This fall, Luis Sanz traveled from his home in Puerto Rico to study composition at the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. The 22-year-old graduate student is also an internationally renowned cuatro player who has performed hundreds of concerts throughout Europe, Latin America and the U.S.

Moved by the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Maria, Sanz is composing a new concerto dedicated to his homeland. He spoke with WFDD's David Ford about his music, his native instrument the cuatro, and how he's using them to support relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Interview Highlights

Cuatro player Luis Sanz (right) spoke with WFDD's David Ford in the recording studio. (LAUREN WHITAKER/UNCSA) 

What's it like being back in school after launching a successful music career?

Obviously, this semester is like a transition of language and friends—different faces. But since I came here I received all the support from the community. I think this is a good moment to take [in] this space and focus on what I want to do with our music, and to keep combining this American music, Puerto Rican music, classical music, and new ideas, new things. So, I am enjoying it.

In the other way, I am thinking about my family because this hurricane came to my island and it was terrible. I am in touch with my family. I'm grateful that they are fine, but they aren't working--with no electricity, and little water--so it's terrible.      

On the U.S. government's response to damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico:

There are many that have houses made of wood, so the hurricane broke those houses and they are living in coliseums, and different places…but we have to see this in a positive way. We have to build a new Puerto Rico. And we, the Hermanos Sanz—my group—wrote this song, “Ponte en Pie.” 

"Ponte en pie" is like “stand up”, like “let's build” and “let's work together.” So, this week, this TV channel from Puerto Rico [told me] ‘I want this song to be the theme of this situation,' and they are using it.

On the new concerto for cuatro and orchestra he's composing:

I was working [on it] before the hurricane…talking about [the] beauty of Puerto Rico, those beaches…and then I saw the news and this hurricane devastated my island. I was thinking, 'Okay, now there's no beauty, and our people [are] suffering'.

[Originally] I was talking about ‘this night that my heart shines bright, and reflects on my soul,' but [now] the night can be suffering, and can be fear. Because there are people suffering and there's no water. And the composition transformed in this way. I express all my feelings in there.  

Luis Sanz with his cuatro. The national instrument of Puerto Rico has ten strings in five courses. (DAVID FORD/WFDD)

Luis Sanz was recently notified that a recording he made with Puerto Rican rap artist Residente was just nominated for a Latin Grammy Award. The tune is titled “Hijos del Cañaveral.” After attending the presentation ceremony in Las Vegas this November, Sanz plans to premiere his new concerto in a local concert to benefit the ongoing hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. You can follow Luis Sanz on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.



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