Yomo Toro (July 26, 1933 – June 30, 2012) was a guitarist and one of Puerto Rico’s most famous cuatro players.
Known internationally as “The King of the Cuatro,” Toro recorded over 150 albums throughout a 60-year career and worked extensively with Cuban legends Arsenio Rodríguez and Alfonso “El Panameño” Joseph; salsa artists Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe and Ruben Blades; and artists from other music genres including Frankie Cutlass on his 2006 Remix of his classic club hit Anthem “Puerto Rico” Featuring Joell Ortiz, Lumidee, Voltio and The Barrio Boyzz. Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Linda Rondstadt and David Byrne.
Yomo Toro (birth name: Victor Guillermo Toro) was born in Ensenada, within the municipality of Guánica, near the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico. His father, Alberto, drove a truck for the sugarcane mills of the South Porto Rican Sugar Company and played cuatro in a band along with Yomo Toro’s uncles.
Nicknamed “Yomo” by his father, Toro began to play music at age 6. During a live interview on Canto Tropical, on radio station KPFK 90.7FM in Los Angeles, Yomo recalled his father had a cuatro hanging on the wall. “Yomo would practice for about a year, while his dad was away working. One day his father caught him, stormed into the backyard, and began chopping down a tree. Frightened by all the racket, Yomo didn’t realize his father was making a personalized cuatro for him.”
At age 15, Toro formed the string trio La Bandita de la Escuela (“The Little School Band”). He continued his musical career by performing at events with La Bandita and other trios, all over the island of Puerto Rico, as well as on the radio program La Montaña Canta (The Mountain Sings).
A Puerto Rican cuatro
The cuatro is the national instrument of Puerto Rico. Larger than a mandolin, it contains ten strings which generate complex tones and multiple harmonic series.
The Puerto Rican cuatro spans five courses, tuned in fourths from low to high B-e-a-d’-g’,54321, with B and E in octaves and A, D and G in unisons.
Yomo Toro and his cuatro music became internationally known, when he performed the opening theme song to the 1971 Woody Allen film Bananas.
In the U. S., Toro’s reputation as a cuatro player had already grown steadily throughout the 1950s and 60’s. In the 1970s and 80’s, his concert tours with the Fania All Stars and studio recordings on numerous Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe albums, made him a musical sensation in Latin America. His Christmas albums Asalto Navideño and Feliz Navidad became instant classics, and are now rare collector’s items.
Yomo Toro preserved the traditional Puerto Rican form known as Jibaro music – a folk music from the Puerto Rican hill country that is buoyant, romantic, humorous, and extremely life-affirming. Many of Toro’s lyrics were arranged 10-line verses called decimas, a poetic Spanish form that was popular as early as the 17th century. African rhythms also influenced both Jibaro music, and Yomo Toro’s own evolving style.
For orchestration and song structure, Yomo Toro often used the bomba format. For rhythm and instrumentation, he made heavy use of the traditional Barril de bomba – a Puerto Rican drum with African origins – and Toro improvised spiraling cuatro solos over the bomba rhythms.
Though firmly grounded in Puerto Rican musical tradition, Yomo Toro’s style was extremely textured and eclectic. As a studio musician for hundreds of album releases, he also played Latin jazz, classical guitar, bluegrass, and even R&B. As noted by The New York Times, “Mr. Toro absorbed all these influences, plus the African, Spanish and Creole folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. The richness and variety of these sources is at least partly responsible for the depth, range and vitality of Mr. Toro’s playing.”
Toro played traditional Puerto Rican and Mexican music on guitar and cuatro in New York through the 1950s and ’60s — with the singers Odilio González and Victor Rolón Santiago and with the Trio Los Panchos, the internationally famous Mexican bolero trio, Los Rivereños, and others.
He was hired to play on a Christmas-themed salsa record by Willie Colón called Asalto Navideño (“Christmas Assault”) which included several of Toro’s aguinaldos and songs from the Puerto Rican parranda, or caroling, tradition. Asalto Navideño became one of the most successful releases for Fania Records, and its fame solidified the cuatro’s role in the salsa scene.
The success of Asalto Navideño led to a sequel in 1973, as well as a third holiday record in 1979 with Hector Lavoe and the singer Daniel Santos. On the covers of those two albums, Yomo Toro is dressed as Santa Claus. Short, round and joyous, Toro was well-suited to the role, and went on to reprise it in many holiday concerts.
Toro toured the world with the Fania All-Stars in the 1970s and recorded two solo albums for Fania, Romantico and Musica Para El Mundo Entero. During the height of the salsa era he also played on more albums with Willie Colón, Ismael Rivera, Larry Harlow, Cheo Feliciano, Tipica 73, and many others.
Yomo Toro’s artistry with the cuatro was celebrated throughout the world. He recorded with major artists such as Cuban legend Arsenio Rodríguez and Arsenio’s bassist Alfonso “El Panameño” Joseph.
For many years, Yomo Toro performed to sold-out audiences at the Palladium nightclub in New York. Toro also played at El Teatro Puerto Rico in the Bronx. There, singer and composer Miguel Poventud sang Rock ‘n Roll in English and boleros in Spanish with Yomo Toro y su Conjunto.
Toro appeared in over 150 albums and over 20 solo albums on various record labels such as Island Records, Fania Records, Rounder, and Green Linnet Records. He also recorded four albums with Trio Los Panchos, including one featuring Eydie Gormé.
Toro crossed over to many other genres and recorded songs with Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Linda Rondstadt and David Byrne. He also worked on several film tracks such as Bananas by director Woody Allen and Crossover Dreams with Ruben Blades.
According to The New York Times, Yomo Toro “electrified his cuatro, performed as a soloist with salsa’s flashy Fania All-Stars, and appeared on several hundred albums, ranging from straight jibaro to mainstream Latin-pop.”
Despite his fame and musical virtuosity, Yomo Toro was a modest and unassuming man. He composed only one song about himself. It appeared on the Fania label as El Lechon de Cachete.
During the late 60s and early 70s, Toro hosted the “Yomo Toro Show.” It aired on Channel 41 in New York (later known as Univision) and featured Yomo Toro’s music, plus entertainment news and interviews of Latin celebrities.
Yomo Toro was featured in a major television production about the era of Afro-Cuban music at the Palladium in New York. Toro also played many bombas and aguinaldos on the children’s television show Dora the Explorer.
Yomo Toro was a member of the Toro (Touro) family of Guanica. He died of kidney failure in the Montefiore Medical Center New York City, on June 30, 2012.
Yomo Toro was survived by his sisters, Lydia, Iris, Mirza and Milagros Toro; his brothers, Juan, Angel and Arcangel Toro; his wife of 31 years Minerva; his daughter Denise, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Yomo Toro performed on hundreds of albums throughout his 60-year career. He also released over 20 solo albums on major record labels including Island Records, Fania Records, and Polygram. The following are some of his better-known recordings.
- Asalto Navideño (Fania, 1972)
- Los Rivereños Cuando Mexico Canta con Yomo Toro y su Conjunto (SEECO – Gold series – SCLP-9255) (SEECO 27.342 | Discophon)
- Funky Jibaro (Polygram, 1988)
- Gracias (Mango, 1990)
- Las Manos de Oro (Xenophile Records, 1995)
- Celebremos Navidad (Protel, 1996)
- Celebrando Navidad (Ashe Records, 1999)
- Romantico (1999)
- Musica del Mundo Entero (2000)
- Alma de Ramito (Fania, 2000)
- El Espiritu Jibaro (The Jibaro Spirit), with Roswell Rudd (Sunny Side Records, 2007)
- 24 Canciones Inolvidables de R. Hernandez (Combo, 2008)
- La Herencia (Fania, 2008)
Listen Online[audio: http://slamanater.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/YOMO-TORO-THE-WORLD-MOST-DANGEROUS-CUATRISTA.mp3]
|2012||“Live” In Puerto Rico: June 11, 1994||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro|
|2012||Greatest Hits||Yomo Toro||Composer, Primary Artist|
|2011||Aires de Navidad||N’Klabe||Composer|
|2011||Live in Africa||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro|
|2010||Ponte Duro: The Fania All Stars Story||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Guitar|
|2009||Best of the Bowl: Ingles y Espanol||Hot Peas ‘N Butter||Cuatro|
|2009||Historia de la Salsa||Willie Colón||Primary Artist|
|2009||Los Dueños Del Planeta: Los Bionikos||Wibal & Alex||Featured Artist|
|2009||San Juan 73||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Guitar, Soloist|
|2008||24 Canciones Inolvidables de Pedro Flores||Yomo Toro||Primary Artist|
|2008||24 Canciones Inolvidables de R. Hernandez||Yomo Toro||Primary Artist|
|2008||Asalto Navideño: En Vivo Puerto Rico 1993||Willie Colón||Cuatro|
|2008||Campeones: A Band and Their Music||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Soloist|
|2008||Con Guitarras, Vol. 3||Blanca Iris Villafane||Primary Artist|
|2008||El Barrio: Sounds from the Spanish Harlem Streets||Primary Artist|
|2008||Gran Baile Navideño||Los Flamers||Composer|
|2008||Hot Peas ‘N Butter Vol.4: The Pod Squad||Hot Peas ‘N Butter||Cuatro|
|2008||La Herencia||Yomo Toro||Composer, Photo Courtesy, Primary Artist|
|2008||Le Canta a Borínquen||Héctor Lavoe||Featured Artist, Guest Artist, Primary Artist|
|2008||No Te Vayas, Vol. 2||Cheito Gonzalez||Primary Artist|
|2008||Poesias, Vol. 1: Baraja Bendita||Glauco del Mar||Guitar|
|2008||Salsa Classics Revisited||El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico||Cuatro|
|2008||The Complete Studio Albums, Vol. 1||Héctor Lavoe||Guitar|
|2007||A Man and His Music: La Voz||Héctor Lavoe||Main Personnel, Primary Artist|
|2007||Asalto Navideño, Vols. 1-2||Héctor Lavoe||Additional Personnel, Cuatro, Featured Artist, Primary Artist, Vocals|
|2007||Corijo’s Tribe||Zon del Barrio||Guest Artist|
|2007||El Cantante||Marc Anthony||Cuatro|
|2007||El Espiritu Jibaro||Roswell Rudd||Composer, Cuatro, Liner Notes, Main Personnel, Primary Artist, Soloist, Vocals|
|2007||Larry Harlow and Latin Legends of Fania||Larry Harlow||Cuatro, Main Personnel|
|2007||Rumbón Navideño||Primary Artist|
|2007||The Player||Willie Colón||Cuatro, Soloist|
|2007||Think Global: World Christmas||Primary Artist|
|2006||Cali Concert [DVD]||Fania All-Stars||Guest Artist|
|2006||Instant Latin||Primary Artist|
|2006||Superestrellas en Navidad Tropical||Primary Artist|
|2005||Dancer’s Paradise||Willie Villegas Y Entre Amigos||Guest Artist|
|2005||Hot Sweat: The Best of Fania All-Stars Live||Fania All-Stars||Performer|
|2005||Latin Classics [Pazzaz 2 CD]||Primary Artist|
|2005||Latin Classics, Vol. 1||Primary Artist|
|2005||Latin Lounge: 41 Hot Latin Hits||Primary Artist|
|2005||Latino Jazz [Charly]||Primary Artist|
|2005||Mastercuts: Latin Jazz||Primary Artist|
|2005||Navidad Borinquena||Primary Artist|
|2005||Salsa en New York||Sophy||Cuatro|
|2004||Como Nunca||Charlie Cruz||Guest Artist, Primary Artist|
|2004||El Avión de la Salsa||Jimmy Bosch||Cuatro, Guest Artist, Main Personnel|
|2004||Live at Yankee Stadium||Fania All-Stars||Vocals|
|2004||Mi Jardin Azul: Las Canciones Favoritas||Linda Ronstadt||Tres|
|2004||Pure Latin Jazz Moods||Composer, Primary Artist|
|2004||The Latino Festival Collection||Primary Artist|
|2003||Fresh Air In Concert||Cuatro|
|2003||Rough Guide to Salsa de Puerto Rico||Cuatro, Primary Artist|
|2002||2002 Latin Grammy Nominees||Cuatro|
|2002||Billboard Hot Latin Tracks: Best of Tropical 2001||Cuatro|
|2002||City of Dreams||David Gonzalez||Cuatro|
|2002||Crepuscule for Cafe Apres-Midi, Vol. 2||Primary Artist|
|2002||Parrandeando en la Noche Buena||Primary Artist|
|2002||Tribute to Hector Lavoe||Junior Gonzalez||Cuatro, Guitar|
|2001||Branching Out||William Cepeda & Afrorican Jazz||Cuatro|
|2001||Latin Lovers: Late Night Latin||Composer, Performer, Primary Artist|
|2001||Pa’ los Treseros||Nelson Gonzalez||Cuatro|
|2001||The Legends Collection: Latin||Composer, Performer, Primary Artist|
|2001||Viva Cuba: The Roots of the Salsa Sound||Performer, Primary Artist|
|2000||A Little Bit of Mambo in My Life||Composer, Performer, Primary Artist|
|2000||Alma Caribeña||Gloria Estefan||Cuatro, Guest Artist|
|2000||Alma de Ramito||Yomo Toro||Primary Artist|
|2000||Best of Willie Colon||Willie Colón||Primary Artist|
|2000||Celebrando Aqui Celebrando Allá||Primary Artist, Vocals|
|2000||Romantico Y Salsero||Raúl Marrero||Guitar|
|1999||Afro-Cuban Grooves, Vol. 4 [Melodie]||Cuatro|
|1999||Aloft||Sean Harkness||Cuatro, Guest Artist, Requinto|
|1999||Cowboy Rumba||Ned Sublette||Cuatro|
|1999||Golden Hands||Yomo Toro||Primary Artist|
|1999||Latin Carnival||Composer, Performer, Primary Artist|
|1999||Latin Essentials [Charly]||Composer, Performer, Primary Artist|
|1999||Latin Exotica||Composer, Performer, Primary Artist|
|1999||Noches Calientes||The Rosenberg Trio||Composer|
|1999||Romantico||Yomo Toro||Bajo Sexto, Composer, Guitar, Primary Artist, Producer, Vocals|
|1999||The Linda Ronstadt Box Set||Linda Ronstadt||Tres|
|1998||Hermanos de la Salsa||Hermanos de la Salsa||Guitar|
|1998||La Verdadera Navidad||Domingo Quiñones||Guest Artist, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1998||Larry Harlow’s Latin Legends Band 1998||Larry Harlow||Cuatro|
|1998||Latin Passion [Charly]||Performer, Primary Artist|
|1998||Live from Soundscape: Latin New York 1980-1983||Composer, Cuatro, Primary Artist, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1998||Mambo Mania [Charly]||Composer, Performer, Primary Artist|
|1998||Mi Propia Aventura||Charlie Cardona||Strings|
|1998||My Roots and Beyond||William Cepeda||Cuatro, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1998||Summer Solstice, Vol. 2||Composer, Cuatro, Guitar, Guitar (Rhythm), Performer, Primary Artist, Requinto|
|1998||Vida Loca||Francisco Céspedes||Guest Artist|
|1997||Bravo 97||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro|
|1997||Mi Encuentro||Yolandita Monge||Unknown Contributor Role|
|1996||Celebremos Navidad||Yomo Toro||Composer, Coro, Cuatro, Guitar, Primary Artist|
|1996||Jammin’ in the Bronx: A Live Concert Tribute to Machito||Unknown Contributor Role|
|1996||Papa Boco||Adela Dalto||Guitar, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1996||World Christmas [Capitol]||Arranger, Coro, Guitar, Performer, Vocals (Background)|
|1995||Cantar o No Cantar||Ismael Miranda||Guitar|
|1995||Las Manos de Oro||Yomo Toro||Choir/Chorus, Composer, Coro, Cuatro, Guitar, Primary Artist, Producer|
|1995||Live: June 11-1994, Puerto Rico||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Member of Attributed Artist, Soloist, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1994||Feliz Navidad [Polygram]||Performer, Primary Artist|
|1993||Barrington||Barrington Levy||Cuatro, Guest Artist, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1993||Fania Legends of Salsa Collection, Vol. 1||Héctor Lavoe||Guest Artist|
|1993||Perfect Combinations||Perfect Combinations||Performer, Primary Artist|
|1992||Frenesi||Linda Ronstadt||Guest Artist, Tres, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1992||Triple Threat: The Ultimate Music Experience [DVD/CD]||Producer|
|1990||Gracias||Yomo Toro||Coro, Guitar, Primary Artist|
|1990||Noveleo||Yomo Toro||Primary Artist|
|1990||Salt & Tabasco||Performer, Primary Artist|
|1989||Christmas Guitars||Performer, Primary Artist, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1989||Rei Momo||David Byrne||Cuatro|
|1988||Funky Jibaro||Yomo Toro||Composer, Primary Artist, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1986||Live in Japan 1976||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Member of Attributed Artist, Soloist, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1984||Criollo||Willie Colón||Guest Artist|
|1983||Vigilante||Héctor Lavoe||Cuatro, Main Personnel|
|1981||Fantasmas||Willie Colón||Cuatro, Main Personnel|
|1981||Into the 80’s||Tipica ’73||Additional Personnel, Cuatro, Guest Artist|
|1981||Latin Connection||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro|
|1980||Commitment||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Main Personnel, Soloist|
|1980||Doble Energía||Ismael Miranda||Unknown Contributor Role|
|1979||Feliz Navidad||Héctor Lavoe||Composer, Cuatro, Main Personnel, Primary Artist|
|1979||Knockdown Calypsos||Tiger||Cuatro, Drums, Guitar|
|1979||Solo||Willie Colón||Cuatro, Main Personnel|
|1978||49 Minutes||Willie Colón||Cuatro, Performer, Primary Artist|
|1978||Live in Africa||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Guitar|
|1977||10th Anniversary||The Lebrón Brothers||Unknown Contributor Role|
|1977||El Baquiné de Angelitos Negros||Willie Colón||Cuatro, Guitar, Main Personnel|
|1977||Metiendo Mano!||Rubén Blades||Choir/Chorus, Cuatro, Guitar (Acoustic)|
|1977||Only They Could Have Made This Album||Celia Cruz||Guitar, Main Personnel, Trio, Unknown Contributor Role|
|1976||Conquista Musical||La Sonora Ponceña||Cuatro, Member of Attributed Artist|
|1976||De Ti Depende (It’s Up to You)||Héctor Lavoe||Guitar, Guitar (Electric), Main Personnel, Tres|
|1976||Live at Yankee Stadium, Vol. 2||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Main Personnel|
|1976||Tribute to Tito Rodriguez||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Member of Attributed Artist, Tres|
|1975||Live at Yankee Stadium, Vol. 1||Fania All-Stars||Cuatro, Member of Attributed Artist, Tres|
|1975||The Good, the Bad, the Ugly||Willie Colón||Cuatro, Main Personnel|
|1974||El Capitan||Tony Pabon||Guest Artist, Tres|
|1974||Latin-Soul-Rock||Fania All-Stars||Main Personnel, Tres|
|1973||Asalto Navideño, Vol. 2||Héctor Lavoe||Cuatro, Main Personnel|
|1973||Felicidades||Cheo Feliciano||Cuatro, Main Personnel|
|1973||Live at the Cheetah, Vol. 2||Fania All-Stars||Additional Personnel, Cuatro|
|1972||Abran Paso!||Ismael Miranda||Member of Attributed Artist, Tres|
|1972||Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa)||Fania All-Stars||Vocals|
|1971||Live at the Cheetah, Vol. 1||Fania All-Stars||Member of Attributed Artist, Tres|
|1970||Asalto Navideño||Héctor Lavoe||Cuatro|
|1960||Que Me Acusen||Cheito Gonzalez||Guitar|
|Crossover Dreams [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]||Primary Artist|
|Live In Zaire 74||Celia Cruz||Cuatro|
|Luis Gonzalez||Luis Gonzalez/Yomo Toro||Primary Artist|
|Musica del Mundo Entero||Yomo Toro||Coro, Guitar, Primary Artist|