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What's New in the World of the Cuatro?

News and noteworthy items:

The cuatro now belongs to the world (cont.)

Bristol, England singer-songwriter Peter Brandt adopts the cuatro into his repertory, and creates yet another, wholly new environment for the instrument.

Peter creates a magic sound space for his song with his cuatro, as you can hear in the following selection:

  Peter Brandt sings his composition "I Must Already Be Dead on a Cumpiano cuatro

US government awards a top
culture prize to master cuatrista
Edwin Colón Zayas


Colón Zayas receives national fellowship
     In May 2009 the National Foundation for the Arts in Washington, D.C. announced that that the master cuatrista Edwin Colón Zayas had been awarded the most prestigious prize given by the foundation to traditional artists. The prize, the NEA National Heritage Fellowship, is awarded once in a lifetime to honor individual traditional artists for their "contribution to our national cultural mosaic." The fellowship awards the title of National Living Treasure, and is modeled after the Japanese manner of honoring traditional artists. Other recipients of the prize this year, were a Kazak choreographer, a zydeco musician, a Yoruba singer, a cowboy poet, and a Cambodian dancer. In 2008, another Puerto Rican, the craft promoter Walter Murray Chiesa won the coveted prize, and in 2007 the prize was awarded to the Puerto Rican cuatrista and cuatro-maker Diomedes "Yomi" Matos who resides in the state of Florida.
     Edwin has been a friend and contributor to the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project for many years, and we have dedicated a page to him which can be found here.

 Passing of famed New York cuatrista
Edgardo Miranda

                                                     Photograph: Juan Sotomayor 

Memorial by Juan "Kacho" Montalvo
     Edgardo Miranda was one of the most important bastions of the cuatro in the United States. I believe he was the first to utilize the cuatro in a big band, playing both Latin jazz and bebop in a thoughtful and elegant way. This is said without intending to diminish the importance of the contributions of Nieves Quintero, Yomo Toro and Pedrito Guzmán. Edgardo both knew jazz thoroughly and was a great improviser. He also had the knowledge and skills to create orchestra arrangements as well as to work as an accompanist and participate in many recordings, since he was an expert reader of guitar and cuatro music. He availed himself of the experience of Latin jazz composers of the forties and fifties who adopted him and guided him in the orchestras of that period. Tito Puente, Mario Rivera, and many others who played in the New York jazz scene, took advantage of and admired the improvisatory art of Edgardito. Many jazz clubs gave him the opportunity to display his skills in trios, quartets and small Latin jazz and non-Latin groups since he was able to mix together many different jazz styles. In later years he worked with the folk group, Los Pleneros de la 21 with whom he traveled teaching about the bomba and the plena in different parts of the US and Latin America. The group also took their perfomance/workshops to Russia. Edgardo battled leukemia for several years before passing away.

Visit the Pleneros de la 21 page for more photos and information about Edgardo Miranda.

Visit the Latin Jazz Corner page for information about Edgardo Miranda's recordings and techniques.

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The Cuatro now belongs to the world!

Jon Anderson, on the left, lead vocalist of the seminal rock group YES is seen cradling his cuatro in a photograph taken during the 1970s. On the far right we see the great rock guitarist Steve Howe.

Liverpool, England, musician Colin Heaney fell in love with the cuatro and joined ukelele player Peter McPartland. Together they created a lush, silky sound in a band they called the Big I Am.

Brooklyn, NY, folk band Gillygaloo's lead singer Mamie Minch with a Puerto Rican Cuatro  made by Cristóbal Santiago of Carolina, Puerto Rico. Shlomo Pestcoe is the cuatrista/folklorist in the group.       (Photo by W. Weinstein)


Massachusetts Irish-band musician Gil Skillman plays a Puerto Rican cuatro in his Irish music performances. The cuatro plays the part normally played by a mandolin or bouzouki in the Irish ensemble. The photo shows him playing a cuatro made for him by Massachusetts luthier Harry Becker (Photo by W. Cumpiano)  Listen to a short sound clip of Gil playing and commenting on the cuatro.


Veteran Massachusetts bass player Guy deVito loves his Puerto Rican cuatro and has begun to use it in his performances. Many famed Puerto Rican cuatro players such as Sarrail Archilla, Pedrito Guzmán and others are also bass players, since the cuatro is tuned exactly like the 5-string bass (B-E-A-D-G, but two octaves higher), so Guy was able to begin playing it immediately. Now, he says, "it has changed the way I play the bass."

 The North American classic guitarist Jeff Kust told us he "accidentally fell in love with the cuatro." He saw a used one in a store and bought it for $50. He discovered that it combined the best qualities of a mandolin with the best qualities of an acoustic 12-string guitar. Since then he uses it in his band and even plays his cuatro in the orchestra pits of theatrical presentations. 

Listed to Jeff Kust playing his arrangement for solo cuatro of the Rolling Stones' his Paint it Black.


Traditional musician Paul Kaplan is also the director of the Pioneer Valley [of Western Massachusetts] Folklore Society. Paul fell under the spell of the Puerto Rican cuatro and performs traditional Irish tunes with it. The blend is perfect, as you can hear in the following selection:

 Paul Kaplan plays Greenwood Lassie on his Puerto Rican cuatro.




The Puerto Rican cuatro in Finland

After having received from the Cuatro Project our construction plan drawing for oun national instrument, the Finnish artisan Jukka Hyninen documented the process of making his own cuatro and has sent us an article with full-color photos about it published in a Finnish magazine.

You can find a .PDF file of the article here.


Passing of the distinguished cuatrista 
Efraín Vidal


The year 2009 proved to be a disastrous one for Puerto Rican culture: after the loss of cuatro greats Edgardo Miranda and Nicanor Zayas and the legendary troubadour Luis Morales Ramos, lovers of the cuatro and tradition Puerto Rican mountain music grieved for yet another fallen superstar of the instrument, senior cuatrista Efraín Vidal, who lost his battle against diabetes on the 10th of June of 2009. Don Efraín offered us a long interview several years ago, during which he shared samples of every variety of seis that he knew. We placed those samples on a page dedicated to him here, and his biography here. (Not translated yet)