C4 Trio propelled the Venezuelan cuatro to new heights: NPR
José Blanco / Courtesy of GroundUP Music
Venezuelan band C4 Trio have taken their homeland’s national instrument, the four-string cuatro, to new heights. They have recorded seven albums, collaborated with singer Rubén Blades and, in 2019, won two Latin Grammys for their album with salsa singer Luis Enrique. Tiempo al Tiempo.
The title of a new book on C4, written by Venezuelan journalist Gerardo Guarache Ocque, sums up the essence of the singular group: The Leyenda of the Cuatros Explosivos. The band — made up of cuatro players Edward Ramírez, Héctor Molina and Jorge Glem, plus bassist Rodner Padilla — is a legend, and their music is an explosion of sound.
Edward Ramírez says what brought them together was a strong desire to play music that was not from Venezuela, on the Cuatro. “But we also wanted to challenge ourselves and play Venezuelan music from a different perspective, and play other musical genres with the Cuatro,” Ramírez explains. “We wanted to find new ways for the cuatro to expand its palette, so that the possibilities of the instrument continue to grow.”
In 2005 Ramírez, Glem and Molina were each invited to perform solo pieces at a concert in Caracas. Each musician is from a different region of Venezuela and they admired each other’s style. After rehearsing a few tunes together to play at the end of the concert, they liked the sound of the multiple cuatros so much that they decided to form a band. The following year, they recorded their first album and adopted C4 as their name, in reference to both the cuatro and the guitar group known as G3. Their self-titled album launched their career. Bassist Rodner Padilla joined in 2009.
The cuatro is a small guitar-like instrument with four nylon strings. It is played across the country, in many different styles of music. Every Venezuelan family has a cuatro hanging on the wall, says Héctor Molina. “It has had a huge development in recent years,” he says. “We always say that we are a consequence of the work that has been done for the instrument by masters such as Jacinto Pérez, Hernán Gamboa, Fredy Reyna and Cheo Hurtado. They are major figures of the Cuatro and musicians who have contributed to expanding the sonic possibilities of the instrument.”
Musician and producer Michael League invited C4 to play the GroundUp Music Festival in Miami Beach a few years ago. The festival is run by League’s GroundUp Music, the band’s new label. “C4 is like the band our festival was made for,” League explains. “They’re a band that a lot of people might not know, outside of their niche, in the music business. But it’s impossible to see them play and not remember them for the rest of your life. your life.”
League co-produced the future of C4 New album, Back to 4. He says the band has one foot in tradition, one foot in innovation, and a desire to constantly mix and add colors to its palette. “These guys can make their instrument sound like a conga or a flute. They’re not bound by tradition. And I’m no expert in that tradition, but just five minutes of conversation with them, you can tell their the heads are as much in the future as in the past.”
As the social, political and economic situation grew more complicated in Venezuela, the members of C4 realized that they had to move elsewhere to keep the group alive.
In 2014, C4 bassist Rodner Padilla migrated to Miami. Glem went to New York in 2016 and Molina arrived in Miami the following year. Ramírez first migrated to Colombia in 2017, then moved to Miami last year.
Now the group is reunited again, based in Miami, home to the largest community of Venezuelan immigrants in the United States. According to Glem, despite the continuing difficulties in Venezuela, they remain positive and hopeful. “Wherever we go, we try to show the best face of our country and we do everything we can to help our fellow citizens,” he said. “It’s a very difficult situation and we hope this nightmare ends soon so we can go back and do some shows in Venezuela.” Glem says the cuatro is their flag and they just want to play music, in their sometimes explosive way.