Like Bob Hope in Vietnam and the Andrews Sisters in an Italian villa, the Nieves family will cross an ocean this month for Puerto Rican-San Antonians aching to hear their hometown cuatristas.
What’s a cuatrista? Someone who plays a cuatro, the 10-stringed national instrument of Puerto Rico. Sunday, the Puerto Rican Heritage Society of San Antonio hosts musical family Modesto, Monika, and Christian Nieves for a night of tradition-inspired music called Orquesta Jibara (or country orchestra) to commemorate the discovery of Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493.
Modesto grew up learning cuatro music from his family and touring internationally for 40 years. Christian and Monika are following in his steps, and together they put the Carpenters and Partridges to shame as they rock puertorriqueño style: dad on la guitarra, sister con su voz, and brother on el cuatro.
But saying Christian Nieves plays the cuatro is like saying Michael Vick walks dogs for extra cash. He tears it up.
Search for Christian on YouTube, and you’ll find threads in frenetic Spanish admiring the star for his revival of a tradition and the revolution of a genre. Compare his style to his fathers’, and Christian synthesizes jazz, pop, and jibara into a convincing (and attractive) package. Also imbedded in those threads you’ll uncover a traditionalist sad to see the spotlight on a chopped rendition of the cuatro’s good ole days. But there’s a quick rebuttal that reads — and in English, to boot — “hater.” So it’s no surprise Christian is touring with Ricky Martin and selling to United States teenie-boppers what Puerto Rico has always been buying. He unites listeners across demographics, genres, and oceans the way Hope and Andrews united armies. Alba Correa, president of the Puerto Rican Heritage Society, says “the younger generation will not be
But happiest of all are the Puerto Ricans in San Antonio hearing sounds of home again, or maybe for the first time. “The cuatro is our voice. For those of us so far away from our Isla del Encanto, it’s a wonderful feeling to host artists from Puerto Rico. They bring us the music we love to hear and remind us where we came from. They are like our family,” says Correa. “Everything we do is for future generations so that our traditions live long after we’re gone.”
At the very least, they’ve converted this Texas native into their newest puertorriqueño-phile. •
2pm Sun, Nov 18
Charline McCombs Empire Theater
226 N. St. Mary’s