Author: Nicole Murray
Hispanic Heritage Month is the annual celebration of the history and culture of the Hispanic and Latin communities in the United States. The tradition began in 1968 as “Hispanic Heritage Week ” under Lyndon B. Johnson and later expanded to encompass a month-long span, September 15th to October 15th, under Ronald Regan in 1988.
The start date of September 15th is significant because it marks the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16th and 18th respectively.
While the term “Hispanic” versus “Latino/a/x” can sometimes be convoluted and used interchangeably, both terms have different meanings. In 1976, Congress defined Hispanic as “Americans who identify themselves as being of Spanish-speaking background and trace their origin or descent from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish-speaking countries” which excludes Portugal and Brazil. The term Latino, Latina, or Latinx references people who are from Latin America, regardless of language.
Nowadays, which term one uses to describe themselves is largely based on personal preference. So much so in fact that the term Hispanic is now defined by the Census Bureau as “anyone who says they are and nobody who says they aren’t.” Which is why during Hispanic Heritage Month, the umbrella is open to so many diverse cultures and traditions, all of which deserve celebration and recognition.
For this month’s spotlight, we had the distinct pleasure of speaking to three artists, Ricardo Saeb, MarCe Zerrate, and Michele Agosto, each of whom represents different art forms and different cultures. We also included some historic anecdotes to accompany their stories as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month!
Today’s spotlight is Ricardo Saeb:
Growing up in Chihuahua, Mexico, Ricardo Saeb V. was constantly surrounded by music. As he puts it, “When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rockstar. But in Mexico, there is a[n acoustic] guitar hanging on the wall in every home so that’s what was there and then I fell in love with it and never left it.”
String instruments are central to the music of many cultures around the world but, as Ricardo says, “If there’s one instrument that is crucial for the music of Latin America and Spain, it’s the guitar.” Classical guitar differs from its electric counterpart both in the structure of the guitar and the way that it is played. Classical guitar players use their fingernails to pluck the strings (although they occasionally will strum a chord) and the result is the ability to play many melody lines at the same time, or “polyphony.”
Ricardo began his classical guitar training at the Conservatorio de Música de Chihuahua. He went on to attend the Conservatorio de las Rosas and the University of Texas at Austin prior to acquiring both his masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Kentucky. After teaching and performing both in the United States and Mexico, he has spent the last three years in Buffalo, NY where he teaches guitar at the Castellani Andriaccio Guitar Studio and is a board member of the Hispanic Heritage Council.
As an active performer, Ricardo can be heard playing all genres of traditional Latin music. One of his favorites to play (“It’s difficult to pinpoint one favorite because I love them all,” he says) is “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Sp composer Francisco Tárrega or any music by Paraguayan guitar player Agustín Barrios, also known as the “Paganini of the Guitar.” He even released his own album entitled “Zephyr” that he describes as a “playlist of pieces that I enjoy listening to.” This album, released during the pandemic, features musical styles from Brazil, Spain, Cuba, Argentina, and an arrangement of the beautiful Mexican folk song, “La Llorona,” popular during Día de los Muertos.
The story of “La Llorona,” much like the melody itself, is hauntingly beautiful. The title translates to “the weeping woman” and the lyrics popularized in 1941 tells the story of La Maliche, the Nahua Princess, who was demonized by her husband Cortez as a witch after she drowned her children. But legend says that the woman had only done so out of mercy as her children were set up to be murdered in Spain and she wanted to deliver a painless death. Since 1941, it has been covered and recorded countless times and, you can even hear this tune in the Disney movie Coco performed by Alanna Ubach!
Now, Ricardo is excited to give back to his new community and has recently relaunched “The Guitar Initiative” through the Hispanic Heritage Council which offers free lessons and free instrument building workshops to kids. His objective is to bring world-class musical experiences to everyone and inspire a new generation of music lovers. As he says, “Buffalo is indeed the ‘City of Good Neighbors’ because since we’ve arrived here, we have been welcomed by everybody. And in developing this program, we have had the incredible support of organizations like Buffalo String Works, the Buffalo Philharmonic, HOPE Buffalo, and The Castellani Andriaccio Duo and it has been a wonderful experience.”
You can catch Ricardo’s next solo guitar performance at SUNY Fredonia, presented by the Fredonia Guitar Society, on Friday, October 1st at 8PM. He will also be playing chamber music at Kleinhans Music Hall for the “Celebración de la Guitarra” event on October 12th at 7PM. The program will also feature the Hispanic Heritage Guitar Initiative Ensemble, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, and the BPO Strings.
You can buy Ricardo’s CD on Amazon here.