Memories of Yomo from Chicago
by Carlos Flores
Chicago coordinator of the
Puerto Rican Cuatro Project
On Saturday, June 30th, 2012, Yomo Toro (Victor Guillermo Toro Vega Rodriguez Acosta) passed away. Yomo was a legendary virtuoso string-instrument player, who for decades entertained audiences throughout the world playing the cuatro, the "national instrument" of Puerto Rico. He played the role of a true ambassador by introducing the traditional Jíbaro music of Puerto Rico to audiences throughout the world. For over five decades he also contributed to the development of the great Afro-Cuban/ Afro-Latin music movement in New York City and around the world.
Every time Yomo took the stage his performances astonished old and new fans, and they truly admired his playing. His fan base in the Midwest Region always supported his presence, a fan base extending through Chicago, Illinois, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, etc.
I first caught my first glimpse of Yomo when he performed with the Fania All-Stars, in the Summer of 1973, at the Chicago’s International Amphitheater, no longer standing. I became an instant fan.
In 1998, I collaborated with the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project among others, to present the First Puerto Rican Cuatro Conference/Festival in Chicago. The festival/conference was held at Roberto Clemente Academy on November 8, 1998. Yomo was the main headliner, along with Edwin & Bill Colon Zayas, Alvin Medina, Chicago’s Puerto Rican Cuatro Orchestra, and others. Yomo’s performance (along with his jokes) was truly amazing, and it contributed to the creation of an annual Puerto Rican Cuatro Festival in Chicago. This festival continues to be held every November in Chicago.
My most vivid memory of Yomo took place in the year 2001 when we began planning the Third Puerto Rican Cuatro Festival in Chicago (the festival was not held in 1999). On February 4, 2001, the legendary Cuatro virtuoso, Tomas Rivera Morales (a.k.a. “Maso Rivera”) passed away. Organizers of the event decided to dedicate the festival to Maso, and given the great relationship between Maso & Yomo, it was only appropriate to invite Yomo to perform at this special event. The festival was schedule to be held on Friday, November 9th, 2001, at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History.
A preliminary agreement had been established with Yomo to participate in the event, and the program also included Prodigio Claudio, the Chicago Puerto Rican Cuatro Orchestra, and troubadour Jose “El Pollo de Naranjito” Ortiz. We began to advertise the event, and tickets began to sell. However, several weeks before the actual event we received word from Yomo that he had a scheduling conflict, and could not perform at the event. He had made a commitment to perform with Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends, on the same date and the same time of the Cuatro Festival event. The interesting thing about the Larry Harlow performance was that it was to be held in Chicago. We immediately replace Yomo with Edwin Colon Zayas. I know that Yomo was disappointed with the cancellation of his presentation, especially when his late friend (Maso Rivera) was being honored.
At the event we had reproduced a large image banner (photograph) of Maso Rivera, and placed it above the stage. It was magical because it seemed and felt as if Maso was present. As the master of ceremony of the festival, I announced to the audience that unfortunately Yomo had over-booked himself, and will not be performing at tonight’s event. Many people were disappointed, but the show went on as schedule with some great performances by the invited artist.
In memory of Maso Rivera, we presented a short video clip of an interview conducted by the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project in Maso’s home in Puerto Rico. That interview segment can be viewed in the DVD produced by the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project, entitled, “Nuestro Cuatro, Volume 2, Un Concierto Historico” ). The DVD also includes interviews with Yomo Toro, Nieves Quintero, Tuto Feliciano, Roque Navarro, and other cuatro greats.
An incredible moment occurs in the video when Maso at the end of the interview waves good-bye and sends a message to Yomo: “Me le dan recuerdos a mi hermano Yomo” [Send my regards to my brother Yomo].
I had finished presenting Edwin Colon Zayas (Yomo’s replacement at the festival), and I decided to take a breather outside of the museum, and all of a sudden I see Yomo himse, with his Cuatro case in his hand being accompanied by a young man who drove him to the museum: I was totally blown away! My instincts were that Yomo felt bad about canceling his presentation, and he was going to do whatever it took to say “PRESENTE”.
As I lead Yomo to the performer’s waiting area, he wanted to take a peek at the audience, so I took him to the side of the stage while Edwin Colon Zayas was performing. All of a sudden Yomo decides to walk on stage with his coat and hat on, carrying his Cuatro case, during Edwin’s performance. The audience went wild, and Yomo made us all look like organizing geniuses. The audience truly felt that Yomo’s presence was all planned.
For the last event performance we brought out Yomo, and sat him in a chair, right below Maso’s banner. To Yomo’s right was Prodigio Claudio, and to his left was Edwin Colon Zayas, and an incredible Cuatro performance summit took place. As I watched the performance I could not help noticing the symbolism that was taking place on stage: Maso Rivera looking down on Yomo sitting down on the throne as King of the Cuatro, along with the members of the Royal Cuatro Family standing alongside. It was truly an incredible moment!
The other incredible moment of the evening took place in the performer’s rest area, when Yomo was shown the video clip of Maso’s interview [ed. which he had missed]. When Yomo heard Maso’s personal message, he could not hold his emotion and began to weep. At that moment we all felt the love that was shared by these two enormous icons.
Yomo, thank you for the great memories, and you did a marvelous job entertaining countless generations of individuals who learned to appreciate you and the music you shared with them. May your soul and spirit rest in peace!
Puerto Rican Chicago
Yomo at the First Chicago Puerto Rican Cuatro Festival, Chicago, Illinois (November 8, 1998)
Yomo with the Fania All-Stars, Chicago, Illinois (August 1973)
(© Carlos Flores Photographs 2012)
The First Annual Puerto Rican Cuatro Festival held in Chicago's Roberto Clemente Academy, Chicago, Illinois November 8, 1998) Yomi Matos backs Yomo on segundo cuatro; Pucho Matos on electric bass, Roberto Rivera on guiro and Ruben Figueroa on segunda guitarra.
(© Carlos Flores Photographs 2012)
Yomo's second Chicago Cuatro Festival appearance:
Yomo performing at the Third Annual Puerto Rican Cuatro Festival, alongside Prodigio Claudio & Edwin Colon Zayas, with Ruben Figueroa and Pucho Matos backing them, in Chicago's Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois (November 9, 2001) (© Carlos Flores Photographs 2012)
Yomo weeps after seeing the video clip of Maso Rivera sending him his regards. Maso had passed away in February. Guitarist Ruben Figueroa and cuatrista Prodigio Claudio console him.
Chicago, Illinois (November 9, 2001). (© Carlos Flores Photographs 2012)