Puerto Rican band opens Folk Fest

Ryan Young

The genre of “folk” music has always been given to certain connotations and misnomers. The mere mention of it conjures a litany of images from Pete Seeger yearning for hardware to Joan Baez reassuring 1969’s Woodstock festival that they would, in fact, overcome.

However, these implications apply only to American folk music. Every nation has its own unique folk music; from the soulful and boundless vocal talent of Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn to the heavy, buzz saw riffs of Scandinavian death metal.

This year, the 43rd annual Kent State Folk Festival will showcase American folk bands, but for the first time it will prominently feature Puerto Rican folk music.

Edwin Colon Zayas, an internationally known artist and master of the cuatro, will open this year’s festival with his authentic brand of Puerto Rican folk music. His instrument of choice, the cuatro, is a small, guitar-like apparatus with four pairs of strings that is used to play a lead melody over percussion and rhythm guitar. It is also said to be associated with música jíbara, or the “music of the peasants” that was once played by Puerto Ricans who lived in rural areas like the mountains of Oro Covis, Zayas’ hometown.

Zayas is being flown to Kent from his home in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, by the festival’s sponsors in order to lend an international flavor to the festival that has been lacking the past few years.

“The committee really wanted to regain some of the focus on world folk music,” said David Badagnani, professor of ethnomusicology at Kent State Stark Campus. In previous years, the festival has featured African drum circles and other national folk traditions, but it has recently seen a lack of worldwide flavor, Badagnani said.

Zayas is being flown to Ohio because of a Kent State graduate student of ethnomusicology: Noraliz Ruiz Caraballo.

After talking Puerto Rican music with Badagnani, Ruiz Caraballo decided to play some Zayas records for him. He loved them. Badagnani saw the connection to the folk festival and suggested to the organizers Zayas be brought here for a performance.

“When Noraliz introduced me to this music, I was instantly drawn to it because it was fantastic, and I thought it would be perfect for this year’s festival,” said Badagnani, who is largely responsible for Zayas’ appearance at the festival. “I had always kept the idea in my mind to have Noraliz perform with Zayas,” he said. However, Badagnani was not aware that the two had met once before.

Ruiz Caraballo recorded another traditional instrument, known as the tiple, with Zayas a few years ago at Zayas’ recording studio. The tiple is another small, guitar-like instrument with a slightly higher pitch than the cuatro and an even smaller body like a mandolin.

“His music means a lot to me,” Ruiz Caraballo said. “He is a prominent figure for Puerto Rican traditional music, and for me, it is an honor to listen to his performance and a privilege to stand next to him on stage.”

Zayas, as well as Ruiz Caraballo, will be at the Kent Stage tonight at 8. The event is free for students and $10 for general admission.

This weekend’s Kent State Folk Festival lineup at the Kent Stage

Masters of Puerto Rican Roots Music featuring

Edwin Colon Zayas

Thursday, November 5

at 8:00 p.m.

Students: free with ID,

General Admission: $10

Greg Brown and

Jorma Kaukonen

Friday, November 6

at 8:00 p.m.

Reserved tickets: $25,

Gold Circle: $45

The Del McCoury Band

Saturday, November 7

at 8:00 p.m.

Reserved tickets: $30,

Gold Circle: $50

Contact features reporter Ryan Young at [email protected].