Over the years we have built an archive of not only the accomplishments of the great master but also a history of the instrument he so wonderfully cultivated.

 Listen to a sample of the great master's work during a solo of the guaracha, Yo no me marcho de aquí [I'm not leaving here] by Mario Hernández and his group Sexteto Borinquen


 Welcome to the Cuatro Project!

We're a small, diverse group of music lovers of Puerto Rican descent who set out almost 20 years ago to discover all we could about the the musical and craft traditions surrounding the entire family of native Puerto Rican stringed musical instruments--with a special focus on the cuatro--the island's "national instrument." This website represents a summary of our twenty years’ (and ongoing) search. Please enjoy, share and participate!


 

What did Puerto Rican music sound like in 1909? 

No, you won't need a time machine to hear Puerto Rican singers and players playing and singing at the beginning of the twentieth century. That's because those real sounds were captured and recorded on wax disks and cylinders--the earliest recording technology. These lay mainly hidden to the public in private collections.

Would you like to hear an early four-string cuatro, or an actual bordonúa, or a tiple--just like they sounded 100 years ago? An expert in the field of early Puerto Rican recorded music, David Morales, is a valued member of our Cuatro Project. Recently he gave us digitized copies of extremely early recordings in wax of early singers and players, which we offer here.


The traditional Puerto jíbaro instrumental ensemble
or "orquesta jíbara" 

Puerto Rico's traditional "orquesta jíbara," from right to left, consists of: guitar, cuatro, güiro (scratch gourd) and bongo. (Jíbaro is a term that refers to early agricultural workers and subsistence farmers who lived predominantly in the island's central hills, considered the creators of the earliest forms of native Puerto Rican musical culture.) The Cuban bongo drum is a relatively modern addition, as is the Spanish guitar. The guitar entered the ensemble in the early 20th century as a replacement for the orchestra's original cumbersome, large, old folk guitars, the bordonúa and the vihuela. During the 19th century the jíbaros also configured their native folk instruments to perform creolized versions of European Salon or "art music"--genres such as the mazurka, waltz and polka. Jíbaros traveling to the towns and cities to sell their produce heard this music, liked it and took it back with them to the hills. They played their own version of these styles on their own stringed instruments configured into a grouping we now call the Orquesta Jíbara Antigua. The Orquesta Jíbara Antigua then comprised a cuatro, a tiple, a bordonua and güiro. The photo above shows a contemporary jíbaro orchestra based in Western Massachusetts, with Junior Martínez on the cuatro and Victor Ríos on the guitar.


The "Queen of the Mapeyé"
remained true to her native cultural traditions
even while living away from the island


The mapeyé is a type of Puerto Rican folk music

Felita Oyola: A life dedicated to art and culture. We regret to note the recent passing of the great Puerto Rican troubadour who preserved our cultural traditions in New York and especially in Boston, Massachusetts, in a career that spanned some sixty years. Felita’s career began with her debut in 1948 in the long-running radio program “Tribuna del Arte” (Showcase of the Arts) hosted by Rafael Quiñones Vidal, who gave her the name “The Queen of the Mapeyé.” Later in her life, accompanied by such famous traditional instrumentalists as Yomo Toro and Nieves Quintero, Felita became an institution in the city of Boston. We have created a page dedicated to this famous artist here.


 Marcelino Quiñones
and his "southern cuatro"
   


                                                                           Photo courtesy Luciano Quiñones

We have just added this beautiful historical photograph to our archive. It shows don Marcelino Quiñones and his "southern" cuatro. Our cuatro has adopted several different shapes during its history. More about Marcelino Quiñones and his cuatro here.


Immediately above is a historic photograph of Eusebio Gonzalez Ocasio, "El Indio de Sábana Grande," playing a transitional cuatro (a cuatro with the 10 metal strings of the modern instrument, but with the early keyhole shape) from an 1898 newspaper. We searched and found his son (an opera singer!!) and interviewed him about his father, whom Efraín Ronda--an early cuatro researcher--called “one of the great cuatristas playing before 1925." 
                                                        digital colorization by William Cumpiano


 

The native stringed instruments
of Puerto Rico...

 

Our small island of Puerto Rico has not only its famous cuatro, but several different kinds of cuatros, plus an entire bouquet of other distinctive string instruments which have all but disappeared. See them all here.

   HIGHLIGHTS

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A prized endorsement:

"I admire your great dedication to your web page and your eagerness to make known our national instrument as well as the musical genres, musicians and composers connected to it."

Luis Manuel Álvarez, ethnomusicologist, University of Puerto Rico


What have we added to our site since your last visit?


We're on


Here you can see clips from our 
Cuatro Project video documentaries!


Accomplishments  of the Cuatro Project--And there are many!

The cuatro's story in a nutshell

Giants of the Cuatro
the great players, young, old; past and present.

New!! Researcher David Morales'  comprehensive Ramito discography


Flor Morales Ramos, "Ramito" was believed by many to be the greatest jíbaro troubadour of all time.


The décima and its great interpreters
The cuatro's main role was to accompany décima singers.
So, what's a décima and who were the great décima singers
?

 


Why is the Cuatro Project necessary?

"Too many of these youngsters think that just putting a Puerto Rican flag on their pants makes them Puerto Rican. We have lost a great deal. We are on the verge of becoming extinct."