Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Year of the Cuatro in Venezuela

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The Ministry of Popular Power for Culture declared 2013 as the Year of the Cuatro, to pay tribute to all those farmers who study and implement this national instrument, which represents liberation, sovereignty and identity of the Venezuelan people.

"In every corner of the country you visit, you will see a cuatro, this instrument represents a bit of Venezuela and the soul of the country." This declaration is meant to generate a special effort to publicize their teachings, to diffuse its history through exhibitions, publications, seminars and workshops.

El cuatro se considera, entonces, "como elemento integración de las expresiones manifestaciones culturales, tradicionales y musicales que identifican a la República Bolivariana de Venezuela y que representan nuestra identidad cultural por su amplia difusión y aceptación en la colectividad y por su versatilidad en la interpretación de numerosos ritmos musicales nacionales".

The cuatro is considered to be, "an element of integration of the cultural expressions and musical manifestations identifying the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and a representation of our cultural identity for its wide dissemination and acceptance in the community and for its versatility in the interpretation numerous national musical rhythms".

Venezuelan cuatro

The cuatro is the principal icon of traditional Venezuelan music. It is often learned at an early age and accompanies the majority of songs that recount the country's folklore. The cuatro is present in almost all forms of musical expression, from the coastal drums to the calypso music of the south.

Traditional choirs are often joined by a cuatro, and cantors also base their songs on the instrument. A love for the cuatro has also reached citizen media: songs of the joropo and gaita styles of music are shared here, and its history, musicians and even how to play the instrument, are widely discussed.

A recent evolution in playing technique has made the cuatro a versatile instrument capable of handling, on its own, solo parts including both melody and harmony. The technical and musical knowledge and expertise required to be able to play the instrument in this way is astounding. The results have made Venezuelan traditional music leap to a whole new level of complexity, many times encompassing the utilization of Jazz harmonic structures and melodic phrasing to enrich many traditional tunes. 

An example of this is the exceptional technique and knowledge of the instrument demonstrated by Venezuelan musicians like Cheo Hurtado, Edward Ramírez, Héctor Molina, Henry Linarez, Marcel Moncourt, Luis Pino, Lisseth Hernández and the famous Jorge Glem and his C4 Trio. The cuatro of Venezuela has four single nylon strings, tuned (ad'f#'b). It is similar in shape and tuning to the ukulele, but their character and playing technique are vastly different. A cuatro player is called a cuatrista.

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