The young Latina cuatro player named to Chicago's Rising Star Honor Roll
Isamary Medina has honed her skills on the traditional Puerto Rican instrument as part of the Latin Music Project Youth Assemble.
Isamary Medina is fifteen years old and has been practicing with the cuatro since she was seven. Recently, her hobby and tenacity have been rewarded as she was one of the 50 young and promising artists recognized in the 2020 Rising Star Honor Roll by Allstate, presented annually by the Chicago Department of Culture.
The awards, which recognized 15 more nominees than in previous years, are intended to highlight local programs in music, theater, dance, visual arts and literature.
Among them is Isamary, a descendant of Puerto Rico, who remains connected to her legacy through the cuatro, an instrument she says she is proud of.
She's an example of how music connects with one's heritage and background and there is specific knowledge linked to the techniques used to play certain instruments.
Medina showcases her techniques in an entertaining way, and her cuatro has been her most loyal companion throughout her childhood and adolescence.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, she thanked her parents, specifically her mother, for introducing her to the cuatro eight years ago instead of the guitar. Her father played the role of promoting her music playing at home.
"As soon as I caught the cuatro, I fell in love with the way the fingers move," said Medina.
She has been able to hone her skills as part of the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, a children's program in Chicago created by Carlos Hernandez that collaborates with the public school system and universities.
It has different programs according to age groups and its most popular is the Latin Music Project Youth Assemble, a group of high-level students who specialize in percussion, violin, guitar or in Medina's case, the cuatro.
Members of the ensemble often have the opportunity to collaborate with choirs and orchestras, and have in the past, performed in countries such as Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
In addition to furthering her skills with the cuatro, Medina has also been able to connect with its roots. It's usually linked to folklore, but young people like her are in charge of modernizing the melodies, and incorporating new rhythms to add to the classic Latino ones.
The cuatro, contrary to what its name indicates, has one more string than the guitar, is smaller, and was the signature instrument of prestigious Puerto Rican musicians such as Yomo Toro or Maso Rivera.
In her interview, Medina portrays a youth full of tenacity that is only amplified by the quarantine brought on by COVID-19.
"If I had to give young kids advice I would tell them that they simply have to do it. Your fingers are going to hurt. It’s going to be terrible at first and you are going to want to cry because you can’t learn a song. But as long as you love it, it doesn’t matter how much time it takes because it’s going to be great either way,” she said.