The 43rd Kent State Folk Festival kicked off seven days of performances with a concert featuring Puerto Rican musical treasure Edwin Colón Zayas and friends on Thursday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. at the Kent Stage (175 E. Main St.) in downtown Kent. This was Colón Zayas’ first appearance in Kent and the evening presented a panorama of Puerto Rican instrumental and vocal music and dance.
Colón Zayas, a master of the “jíbaro” style of Puerto Rican roots music, was joined by Noel Velázquez and Bill Colón Zayas from Puerto Rico; members of Rondalla Puerto Rico from Dayton; Orlando “El Mostro” Santiago from Elyria; Northeast Ohio’s Grupo Isla del Encanto folkloric dance troupe; and Noraliz Ruiz Caraballo (a graduate student at Kent State University). In September of this year, Colón (a virtuoso on the cuatro and the tiple) was awarded a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts.
Born in the central mountain town of Orocovis, Colón Zayas has traveled the world introducing audiences to his island’s musical traditions. Similar to the Cuban music featured in the documentary “Buena Vista Social Club,” Puerto Rico’s traditional music is a blending of Spanish and African musical elements mixed with a tropical flavor. Typical instruments include the cuatro (a 10-string instrument similar to an Irish bouzouki) and the tiple (a 5-string instrument similar to a mandolin). Much older than the better known salsa, música jíbara (much like the old-time music of Appalachia) has been kept alive for centuries by inhabitants of Puerto Rico’s central mountains, passing songs down from generation to generation.
The concert included a reception at intermission featuring traditional pastries by Cleveland’s Lelolai Bakery and was sponsored by the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education.