does not describe me fully
it is where to start
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Puerto Rican Culture - El Cuatro
The cuatro [kwah' tro] is Puerto Rico’s national instrument. It belongs to the lute family of string instruments. Its origins are unclear, though it is believed to have existed on the island in various forms for about 400 years. Its name derives from the original four-stringed instrument, which over time evolved into the current version of ten strings paired in five courses.
The cuatro is the uniquely identifying sound of the island’s folkloric music. Always popular in Puerto Rico, cuatro music is experiencing a surge of popularity on the mainland, with cuatro festivals, schools, and concerts now appearing across the U.S. In addition, the cuatro has expanded its range beyond its traditional folk sound into Latin big bands, soloist performances with symphonic orchestras, and even into hip-hop, pop, and jazz. Its traditional sound, though, is still beloved and is represented in the background music of the following video about the fabrication of a cuatro.
The soloist CDs of accomplished cuatro artists like the standard bearer Pedro Guzmán and the gifted Prodigio Claudio are still mostly available through specialty websites such as musicaboricua.com. In the following appearance at a Puerto Rican community center in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Prodigio Claudio demonstrates his virtuosity and range. I apologize for the “home movie” quality of the video but, after viewing all the available YouTube cuatro music clips, I am convinced that the mainstream world is still not paying attention and therefore not generating the polished videos one might hope for.
I end with a personal note about my own experience with the cuatro. Like so many things Puerto Rican, my introduction to the cuatro was at my childhood Pentecostal church. Most of the parishioners of my father’s church were first-generation Puerto Rican immigrants to the mainland. It is not surprising, then, that church music would incorporate the traditional sounds of the cuatro, guitar, maracas, güiro, tambourines, anddrums. The music was no less lively or seductive than its secular counterpart. As a consequence, I need only hear the first bars of cuatro music to be carried back, as if I’d never left, to my childhood church. In the process, I am reminded that music, possibly more than any other genre, seems particularly capable of piercing the cognitive barrier that daily living erects.
My writing frequently explores multicultural themes. Born in Puerto Rico, I moved at a young age to the U.S., where my parents became Pentecostal ministers. Early immersion in Latino and religious cultures preceded later experiences as a businesswoman, a White House Fellow, and life aboard a trawler cruising from Martha’s Vineyard to South America. These sometimes incompatible worlds have given me a respectful outlook toward differing points of view. My short stories, poems, and essays reflect my own inclusive, yet sharply defined, journey across cultural and socioeconomic boundaries. I recently published Peace on the Journey, a poetry collection which explores the theme of renewal in the face of adversity.
The defining image of this blog is a waterfall. Its inspiration comes from a scene in one of my novels in which the infant protagonist escapes her mother’s attention and wanders off to a nearby waterfall. While there, she experiences a mysterious sense of wellbeing, which she yearns to replicate for the rest of her life.
"I have made love to my writing and am now in the afterglow."
"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession... Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
About his fictional town Macondo, widely acknowledged to be inspired by his real home town of Aracataca, Colombia. “Macondo is not so much a place as it is a state of mind.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear."
"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
"There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and, because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly... to keep the channel open."