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Norberto Cales
Grandmaster of the eight-string cuatro...

 "...and those were the musicians that inspired me in those times. During the forties. From Yauco, Puerto Rico, yes. In those days, the  cuatristas from Yauco played  Norberto Cales's melodies. Norberto Cales's compositions. They'd play them...and a whole lot of other things of Norberto Cales's, and I would say, "Ave María..." Then I became--even though I never met him--a great fan of his. And that's how my first musical yearnings began."
                    Yomo Toro

  Listen to Norberto Cales and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Yauco [Yauco Philharmonic Orchestra] in his interpretation of a un Seis Chorreao

Norberto Cales Martínez was one of the greatest exponents of the eight-string cuatro, and a member of the great fraternity of venerated Yauco cuatristas that includes Heriberto Torres, Pedro Hilario y Tuto Feliciano.

He was born 1898 in the town of Yauco. His father was a farmer and his mother was a housewife. By 10 years of age, Norberto had a tiny requinto that he played often and with great dexterity. He played his first fiesta at twelve earning $1.00 for playing all night long. Thanks to those very same earnings he was able to purchase his first four-string cuatro for $1.50.

He continued to liven up dances with his cuatro, and gathering increasing fame in Yauco. Norberto became one of the great cuatristas of his times, even though it wasn't his main profession--just like with Pedro Hilario and Heriberto Torres. By 1932, Norberto recorded six pieces with the Orquesta Filarmónica Yaucana on the Brunswick label– Sara (danza), Ideal (Vals), Arturo (Paso Doble), Seis Chorreao, Donda (Jibara) and Aguinaldo de Navidad.

The eight-string  cuatro owned by Norberto Cales made in Yauco by Juan Olivera. The instrument has been preserved by the Caraballo-Cales family of Yauco. Photo by Juan Sotomayor.

In the late 40s, Norberto suffers a tragic accident when an electric saw cuts off his index and middle finger, and part of the pinky on his left hand. After many long agonizing months, Norberto began to play the cuatro again with the aid of a prosthetic device made of leather, and he not only managed to overcome his disability, but in the end played better than he ever had before.

Norberto composed a multitude of pieces in various genres, among them the danzas Marisol, Bendito Amor, Preciosa, Dora, and the mazurcas, Juanita and Roselina.

Source: Revista del Instituto del Cuatro Puertorriqueno, No. 1. 1974, courtesy of Jose Enrique Ayoroa Santaliz, esq.