Artist Profiles: Cuatro Virtuosa Fabiola Méndez

Fabiola Méndez, a Puerto Rican cuatro player, educator, and composer, draws inspiration from her heritage and ethnicity in her music. Hailing from Caguas, Puerto Rico, she began playing the traditional 5-double string guitar at the age of 6.

Her music combines different genres, encompassing jazz, Latin music, and traditional Puerto Rican music which is a mix of Spanish and Afro-rooted traditions.

She received training at various institutions, including the Hogar del Cuatro Puertorriqueño, the Humacao Musical Institute, the Antonio Paoli School of Music in Caguas, the Conservatorio de Artes del Caribe, and Berklee College of Music. At Berkleee, she graduated as the first student to play the Puerto Rican cuatro as a principal instrument in 2018.

Fabiola has worked with organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Celebrity Series of Boston, Agora Cultural Architects, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Puerto Rican Arts Alliance in Chicago, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, among others. In addiiton, she has collaborated with artists such as the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, Colombian icon Totó La Momposina, Pedro Capó, Victoria Sanabria, Cucco Peña, Decimanía de Puerto Rico, Danny Rivera, Chicago Philharmonic, Boston Landmarks Orchestra, among many others.​

The cuatro master has participated in multiple recordings, including the Banco Popular Special Eco (2008), Fabiola Méndez and Herencia Criolla (2009), Ready for Departure (2014), Cuatro Sinfónico (2019), Al Otro Lado del Charco (2019), and Afrorriqueña (2021). The last three were cataloged as part of the best 20 productions of 2019 and 2021 consecutively, according to the Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular (National Foundation for Popular Culture).

In 2022, she produced her first documentary “Negrura”, presenting Afro-Latin stories in topics around colorism and discrimination within their own communities. ​

In recent years, she’s had the honor of receiving recognition such as the Quincy Jones Award; ambassador for the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City; a motion from the Puerto Rico House of Representatives as the first cuatro player to graduate from Berklee; the Brother Thomas Fellowship 2021; the Whippoorwill Arts Fellowship 2022; and the ASCAP Foundation Lucille and Jack Yellen Award 2022.​

Currently, Fabiola and her trio present her original music nationally and internationally. She is an artist in residence for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra and works as a composer for children’s animated series, including PBS Kids shows Alma’s Way and Work It Out Wombats, and HBO Max’s Mecha Builders, produced by Sesame Street.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel is also co-founder of the Transglobal World Music Chart.

Angel has also produced and remastered world music studio albums and compilations for labels such as Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, and Music of the World.


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