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The Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation, the philanthropic arm of The Latin Recording Academy, on July 13 announced the winner of its annual Prodigy Scholarship, which provides one exceptional student up to $200,000 toward a bachelor’s degree at Berklee College of Music in Boston as well as three Gifted Tuition and 35 Tuition Assistance Scholarships for music students admitted to universities of their choice. This year’s Prodigy Scholarship is co-sponsored by Latin rock superstar Juanes.
The winner is Xavier Cintrón, an 18-year-old musician from Puerto Rico.
Xavier got an invitation for a Zoom interview with the foundation, and after a few minutes, Juanes popped in.
“I had no knowledge of what was behind the email. When Juanes appeared, I began to suspect what was happening, but I tried not to think about it,” Xavier said.
Xavier had been thinking about getting the Juanes scholarship for months. When Juanes told him he was the winner in the Zoom call, Xavier hugged and cried with his parents, and then said “thank you.”
“The first thing I felt was an immense responsibility. No one has the obligation to do what Juanes did. For me, the most important thing is giving him my gratitude — not by saying thank you, but through the effort that I will put in my studies. It’s something that I feel naturally.”
Juanes, the Colombian superstar who has more than 25 Latin GRAMMYS, officially presented the award on Tuesday at an event in Miami. At the event, he also announced an upcoming tour of his latest album, Origen.
He reminisced about his own high school graduation in Medellín in 1988.
“[I was] super disoriented, with no idea on what I was going to do with my life,” Juanes said. “Music had been a part of me since I was a kid, but the idea of studying music was crazy. How I would have fantasized of going to Berklee — you can’t even imagine. It was an unreachable dream for me.”
Juanes didn’t have the financial means to study music at Berklee, and he was able to pay for his education in Colombia only after his own musical career launched. When the foundation asked him if he would be interested in sponsoring the scholarship, he said yes without hesitation.
“Today it is a dream come true,” Juanes said in Spanish at the event on Tuesday. “What an immense happiness that I can give something that I was able to get from music to someone who has talent and who wants to go to Berklee. It is very emotional.”
Juanes and Xavier played improvised renditions of hits by Juanes like “La Camisa Negra” — “The Black Shirt” — Juanes with a guitar and Xavier with his cuatro.
A MUSICAL JOURNEY BEGINS
Xavier’s introduction to music began on his seventh birthday when he asked his parents for his first guitar. After a few months, he found out about the cuatro, a five-string instrument traditionally played in Puerto Rican and Venezuelan folkloric music. Xavier said he fell in love with it, and he’s been playing it for 10 years.
“It brings me great joy to see someone who is betting on an instrument of popular Latin American music,” Juanes said. “An instrument not a lot of people his age see as attractive because they are getting samples from the internet. [His] case is very special because not everyone is doing what [he’s] doing.”
The cuatro has been used for traditional Puerto Rican music, “but it is a very versatile instrument,” Xavier said. “You can play jazz, salsa, classical, rock, tango, Arabian music, Brazilian music, [etc].”
Xavier attended Escuela Libre de Música Ernesto Ramos Antonini. He performed as a cuatro soloist in Puerto Rico’s Symphonic Orchestra and with the Midwest Young Artist Conservatory in Chicago. He said his dream has always been to attend Berklee College of Music: “Besides being such a prestigious school, It’s the center of musical culture. It’s a mix of musicians from all over the world, which can influence your music significantly. Apart from the name, I think the biggest thing is the network of contacts you can make.”
Xavier said he wants to play music from all over the world: “There’s a collaboration and growth which is not individual but collective. You see it a lot in Berklee.”
In 2018, he attended his first five-week Berklee program in Puerto Rico. The following year, he went back and earned a scholarship for another five-week program. After four “camps,” he auditioned and was admitted into Berklee with a $23,000 scholarship. But he said it was not enough for him to cover all of the expenses, so he made a point of getting the money on his own: “However it was, I had to get a scholarship. Every time I found a scholarship, I would apply. I always kept the vision that I was going to get one.”
Xavier applied for over 20 scholarships, and while he did receive some moneoy, he says the one that allowed him to attend this upcoming fall is the one by Juanes and the Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation.
“We’re looking to be an organization that provides educational equity, educational access and educational success,” Tanya Ramos-Puig, the president of the Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation, said. “Our annual scholarship program really represents the foundation’s investment in both education and equality. We’re committed to providing opportunities for young adults. No matter their background, income or ZIP code, we want to foster future generations of music creators through education.”