People and Places

Ismael Santiago

Ismael Santiago at his restaurant, Santiago Family Restaurant in Westfield.
Ismael Santiago at Santiago Family Restaurant in Westfield.

Born in Corozal, Puerto Rico, Ismael married his wife Carmen at age 17, a year before they moved to the United States in 1967. Like everyone else who works at Santiago’s, he lives in Westfield too, just down the block from the restaurant he owns. October 15th, 2009 marked 10 years in business for Santiago’s Family Restaurant. Every Friday and Saturday night, Ismael and his family and friends play a blend of Puerto Rican jíbaro, Cuban folk, and other Latin music. They occasionally throw covers of golden oldies, like Elvis, into the mix, but always render them with a Puerto Rican flair. Ismael’s been playing music on the cuatro since he was 10 or 12 in Puerto Rico.

Ismael also leads Grupo Canela, the live band composed of family and friends that can be hired to perform at occasions and events. His son Gego also DJs and the restaurant runs a catering business. This means that they are often hired all together as a family for events such as weddings to play live music, DJ, and serve traditional Caribbean food. Ismael himself has many musical connections within the local and greater Caribbean community. From playing on stage with members of Buena Vista Social Club at the Iron Horse to inviting customers up from their meals to join the band for a song or two on Friday nights, he is an active part of the musical community and well known.

William Cumpiano

William Cumpiano in his workshop
William Cumpiano in his workshop.

Born in Puerto Rico to a Puerto Rican father and a Bostonian, Jewish mother working at the University of Puerto Rico, William has since lived all over the Valley and now lives in Northampton. He is a master luthier, specializing in guitars and many Caribbean instruments, including the cuatro. After mastering European stringed instruments, he realized he knew nothing about the instruments of his Puerto Rican roots and set out to learn about the cuatro, tres, and others. One of William’s current passions is the history of the cuatro and Puerto Rican music. He is the co-founder of the Cuatro Project, a 15-year old documentary project dedicated to researching and archiving Puerto Rican musical traditions. He interacts with many of the musicians in the Valley and the broader region, making and repairing instruments for them.

His instrument making and repair workshop—shared with Harry Becker—is right on the town line between Northampton and Easthampton, Massachusetts.  Visit William’s website or the Wikipedia page on him to learn more.

Victor Rios

Victor first came to the Pioneer Valley in 1975 to play music. After arriving, he met his wife in Holyoke and started a family here.  Since then the Valley has been his home. Now semi-retired, he no longer plays gigs very often but still plays with his family during holidays and celebrations. When he was working as a professional musician, he pressed at least two LPs, played festivals small and large both locally and regionally, and recorded music for a local Springfield television program. He firmly believes that music is the key to a happy life, and says he must play every day even if just for himself.