Friday, July 19, 2024

Fabiola Méndez. (Photo: Lisette Acuna)

Cuatro player Fabiola Méndez was at Somerville’s Armory as recently as March to open for fellow Puerto Rican artist iLe. At her concert this Sunday, she will open for herself – providing the soundtrack for the short film “Negrura,” a documentary she also produced.

Being Latino is no more one-size-fits-all than any cultural identity, and the 20-minute “Negrura” is a subversive piece of commentary about colorism and anti-blackness within Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino communities focused through four stories from the Latin Quarter Cultural District of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

“Just because we’re all Latino doesn’t mean we’re just dancing together and eating plantains – there are still differences within the color of your skin, even if you are Latino,” Méndez said.

The differences are often emphasized by family and society without thinking about their impact on children, Méndez said, “especially with beauty standards of what hair should look like or comments in school if your lips are big or if your nose is too wide.”

Méndez’s set will follow a screening and Q&A discussion of the film, which is subtitled “What Does it Mean to Be Afro-Latinx?” and directed Monica Cohen.

Méndez, best known for her expertise in Latin music and contemporary jazz, scored “Negrura” by improvising on the cuatro after hearing quotes from the raw footage. She is expressing herself in real time, the music reacting as much as the audience.

The cuatro is a guitar-adjacent traditional Puerto Rican instrument with a wooden body and five sets of double strings. Méndez began playing it when she was 6 her hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico.

Cuatro always peaks in popularity during the holiday season in Puerto Rico because its music brings families together – but most people in the mainland and surrounding Central America don’t know what it is. Méndez discovered that upon arriving in Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music.

“I was in the little bubble of Puerto Rico. And then I came to Berklee, and then suddenly, it’s like, oh wait, I’m the only one playing cuatro,” Méndez said.

In 2018, she became the first to graduate from Berklee playing the cuatro as her principal instrument – a protest Méndez describes as saying if you’re not going to accept me, I’ll do it myself – and always appreciates people’s curiosity about the instrument. “I’ve had it for more than 20 years of my life, it’s been so close to my body for so long it’s my protective shield, and I feel very comfortable with it,” Méndez said.

Now Boston-based, Méndez goes back to her hometown of Caguas every two months or so while she and her band perform in venues around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra.

Arts at the Armory’s signature Spotlight Series hosts Méndez at 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 on the day of. Information is here.