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Edwin Colón Zayas

Oct. 27, 1965

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United States Map Highlighting Puerto Rico
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Edwin Colón Zayas is known internationally as the master of the cuatro, the national instrument of Puerto Rico. His collaborations have incorporated classical music, South American and Latin popular music and jazz. Bethesda, Maryland, 2009, photograph by Alan Govenar
Edwin Colón Zayas, Bethesda, Maryland, 2009, photograph by Alan Govenar
Edward Colón Zayas, courtesy Edward Colón Zayas
Edward Colón Zayas, Bethesda, Maryland, 2009, photograph by Alan Govenar
Edward Colón Zayas, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Edward Colón Zayas and his ensemble, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Edward Colón Zayas, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Edward Colón Zayas and his ensemble, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Edward Colón Zayas, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Edward Colón Zayas and his ensemble, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart

Edwin Colón Zayas grew up in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, surrounded by music. At an early age, he fell in love with the cuatro, which has been called the national instrument of the U.S. territory. The small, guitar-shaped cuatro, with five double-coursed strings, is the primary instrument for musica jibara (the music of the peasants) heard in the small central-island towns.

“Well, from my childhood I heard the sounds of the instrument, because my father played a little cuatro and guitar,” Colón Zayas said. “At home, I always heard Puerto Rican folk music. At age 5, I became interested and picked up the cuatro and started playing little things. My upbringing led to my love for Puerto Rican music, folklore. When I first heard the cuatro, it seemed an extraordinary sound, and ever since I’ve felt a commitment to make music with this instrument.” He also learned to play the tiple, a small guitar, and the bordonua, a large bass guitar, and researched those instruments. He tutored his brother and two sisters on several instruments, and they often join him in his group, Edwin Colón Zayas y su Taller Campesino. He performed in the inaugural concert of the San Juan Pops Orchestra in 1991 and, that same year, took part in the International Guitar Festival in San Juan.

Colón Zayas has recorded a number of solo albums and has played on, arranged or directed more than 250 recordings by Puerto Rican artists. His influences also encompass music from a number of South American countries and classical music, jazz and salsa from the United States, and his collaborations have incorporated many musical forms. He received a Grammy nomination in 2008 for his album Reafirmacion.

“First I was a performer and later began composing pieces, and lately I do more of that,” Colón Zayas said. “I try to bring out what is inside of me, new ideas, things that will be picked up by new generations, so that they can learn about the instruments.” Improvisation is an important aspect of the music, as well, Colón Zayas said, adding, “Clearly, it has to be developed as one learns about the instrument and the music.”

Colón Zayas is optimistic about Puerto Rican music, pointing to “the great number of children and young people who have taken an interest in the cuatro and Puerto Rican music in general. I think we are at a high spot but we still need more exposure, more help from the government, for example … what inspires me is to continue contributing to the instrument and the music. I have to stimulate the younger generations to learn from the old masters. If I don’t do this work, this research, the music of the old masters will not be known.”

Discography
Zayas, Edwin Colón. Bien Jibaro! Country Music of Puerto Rico. Rounder Records (2009).
________________. Cuatro Y La Danza Puertorriquena. Disco Hit 1999.
________________. Morel En Tiempo De Cuatro. Disco Hit 1999.
________________. 100% Puertorriqueno. Disco Hit 1999.
________________. Siguendo Hacia El Infinito. Disco Hit 1999.
________________. Cuatro Mas Alla De Lo Imaginable. Disco Hit 1999.

Watch

Edward Colón Zayas, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Edward Colón Zayas, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Edward Colón Zayas, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Edward Colón Zayas, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Listen

Edwin Colón Zayas, '100 % Puertorriqueno,' 100 % Puertorriqueno, Disco Hit 1999

Edwin Colón Zayas, 'Femenina,' 100 % Puertorriqueno, Disco Hit 1999

Edwin Colón Zayas, 'Hijas De Mi Alma,' La Hora De Tu Partida, Monte Adentro Records 1999

Edwin Colón Zayas, 'La Hora De Tu Partida,' La Hora De Tu Partida, Monte Adentro Records 1999

Edwin Colón Zayas, 'Edelly Arlene, Mazurca,' Siguiendo Hacia El Infinito, Disco Hit 1999

Edwin Colón Zayas, 'Nuestro Sabor Campesino Joropo,' Siguiendo Hacia El Infinito, Disco Hit 1999

Edwin Colón Zayas answers the question: 'How did you start playing music?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas answers the question: "What attracted you to the cuatro?" Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas demonstrates the playing of the cuatro. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas answers the question: "On what occasions do people play the cuatro?" Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas discusses the singing traditions associated with the cuatro. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas answers the question: 'How do people dance when they listen to your music?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas discusses how the folk tradition of playing the cuatro has changed. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas answers the question: 'What does this tradition mean to you?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas talks about playing the cuatro. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas talks about learning to play the cuatro. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas answers the question: 'Were your parents musicians?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009

Edwin Colón Zayas answers the question: 'What's your biggest inspiration in life?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2009