"Venezuelan music is so rich and vast. I mean, you have really happy traditional music, euphoric music, but we have another side which is really melancholic. The music of the planes, from the andes, even Afro-Venezuelan music ... they are really melancholic."
Betsaydo Machado y La Parrando El Clavo
Latin America has long been lauded for its wonderful music: Brazil, Cuba – their unmistakable rhythms and bold energy have transcended the narrow confines of 'world' sections in record stores to become celebrated and copied the world over.
But Venezuela? It's probably not the first country that comes to mind when you start talking about Latin American sounds, but do a little digging and it's clear this country on the northernmost tip of the continent has some of its finest traditional music, and an appetite for fusion that is tough to match.
Isaac Sasson at our Barcelona studio
From Aldermaro Romero’s ‘70s big-band jazz, to Insolito Universo’s modern, beguiling, futuristic folk, bands from across Venezuela’s varied landscape have been drawing on the country’s traditions to create unique new styles for decades. This feature takes you through them all, as told by the Venezuelan artists who know it best.
Miguel Colmenares is the Venezuelan co-owner of London's Olindo Records, a label who have been championing new Venezuelan artists over the past few years. He also founded Colectivo Futuro, a collective of artists, DJs, musicians that spans multiple genres and forms. We discussed how the variation of Venezuela's landscape birthed its hugely diverse musical culture, and how he started his current projects that celebrate the music of his home.
One of Olindo's recent releases came from Raul Monsalve, a Paris based guitarist and song writer who plays driving funk with his band Monsalve y los Forrajidos, and strange, ethereal folk with Insolito Universo. He told me about how Insolito Universo base their songs on some of Venezuela's greatest exports – traditional joropo music, and the incredible onda nueva of Aldemaro Romero – and what he's got in store over the next few years.
We were also thrilled to record a live session with Isaac Sasson, a Venezuelan percussionist and multi instrumentalist, whose recent record Cantos Campesinos also came out on Olindo. Through a couple of live folk songs on the cuatro, Isaac explained how mysticism plays such a big part in folk music of the country and his own compositions.
It's telling that all three of the Venezuelans I spoke to are now based in Europe. Some 4 million people have left Venezuela in the past few years alone, as economic strife and wide spread food shortages, caused in no small part by dictator Nicolás Maduro's authoritarian government, has wrecked this once prosperous place.
However, the diasporic communities of Venezuelan musicians which have developed in Europe and across the world are keeping the country's musical traditions alive from afar. In fact, Raul, Isaac and Miguel all told me how being a part of these communities has actually made them research further into the music of their roots. Absence, it seems, really does make the heart grow fonder.
"I have been close to music since I was a child ... I remember growing up listening to songs, which I only understood when I was older. Many of the stories were about revolutions and communism. I pictured them as fables, like a magical world."
Raul Monsalve with Insolito Universo
Betsaydo Machado & La Parrando El Clavo - Oh, Santa Rosa (Loé Loá // Olindo Records)
La Serenata Guayanesa - Señor Gabán (10 Años de Exitos // Sono-Rodven)
Hermanos Chirinos - Quitapesares (Festival Llanero, Folklore Venezolano // Leon Inversions XXI)
Betsaydo Machado & La Parrando El Clavo - La Situacion (Loé Loá // Olindo Records)
Isaac Sasson - Paseo en un Sueño (Cantos Campesinos EP // Olindo Records)
Aldemaro Romero - El Catire (Onda Nueva / The New Wave // CBS)
1, 2, 3 y Fuera - Machu Pichu (No Hay Que Contar Mucho // Discomoda)
Monsalve y Los Forajidos - Abeja (Single // Olindo Records)
Insolito Universo - Transmutada (La Candela del Río // Olindo Records)
Insolito Universo - Vuelve (La Candela del Río // Olindo Records)
Isaac Sasson - Cancion por El Ávila (Live Studio Session)