Tomás Rivera Morales, Maso!
"..the cuatro lives in me. And I live in the cuatro."
Maso Rivera and his group circa 1950 Photo courtesy www.masorivera.com
One of our favorite compositions of Maso's: a aguinaldo in the form of a Quinto al Aire, Isla de Encanto [Isle of Enchantment] by Maso, accompanied by the voice of Cholo Rosario
Fragments from an interview with
My name is Tomás Rivera Morales. Maso. Maso Rivera. I was born in the Alatea neighborhood of Toa Alta. On the 13th of November of 1927. My father's name, Ramón Rivera Nieves; my mother, Secundina Morales Rolón. There are about ten or twelve siblings. I can't remember them all. They're too many. And all funny-looking.
I began to play the cuatro at the age of five. The cuatro then was square-shaped. It had four strings. I took up the cuatro because that's all there was, there was nothing else to do. Besides, things were such, I used to take a string and tie it to a hook on the shed, over there, and [plucked] the string...and not a real string. Do you know what it was? A cord...made of leather. Before, strings were made of leather. Yes, of leather.
My motivation was...everybody's playing the cuatro except me. So what's my excuse? Get it? Right. When one starts coming of age, leaving childhood behind, one starts wising up, and starts to see that he who has talents gets paid. So then one tries to get paid, too. Get it? Even though the dances that I use to play didn't pay more than ten bucks. Nowadays, it's a gold mine. Indeed, an egg then cost a penny. But you had to lay an egg to get that penny. How about that?
If those moments could come back, back-- when I played in the velorios, that music: cuatro, guitar, and güiro. There was nothing else, not even trumpets, or flutes. And there were those who said that the cuatro would fade away because trumpets showed off better. But for the jÌbaro: never, never, never... The décima without a cuatro just doesn't make it, no matter if you got twenty trumpets or twenty flutes, or whatever. No offense intended to anyone. But each day that goes by my cuatro feels even more Puerto Rican.
Ah, I wish all that would return, but it won't. I can't go back and retrieve what I've left behind, 'cause I don't what happened to it...and spoiled it. So I just go on with what's mine. Puerto Rican as the coquÌ; wherever that leads me. I keep on being The Puerto Rican Maso of the Cuatro. The cuatro lives in me and I live in the cuatro. Understand?
For many years, a number of distinguished cuatro maker made a series of cuatros that were sold anonymously with a Maso Rivera label inside as shown above. Maso told us that he would receive the instruments, which were made to his specifications, and make all the final adjustments in their action and tone before selling them.
Maso(1995) photo: Juan Sotomayor
Maso Rivera, circa 1965 playing a gourd cuatro, made from gourds (higueras) such as the ones being carried by his countrymen. The photo appeared on the cover of the LP album "Maso Rivera y su Cuatro Higüera" photo courtesy Artilleria records
A segment of the Cuatro Project's video documentary Nuestro Cuatro Vol. 2