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Ladislao Martínez, "Maestro Ladí"
Legendary exponent of our national instrument 

Perhaps the most distinguished figure in the history of the cuatro instrument, and as well, one of the most distinguished Puerto Rican musician of all times, was Ladislao Martínez Otero--known as Maestro Ladí. He created a new way of listening to the cuatro. He came to compose, especially for the cuatro, around 1,500 musical pieces, among them danzas, mazurcas, valses, South American genres, even rock and bossa nova. By choosing the ten-string cuatro as his preferred instrument--playing it on the radio and thus being heard around the Island up until the end of the 1930s--he is thought to have precipitated the decline and eventual disappearance of the old four and eight-string variants across the Island.  Ladí inspired generations of master cuatristas who followed him, who consider him the "trunk of the tree of cuatro musicians."

The venerated Puerto Rican interpreter and composer was born in the Espinosa sector of Vega Alta on the 27th of June of 1898, the child of simple country-folk. He began his career playing the guitar with his brother, Encarnación. Jesús M. Rivera writes:

It was the time when Ladislao Martínez began to open a path for himself, a young composer, barely 21 years of age who began to play for dances in the picturesqe neighborhood where lived with his parents in Vega Alta. He was usually paid $1.50 and $2.00 for each dance that he performed in. It was hard to play an entire night and then refused payment that had been promised. There were times when his father had to intervene to demand for his son's payment.

His first teachers on the cuatro were Joaquín Rivera Gandía and Carlos Soriano.

In 1921 he arrives in San Juan, impeccably dressed in white from tip to toe, in search of his future in music, and establishes his residence there in Calle Luna. There, in the largest city on the Island, he forms his first important group, the Trio Ladi. He played cuatro in this early group with his brother Encarnación ("Cachón") accompanying him on the guitar and with the rhythms provided by the legendary guiro player Patricio Rijos, who would later become known across the Island as "Toribio". J.M Rivera writes:

Upon recluting Toribio for his first trio, he was already poised for success, because Toribio had previoulsy performed as percussion musician for the most famous orchestras and bands of San Juan that used to play the popular "retreta" performances in the Plaza de Armas of Old San Juan.

In the year 1922 radio begins on the Island with the inauguration of radio station WKAQ--the fifth in the world and second in Latin America. During the station's inaugural events, Ladí plays with his group, becoming the first cuatrista ever heard on the radio in Puerto Rico.

In 1927, Ladí decided to fuse his trio with the Grupo Aurora, made up of the great composer, singer and guitarist Felipe R. Goyco ("Don Felo"), Moncho Dávila, Juan Cotto, Yayo García, the great Claudio Ferrer (who then was just a kid from Bayamón who sang décimas and played the guiro, and who entered the group on Juan Cotto's recommendation) and Ernestico Mantilla. The groups was named after the Cruz de la Aurora festivals that were celebrated near Trolley Stop 21 in Santurce. Originally the Grupo Aurora was organized by the promoter don Ernesto Vigoreaux to advertise La Colectiva cigarettes.

Ladi's first recorded composition was "Mi vida" [My Life], recorded on the RCA label and sung by Fausto Delgado with the group of Manuel "Canario" Jiménez in 1930. Between 1930 and 1931 he records for the German label Brunswick, the following recordings: "En mi carro te espero", [I Await in my Car] by don Felo; "Alma boricua" [Boricua Soul], by Clodomiro Rodríguez; "Linda serrana" [Pretty mountain girl], by Don Felo; "Noche de algodón" [Cotton Night], of Julio Alvarado; "El seis dorado" [Seis of Dorado], by Ladi, and other.

Around 1934, Ladi brings together several members of the Grupo Aurora to play on two radio programs, "Jíbaros de la Radio", and later, "Industrias Nativas", naming the group Conjunto Industrias Nativas. The group is originally made up of Ladi, Don Felo, Toribio, and the cuatrista Juan Cotto [note that Ladi's later groups included a second and even a third cuatrista beside himself). Singers were Jesús Ríos Robles, "Chuíto el de Cayey," and later, the young Jesús Sánchez Erazo, known as "Chuíto el de Bayamón." Other musicians that played with the group over the years were the guitarist Virquín Rivera and the cuatristas Pascual Meléndez, Leocadio Vizcarrondo and Iluminado Dávila. When don Felo dies, the great guitarist Apolo Ocasio,  Ladí's nephew, replaces him

In 1936, after Ladi's cuatrista Juan Cotto quit, an unknown public-auto driver named Sarrail Archilla was recluted as a replacement by the program's producer, William Colón. The entry of Archilla into Ladi's group is an historic event: their duo playing later caused the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture to name them "the greatest exponents of Puerto Rican folkloric music." 

During the end of the 1930s and at the beginning of 1940, Ladi forms the Conjunto Típico Ladí with Sarrail Archilla on first cuatro and Apolo Ocasio on guitar. Singers for this group were Felix Castrillón, Jesús Rios Robles, "Chuíto el de Cayey", and Jesús Sánchez, "Chuíto el de Bayamón". Even the great Ramito came to sing with this group of Ladi's, creating together the first recording of his career in 1939.

In 1945 Ladí travels to and settles in New York City, becoming a vital part of the musical scene of those times. In New York he continues the Conjunto Típico Ladí concept, but with Neri Orta as his first cuatrista (Ladí always played second cuatro in his duos) and with several different guitarists. 

He returned to Puerto Rico in 1965 and rejoined the old members of the Conjunto Típico, Sarrail Archilla and Polo Ocasio and in this configuration he continued playing until his death in San Juan on February 1, 1979.

After the great artist's death, Sarrail Archilla y Apolo Ocasio keep Ladi's legacy alive, keeping the Conjunto Ladi active with the induction of today's senior master,  Modesto Nieves in 1983.

An interview with Ladí
Here is a transcription of a radio interview made in 1978 with Ladi and Abelardo Díaz Alfaro (not translated yet)


Ladislao Martínez (1898-1979)

                                               Photo courtesy of Ansonia Records

Foxtrot El Gallo, la Gallina, y la Guinea (The Rooster, the Chicken and the Guinea Hen--entire piece)






Ladi and Grupo Aurora

Ladi (center) with the Grupo Aurora with the great guitarist Felipe Goyco, "Don Felo"  (behind him at his left) around 1930-31. The other musicians were: Ramón "Moncho" Dávila, Claudio Ferrer, Juan Cotto, Yayo García y Ernestico Mantilla. Listen to Grupo Aurora sing with Ladi soloing on the cuatro:

Guaracha Presentación (Presentation) Courtesy
        Antonio and David Morales collection





Ladi and Conjunto Industrias Nativas

Grupo Ladi 1950s.jpg

Ladi's Conjunto Industrias Nativas, circa 1940.  From left to right: Patricio "Toribio" Rijos, guiro; Felipe "Don Felo" Rosario Goyco, guitar; Sarrail Archilla, first cuatro; Ladislao "Ladi" Martínez, second cuatro; Jesús  Ríos Robles, "Chuito el de Cayey", singer. Jesus Sánchez, "Chuíto el de Bayamón", later sang for the group and can be heard in the following examples:

Listen to the Conjunto Industrias Nativas :

Conjunto Industrias Nativas with Chuíto el de Bayamón: El Día de los Sorullos

Conjunto Industrias Nativas with Chuíto el de Bayamón: Para el Año Nuevo


Conjunto Típico Ladi

El Maestro Ladi y su Conjunto durante la década de 1950. De Izquierda a derecha: Felix Castrillon, cantante; Apolo Ocasio, guitarra; Sarrail Archilla, primer cuatro; El Maestro Ladi, 2do cuatro.    Foto cortesia Discos Ansonia

Conjunto Típico Ladí play the valsAurora

Conjunto Típico Ladí play the vals  Irisí  (fragment)

Conjunto Típico Ladí with Chuíto el de Bayamón: 
          Hablan de Ti    (fragment)
Courtesy of Antonio y David Morales Collection

Maestro Ladi with Sarrail Archilla and Polo Ocasio, with Pascual Meléndez playing third cuatro
                                       Photo courtesy Sanz family of Toa Alta, PR

Conjunto Típico Ladí in New York

The Maestro in New York with Neri Ortaon first cuatro

Conjunto Típico Ladi with Neri Orta: Ser Boricua es un Honor

Conjunto Típico Ladí (final phase)

Ladi with Polo Ocasio and Sarriel Archilla back in Puerto Rico in his group's final configuration before his death in 1979.

The Conjunto Típico Ladi continues after the great Maestro Ladi passes away with the entry of the great Modesto Nieves as first cuatrista en 1983. The group finally disbands upon Sarrail Archilla's death in Archilla en 1995.