There are families who are devoted to keeping traditions and values alive. This is true of the Cuayo family, whose members have dedicated themselves to playing, maintaining and fabricating the Cuban Oriental organ.
According to Eugenio Cuayo, a third generation Cuayo interested in this musical instrument, the Cuban Oriental has origins in France and was introduced to Cuba in 1886.
Cuayo came to the United States from Holguín, Cuba, in 2006 and built the only Cuban-American Oriental organ in Miami.
“This genre and this type of organ is unique because you can’t find it anywhere else; it’s the only one of its kind,” Cuayo said. “It took me five years to build the organ with all its fixings. It’s a chromed model, meaning that it has all the musical scales and can play any musical tone.”
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Cuayo said his goal is to maintain the Cuban tradition because the organ has become a key part of the island’s folklore.
“The organ plays all music that’s easy to dance to: cumbia, salsa, cha-cha-chá, boleros, danzón, guaracha, conga; we’re even introducing reggaeton,” Cuayo said.
“I was practically born under an organ. My father taught me since I was 4 years old and later at 7 years old I enrolled in a music academy (Conservatorio de Musica Jose Maria Ochoa in Holguin) I never stopped playing.”
When Cuayo came to Miami, his dream was to continue the tradition and play the organ so people could learn about his roots.
He found it hard to dedicate time to building the organ while working to pay rent and support his family.
“I didn’t know the price of any of the materials I needed or where to get them,” he said. “I only knew that I wanted to keep the tradition going.”
One day he went looking for cloth, one of the key components in the construction of an organ, and when the salesman told him what the cost was, he had to leave the store because he didn’t have enough money.
Then Cuayo learned that people sometimes dump unwanted sofas in the garbage.
“I would cut small pieces of sofas that I would find and little by little I built the Cuban-American organ, it has 95 keys, not like the ones in Cuba that had 66 or 52,” Cuayo said.
According to the organ builder, when towns didn’t have electricity, it was the organ that provided entertainment for community events and fiestas. The organ worked with a manual wind-up crank and without the need of electricity.
“People in Cuba enjoyed dancing to the tune of the organ in high society clubs,” Cuayo said.
At the end of the 1800s, his family founded a band in Holguín and played epoch music during the war for independence from Spain that brought cheer and hope to the people.
“I felt the need to keep the tradition I left behind with a lot of nostalgia, and I brought some instruments from Cuba that were made as far back as 1925,” he said. “In this life, when you love something truly, all you need is dedication, a lot of dedication.”
The family performs as a front band for the The Cuban American Traditional Organ, entertaining at private parties and events.
“I am really proud to be part of the band and as well as being the manager because I consider it very important to keep family traditions and show the community our culture,” said Eugenio Cuayo Jr., the band’s percussionist.
The instrument is also showcased at the monthly Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) at Cuba 8, 1637 SW Eighth St., Little Havana.