Before I jumped in, Ashley already made contact with the family who’s jíbaro music she identified from the ‘net. This led to our plans for this Friday when Ashley and I are headed down to Santiago’s Family Restaurant in Westfield to have dinner and scope out the family and their music. At the suggestion of Jeffers, we’ll show up with no recording equipment in order to keep it low key and since we’ll (hopefully!) be back many times after this one anyway. Saturday—while I’m up in NH on a geology field trip—Ashley’s going to check out a local Puerto Rican street festival. I’ll let her tell the rest about the family and the street fair when she posts.
After I knew what project I was working on, I poked around the ‘net a bit to see what I could uncover. The Mass Folk Arts site lead me to a world famous (!) guitar maker in the Valley William Cumpiano who reconnected with his Puerto Rican heritage and started making cuatros. Cuatros are a traditional Puerto Rican instrument used in much of the nation’s folk music and so hopefully we’ll be able to pursue the ties between instrument, maker, and musician.
William also co-founded the Cuatro Project to document, preserve, and advocate the unique instrument and it's music. While the project has done a lot of work in Puerto Rico and in NYC and other US cities, there seems to be a lack of documentation about jíbaro in the Valley itself. Hopefully we won't be repeating work already done. We haven’t contacted William yet or visited his workshop but hope to meet perhaps sometime next week and talk about cuatros and their place in the Puerto Rican community.
Right now we’re just looking for more links into the community and angles to explore. Without a feel for the community quite yet, it’s hard for me to get past the broad questions of how to characterize the community and how jíbaro fits into the Valley’s soundscape. After a taste of it on Friday, hopefully I’ll come back with a more well-honed sense of what to ask.
In the meantime, enjoy a guitar + cuatro tango: