Afro-Venezuelan are descendants of Africans in Venezuela. They are estimated to be at 1 million and tend to cluster in Barlovento in Miranda State, although they can be found all over the country. Afro-Venezuelans are hard to identify due to strong racial admixture in the population. The argument that there is no racism and everyone is equal is a common theme repeated in Venezuela but questionable.
It falls flat when one observes most in the slums are of African descent and with the notion of whitening, of assimilating to white cultural norms and values, being presented as progress and advancement. Much work has been done studying the culture, tradition, folklore of Afro-Venezuelan, beginning with Miguel Acosta Saignes, in the 1960s. According to the final results of the "XIV Censo Nacional de Población y Vivienda" at least 952,978 inhabitants (3,5%) are considered Blacks and Afro-Descendants.
Ainett Stephens is an Afro-Venezuelan. She is a notable showgirl, fashion and nude model, and television personality/host. They nickname her "La Gatta Nera" (The Black Cat...go fig) because of the black catsuit she wears as the showgirl on the Italian TV show Il Mercante in fiera. They also nicknamed her the "Naomi Campbell of South America"
The first African slaves in Venezuela were Ewe-Fon, brought in 1528 by the Welsers, German bankers granted a special concession to settle and exploit western Venezuela. Portuguese, French, and English slave ships continued to bring Africans of diverse origins, primarily Bantu from the Congo and Angola and Manding from the Gold Coast, until the beginning of the nineteenth century. The slave trade in Venezuela ended before Yoruba peoples were brought to the New World, distinguishing Venezuela's slave population from that of Cuba and Brazil. Slaves were treated as units of commerce, called pieza de india in reference to their physical size and potential for hard labor.
Little Afro-Venezuelan girls
During the sixteenth century, slaves were brought to work in the copper mines in Coro and Buría (Yaracuy) and to Isla Margarita and Cumaná for pearl diving and fishing. Small-scale agricultural plantations were also established in Venezuela, especially in the regions surrounding Caracas. In the eighteenth century large shipments of slaves were brought to Barlovento to support the burgeoning cacao industry and to the sugar plantations in Zulia, around Lake Maracaibo. Venezuela's slave population comprised 1.3 percent of the total slave trade in the New World, compared with 38.1 percent for Brazil, 7.3 percent for Cuba, and 4.5 percent for the United States (Brandt 1978, 8).
The history of slave resistance in Venezuela, both in the form of insurrections and runaway communities, began quite early. The first documented rebellion was in 1532 in Coro, but the most famous uprising of the time took place in the Buría mines in 1552. The rebellion was led by El Negro Miguel (also known as Rey Miguel), who founded a cumbe, or cimarrón (escaped slave) settlement and raised an army of 1,500 slaves, Mulattos, Zambos, and indigenous peoples to attack colonial establishments. Communities of runaway slaves continued to grow throughout the seventeenth century, and by 1720 there were between 20,000 and 30,000 cimarrones in Venezuela, compared to 60,000 slaves still working on the plantations (Rout 1976, 111112). Barlovento was the site of intense cimarrón activity throughout the eighteenth century, with several cumbe settlements being established around Curiepe and Caucagua. The most famous of these was that of Ocoyta, founded around 1770 by the legendary Guillermo Rivas. After he led raids on various plantations both to liberate slaves and to punish overseers, a special army was raised to destroy Ocoyta and execute Rivas.
"Cumbe" derives from the Manding term for "separate or out-of-the-way place." Usually located above river banks or in remote mountainous areas, cumbes were typically well hidden and housed an average of 120 residents. Such settlements were also called rochelos and patucos. Cimarrones were often assisted by indigenous tribes living in the area (e.g., the Tomusa in Barlovento), and cumbe populations were composed not only of Blacks, but also of Indians and even of poor Whites. Cimarrón groups conducted raids on plantations, assisted in the escapes of other slaves, and participated in contraband trading. The only legally established town of free Blacks was that of Curiepe, established in Barlovento in 1721 under the leadership of Captain Juan del Rosario Blanco. The community was composed of former members of Caracas's Company of Free Blacks as well as huangos from the Antilles. The latter were escaped slaves who, like all Blacks fleeing non-Spanish-speaking islands, were granted freedom upon arrival in Venezuela if they accepted baptism.
Afro-Venezuelans played a decisive role in the struggle for independence. Initially, slaves fought for the Crown, believing that the landowning creole Republicans were their enemies. In particular, the notorious royalist battalion of General José Tomás Boves attracted many slave soldiers. Bolívar, realizing the strategic importance of Black soldiers in the fight for independence, declared the abolition of slavery in 1812 and again in 1816, after promising Haitian president Alexandre Pétion that he would secure freedom for slaves in return for Haitian military aid. A major landowner himself, Bolívar freed 1,000 of his own slaves, and in 1819 recruited 5,000 slaves into his army. José Antonio Paéz, a key figure in Venezuelan independence, led an army of Blacks from the llanos (plains). One of his most famous lieutenants, Pedro Camejo, has been immortalized in Venezuelan history as "El Negro Primero," because he was always the first to ride into battle. In the final battle of Carabobo, Camejo was mortally wounded but returned to General Paéz to utter one of the most famous statements in Venezuelan history: "General, vengo decirle, adiós, porque estoy muerto" (General, I have come to say goodbye, because I am dead). A statue of El Negro Primero stands in the Plaza Carabobo in Caracas—the only statue commemorating a Black in all Venezuela. Curiously, he is always depicted wearing a turban, the same iconography used for the mythical Negro Felipe (see "Religious Beliefs"). With the declaration of independence in 1810, all trafficking in slaves was outlawed. The decline in slavery continued throughout the War of Independence when, at its conclusion in 1821, the "Ley de vientre" was passed, stating that all children born, whether of slave or free parents, were automatically free. By 24 March 1854, the date of slavery's official abolition in Venezuela, less than 24,000 slaves remained.
Afro-Venezuelans in their traditional dress dancing
Throughout the twentieth century, Blacks in Venezuela have faced subtle forms of racial discrimination despite a philosophy of racial democracy and an ideology of mestizaje that contends all groups have blended together to form a new, indistinguishable type, called the mestizo. Yet underlying this ideology is a policy of blanqueamiento, or "whitening," that has encouraged both the physical and cultural assimilation of Afro-Venezuelans into a Euro-dominated mainstream. An important semantic counterpart to the process of blanqueamiento is that found in the term negrear, which denotes concepts of "marginalization" or "trivialization." The emergence of Black intellectuals such as Juan Pablo Sojo and Manuel Rodrigues Cárdenas in the 1940s, and more recently of younger writers such as Jesús García, has helped counter the forces of blanqueamiento, or assimilation. A strong body of research in Afro-Venezuelan history and folklore has also been established by Venezuelan scholars, particularly Miguel Acosta Saignes (1967). Public festivals such as the Fiesta de San Juan have emerged as focal points in the re-appropriation of Afro-Venezuelan culture, articulating current transformations in a living tradition of cimarronaje (resistance to the dominant culture, consciousness of being marginal).
Afro-Venezuelan settlements comprise rural and semirural sites located in or near former plantations, mines, colonial towns, and cumbe settlements. Towns are constructed along the colonial model, with residential streets radiating out from a central plaza. Houses are constructed from mud and thatch, or are of concrete with tin roofs. The kitchen is the central hub, with bedrooms and possibly a courtyard built adjoining it. In rural areas, the poorest dwellings are typically one- or two-room mud-and-thatch huts with no running water or electricity. Beneficiaries of agrarian land-reform projects in the 1960s live in settlements constructed with government funds. Built of cinderblocks, houses may have up to three bedrooms, kitchen/living room, bathroom, and plumbing and electricity. Migrants to larger urban centers usually live in poor, working-class barrios, dwelling in overcrowded apartment blocks or obliged to construct shanties from cardboard, cinderblocks, and corrugated tin. Migrants tend to live in the same areas, thus establishing a "regional" character for certain barrios—for example, the majority of migrants from Curiepe have settled in the San José barrio of Caracas.
Afro-Venezuelan Lucbel Carolina Indriago Pinto (born 22 Aug 1980) is a Venezuelan show hostess and a pageant titleholder. She was born in Valencia, Venezuela on August 22, 1980. She is the first woman of noticeably black heritage to win the Miss Venezuela title. Indriago was the Miss Venezuela titleholder for 1998, and was the official representative of Venezuela to the Miss Universe 1999 pageant held in Chaguaramas, Trinidad & Tobago on May 26, 1999, when she classified in the 5 finalists. Currently, Carolina is a TV host in Venezuela, where she host the show Portada's on Venevisión.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Most of Venezuela's rural Black population subsists on crops cultivated on conucos, or small agricultural landholdings, where they grow maize, plantains, manioc, and sweet potatoes for their own consumption. Some families also grow citrus fruits, mangoes, avocados, and cacao for commercial trade. Chickens and pigs are raised mainly for the sale of eggs and meat. Despite agricultural development policies initiated by the national government in 1960, most small farmers continue to rely on traditional, labor-intensive methods of land cultivation. Along coastal areas, fishing is an important activity.
During the 1970s and 1980s, tourism emerged as an important economic resource for some Afro-Venezuelan communities. In Barlovento, Venezuelan and foreign tourists crowd into Curiepe and other towns for the Fiesta de San Juan (23 to 25 June). The Corpus Christi Devil Dancers (Diablos Danzantes) of Aragua, Miranda, and the Distrito Federal have also become important tourist attractions.
Trade. Agricultural products and labor comprise the principal units of trade. Items for tourists, such as miniature drums, bandannas, and hats, are peddled during fiestas.
Division of Labor. Gender roles follow those of the general Venezuelan populace, although they are generally more flexible in Afro-Venezuelan communities than in other groups. Men and women share in daily activities, but women have more domestic and child-rearing responsibilities than do men. In farming, men have traditionally plowed and seeded crops, whereas women have weeded and helped with the harvest. Men find occasional work in manual labor. Women secure economic opportunities and financial independence from men through market activity, selling animals and agricultural goods, and also by finding work as cooks and domestic servants.
Land Tenure. Conucos comprise the principal form of land tenure. The Agrarian Reform of 1960 gave many Afro-Venezuelans title to their land. Through the 1970s, however, agricultural development programs failed to incorporate Venezuelan peasants into the country's successful petroleum economy, spurring migration to urban centers in search of jobs. With Venezuela's economic downslide in the late 1980s, the economic picture for Afro-Venezuelan landholders remains precarious.
Beginning in the 1970s, Afro-Venezuelan coastal lands have been threatened by the construction of beachfront condominiums, especially near Caracas. Tourist activity and the development of lands for recreational usage are also a threat. Afro-Venezuelan communities on Isla Margarita in Nueva Esparta have been particularly affected by the large-scale tourist industry there.
Kinship Groups and Descent. Kinship is reckoned along the same lines as in the rest of Venezuela (i.e., bilateral, with relatives figured through consanguinity and affinity). Compadrazgo, the establishment of godparents (ritual coparents) at the birth and baptism of children, is important to Afro-Venezuelan social organization, providing a vehicle for child-care arrangements and interfamilial cooperation.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (an Afro-Venezuelan) sips a cup of coffee during a speech to the 13 April 2011 mass gathering outside of Miraflores Palace - the site where the Venezuelan people rescued their president back in 2002 (Photo: Bill Hackwell).
Marriage and Family
Marriage. Legal marriage has been erratic in many Afro-Venezuelan rural and migrant communities. During colonial times, unions between slaves favored the economic interests of slaveholders over the interests of slaves.
Domestic Units. Nuclear families, as well as mother-child dyads, are the most common basic domestic arrangements. Extended families, including grandparents, for example, are also common. In rural areas such as Barlovento, related households may be situated around a shared courtyard or be in close proximity to one another. With an increase in the number of adolescents who go to the cities to finish their secondary education, family units are changing. Children usually live with relatives in the city—aunts, uncles, grandparents—thus broadening the role of extended family units, especially in migrant urban communities.
Socialization. Children participate in daily secular routines as well as in ritual and ceremonial activities from an early age. Formerly, children were involved in informal systems of education, watching and learning from adults in the Community. Since the late 1970s, however, there has been a transition to more formal systems of socialization. Most children now attend school to at least the sixth grade and often go to the city and live with relatives to complete their formal education. The incursion of radio and television into most Afro-Venezuelan communities has also affected the enculturation of young Venezuelan Blacks, delivering mass-media images, usually from a middle- and upper-middle-class perspective.
The existence of cofradías (brotherhoods) since colonial times has played an important role in the social and political organization of Afro-Venezuelans. Derived in part from various forms of African communal associations, the cofradías were incorporated around patron saints. Comprised of slaves, free Blacks, and Pardos, cofradías provided a vehicle for cooperation and collective work. Unlike the Black cofradías and cabildos (guilds) of Cuba and Brazil, membership in these groups was not organized along the lines of distinct African ethnic identities. Cofradías existed in the major towns and cities of colonial Venezuela; at the beginning of the nineteenth century, thirteen cofradías existed in Caracas alone. As the only sanctioned form of Black collectivity, cofradías were subject to strict legislation and became the focus of attempts by the church to pacify potential Black opposition and assimilate Afro-Venezuelans into the colonial political structure. Despite such tactics, Black cofradías remained a vehicle for organized resistance. Cofradías, which are still organized around the celebration of patron saints, continue to serve as welfare and burial societies for their members.
Afro-Venezuelan woman carrying her child and holding Venezuelan flag
Cofradías also find contemporary counterparts in the emergence of local community groups and cultural centers. Many of these groups were initially organized in response to the encroachment by tourism and business interests on Afro-Venezuelan religious fiestas. The reappropriation of the Fiesta of San Juan in Curiepe, for example, was aimed at keeping profits within the community and counteracting the effects of exoticized commercialization. A group known as the Centro Deportivo y Cultural de Curiepe sought to "re-Africanize" the festival, coordinating various cultural and educational programs in conjunction with the festival. In the late 1980s, members of this group, now known as the Centro de Investigación y Documentación de la Cultura Barloventeña (CIDICUB), in cooperation with the state of Miranda, initiated an official program to promote the study of regional history and identity. They established cultural centers, published school textbooks about local history, and began a series of radio programs, television documentaries, theater companies, and music and dance workshops, all focused on Afro-Venezuelan history and culture. Community centers and cultural workshops such as these have also been established in other areas, including Chuao, Aragua, and Bobures, and Zulia.
Migrant regional associations have played an important role in Afro-Venezuelan life in the cities, providing a vehicle through which contacts are maintained with rural communities. Some groups have actively promoted the cultural events of their home communities. The nationally publicized week of cultural presentations organized around the Fiesta of San Juan in 1970, for example, was initiated by Curiepe migrants living in Caracas. The municipal government of Caracas also supports, through FUNDARTE, the maintenance of Afro-Venezuelan culture in many of the barrios of Caracas with centers, concerts, competitions, and the celebration of various festivals.
Oscar Emilio León Somoza, better known as Oscar D'León (born in Caracas, Venezuela on July 11, 1943) is a Venezuelan musician who became internationally famous for his salsa music. In Spanish, he is known as El Diablo de la Salsa ("The Devil of Salsa"), El Sonero del Mundo ("the Son Singer of the World") and el Faraón de la salsa ("the pharaoh of salsa"). His most famous song is perhaps "Llorarás," which he recorded in 1975 with his group La Dimensión Latina. He is also ambassador for Operation Smile.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. In Venezuela, Catholicism provides the basis for a nationally shared religious tradition, yet, as in many Catholic countries, there is much variation in specific religious practices. The syncretic cult of Maria Lionza, based on indigenous legends, reflects the most widespread fusion of local and Catholic practices. Depicted as a trinity with Negro Felipe and the Indian chief Guaicaipuro, the mythic figure of Maria Lionza has become an iconic representation of Venezuela's tripartite indigenous, African, and European cultural heritage.
Afro-Venezuelan religious practices have been adapted to Catholicism. Drumming and dancing, which figure in the celebrations of patron saints' days and other religious ceremonies, bear a close resemblance to various forms of African ancestor worship. Because the slave population was so heterogeneous, no single African religious system dominated in this syncretization process, as it did for example in Cuba, Brazil, and, to a lesser extent, in Trinidad with its Yoruba tradition. There has also been some intersection with indigenous cosmological systems. Figures such as duendes, familiaries, and encantados are types of spirit beings connected with the dead or forces of nature, which act as intermediaries between the parallel realms of physical existence and that of the spirit world. It is through contact with these beings, usually dwelling in deep riverine pools, that curanderos (healers) derive their power and divine the future. These beings are also responsible for the deaths and disappearance of various people. Such beliefs are articulated in the oral traditions not only of Afro-Venezuelans but of indigenous and mestizo peoples as well.
Young female Afro-Venezuelan member of the National Bolivarian Militia move with her colleagues as they approach the end of the 13 April 2011 march, seeking to hear Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speak (Photo: Bill Hackwell).
The influx of Cuban immigrants after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 has encouraged the establishment of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería among Venezuelans of all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Although this is a predominantly urban phenomenon, African influences in Venezuela continue to evolve through a dynamic and continuous migration of cultural practices and forms.
Religious Practitioners. Organized as they were around patron saints, Black cofradías were not simply social organizations, but also religious ones. Some cofradías were subdivided into separate "societies" that had distinct responsibilities. Sojo (1986) reports that in Barlovento, for example, each day of Holy Week had a separate society that was in charge of maintaining the holy images and ritual ceremonies associated with the respective day. In preparation, members would practice celibacy, abstain from consumption of alcohol, and perform various ablutions before "dressing" the saintly image.
is a pageant titleholder born in Carúpano, Venezuela on May 27, 1983. She was Miss Venezuela 2005 and was the official representative of Venezuela to the Miss Universe 2006 pageant held in Los Angeles, USA on July 23, 2006. Viña became the second Miss Sucre to win the Miss Venezuela pageant since its inception in 1952. The first was Ida Margarita Pieri, Miss Venezuela 1958. She also placed as 1st runner up in Reina Sudamericana 2005 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on October 14, 2005. In 2006, Viña became the second representative in 24 years from Venezuela who did not place in Miss Universe. Currently lives in Mexico City where she works as a model.
Since colonial times, magico-religious societies have also existed, employing various forms of brujería, or "witchcraft." In Afro-Venezuelan communities, as in the rest of Venezuela, there is belief in brujos (sorcerers), who can cast spells and cause various forms of daño (harm). Fear of mal de ojo ("evil eye") against children is particularly common. Curanderas are sought for their knowledge of herbal medicines, which are used both in combating illness and counteracting daño. In Barlovento, healers are sometimes called ensalmadores and are particularly respected for their ability to divine the future as well as to find lost objects and people.
Magdalena Sánchez, (born Puerto Cabello, Carabobo, Venezuela April 9, 1915; died Caracas, August 18, 2005) was a Venezuelan singer, better known as the Queen of the Venezuelan song.
Ceremonies and Arts. Afro-Venezuelan ceremonies have been primarily linked to the Christian calendar, and many Afro-Venezuelan music, dance, and costume traditions are associated with specific church celebrations. The Nativity, Holy Week, Corpus Christi, the Cruz de Mayo, and patron saints' holidays are central to Afro-Venezuelan expressive culture throughout the country. The Día de los Inocentes (Feast of Fools, 28 December) is also celebrated and is particularly important in Barlovento, where "governments of women" are set up parodying male authority with absurd decrees and other actions such as cross-dressing. Carnival celebrations (the week before Lent) are significant, especially in eastern Venezuela, where in communities such as Güiria and El Callao there has been a large Caribbean influence. During saints' feast days, promesas (promises) made to the saints in return for personal favors are fulfilled. Correct observance of ritual activities such as offerings, drumming, dancing, and the feeding of all those present are essential to satisfying these promises.
Afro-Venezuelan Morella Muñoz (July 29, 1935 – July 15, 1995), was a celebrated Venezuelan mezzosoprano.
In various regions of Venezuela, different religious holidays have emerged as important local celebrations. Around Lake Maracaibo, the fiesta of a Black saint, San Benito, (26 December to 2 January) is prominent and is celebrated with the playing of chimbánguele drums. In Cata, Chuao, Cuyagua, and Ocumare de la Costa (Aragua), Naiguatá (Distrito Federal), San Francisco de Yare (Miranda), and Canoabo and Patanemo (Carabobo), the Diablos Danzantes (organized into cofradías) are the centerpiece of the Corpus Christi celebrations, performing in particularly vivid costumes and masks that incorporate African imagery. In Barlovento, the Fiesta of San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist) has been of singular importance since slavery. The three days of San Juan (23 to 25 June) were the only three days of the year during which slaves were given a rest from hard labor and were permitted to gather freely. During the holiday, not only would slaves celebrate with drumming and dancing, but also plot insurrection and flight.
As the one time of the year given to Blacks, the Fiesta of San Juan became associated with reversal of the social order as well as with cimarronaje, particularly in Curiepe, the town that has come to be most strongly associated with San Juan festivities. Two different drumming styles are associated with San Juan, linked, respectively, to public and private aspects of the fiesta: the large mina drum is played in tandem with the short, upright curbata in the central plaza, whereas the smaller, cylindrical culo e'puya drums are played directly in front of the saint during the velorios performed in private houses. Although attempts have been made since the late 1940s to incorporate the celebration of San Juan into a larger national tradition, the holiday remains a symbol of Afro-Venezuelan culture and is consistently used to reaffirm the values associated with it.
Afro-Venezuelan Berliz Susan Carrizo Escandela is a pageant titleholder, born in Lagunillas, Zulia, Venezuela on April 24, 1984. She was the official representative of Venezuela at the Miss World 2005 pageant held in Sanya, China on December 1, 2005. Carrizo, who is 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) tall, competed in the national beauty pageant Miss Venezuela 2005, on September 15, 2005 representing Costa Oriental, and won the title of Miss World Venezuela. Earlier, she has also won the Best Smile award. Carrizo also represented her country in the Miss Italia Nel Mondo 2008 beauty pageant, held in Jesolo, Italy on June 23, 2008, when she classified in the Top 25 semifinalists.
Another important Afro-Venezuelan ceremonial form is the velorio. Held during funerals and on the eve of saints' feast days, a velorio typically features a small party that travels from house to house performing drumming and dancing before the image of the saint. Other velorios, however, such as that for the Cruz de Mayo, remain stationary and are held in one place. Funerals for children who died before being baptized are called mampulorios and are considered happy occasions: the children, being innocent, are believed to ascend directly to heaven in the form of angelitos (little angels). The traditions associated with Christmas parrandas and with the Cruz de Mayo fulia songs are also important in Afro-Venezuelan culture, particularly in the central coastal regions. During Christmas, parranda (merrymaking) groups go from house to house singing songs to the accompaniment of small drums. During the Cruz de Mayo celebrations, fulias offer a forum for competitive singing as performers try to outwit each other through improvised verses or with poems organized in the strict ten-line decima structure. Fulias are accompanied by the tambor criollo (a drum), as well as cuatros (four-stringed guitarlike instruments), and maracas. Gaitas are another form of Christmas music, although most commonly associated with the western region of Zulia and Isla Margarita.
Afro-Venezuelan musical expression is characterized by a great diversity of drums. Most are of African origin and many bear direct resemblance to the drums of Bantu-speaking and West African groups. Generally, drums use specific rhythmic patterns to accompany specific song or dance forms; hence, drums, rhythms, and stylistic forms may all be designated by the same name. In turn, this stylistic complex is usually associated with a specific fiesta or celebration.
In Barlovento, the culo e'puya drums are important, as are the mina and curbata, which are played together. Quitiplas are also prominent in Barlovento. These are fashioned from hollow bamboo tubes and played by striking them on the ground. (They are similar to the Trinidadian "tambou bamboo" that gave rise to steel-drum styles.) Along the central coastal region, the cumaco is widespread, used in San Juan celebrations as well as the secular bailes de tambor (dances). The tamunango is found in Afro-Venezuelan communities in the interior. To the west, in Zulia, the chimbángueles are used to accompany San Benito festivities, and a friction drum called furruco is commonly played during Nativity celebrations and the singing of gaitas. In the eastern coastal regions, influence from Trinidad is evident in the performance of steel-band (estilban ) music. Maracas (seed-filled rattles) are prevalent throughout Venezuela and are commonly used to accompany drumming, as is another indigenous-derived instrument, the conch.
Other small percussion instruments, such as the charrasca, a small notched scraper, are also used as accompaniment. Less common instruments found in Barlovento and along the coast include the marimbola, a large bass "thumb-piano" derived from the African kalimba; the carángano, a musical bow similar to the Brazilian berimbau; and the marimba barloventeña, a large mouth-bow (Aretz 1967). As in other parts of Venezuela, the four-stringed cuatro is extremely common.
In addition to musical, dance, and costume traditions, oral lore forms an important part of Afro-Venezuelan expressive culture. Some of the best-known tales in Afro-Venezuelan oratory center around the exploits of Tío Conejo (Uncle Rabbit), who manages to outwit Tío Tigre (Uncle Tiger). In the twentieth century a small body of Afro-Venezuelan literature has been established, including the works of novelist and folklorist Juan Pablo Sojo and the poet Manuel Rodrigues Cárdenas. Theater and dance groups, which have a long history of performance in Barlovento, have become progressively more important with the appearance of such groups as the Centro de Creación Teatral de Barlovento-Curiepe, the Teatro Negro de Barlovento, and Madera.
Beautiful Afro-Venezuelan ladies
Demystifying Africa's Absence in Venezuelan History and Culture
Afro0Venezuealan Vina, miss Venezuela 2005
“The Caribbean shores of the country throb to the rhythms of the progeny of former slaves from Africa: Are they Venezuelans ?” (Richard Gott: 2005)
Eleggua visits USA
The Venezuelans are generally described as a 'café con leche-people', meaning that almost everybody is of mixed descendancy and - as the metaphor suggests - that everybody is at least partially ‘black’. But racist attitudes were not alien to this society, and the heritage of slavery combined with the ideology of whitening, resulted in the depreciation of everything remotely recognisable as 'African' in personal life and national culture. This resulted in the 'invisibility' of the blacks as a group in Venezuela, and to cultural amnesia regarding the African roots of - and contribution to - contemporary Venezuelan society.
Slowly something of a rediscovery and revalidation of the African heritage started - especially by writers of the indigenistic school in the 1940-50s. Before, anthropologists were almost only interested in the Amerindian legacy of Venezuela, but from then on social scientists also started to do do research on the neglected descendants of the slave population. This forgotten group also returned in other ways back to the centre of the national stage: Especially after World War II, the rural exodus took on new momentum and many impoverished rural blacks “voted with their feet.”
In Caracas, some rapidly growing neighbourhoods became almost extensions of the regions of origin: San Augustín, for instance harboured many people from Barlovento, and social movements originating in that barrio - like El Afinque de Marín, and the band Madera - did much to revitalize the traditions of the homeland. In this way, Afro-Venezuelan traditions and drums also came back to the cities, to new audiences and the national consciousness.
In the last two decades of the 20th century, a new generation of cultural entrepreneurs – most notable amongst them some Afro-Venezuelan activists – and also some institutions (especially the state funded FUNDEF – Society for Etnomusicology and Folklore – and the Fundación Bigott, offspring of a tobacco multinational) started to research and promote the Afro-Venezuelan heritage. With the coming to power of Hugo Chávez in 1998, and the political and cultural project of the Bolivarian Revolution, he forcefully promoted, once almost invisible and unheard - indigenous, native - voices have come to the forefront of the national scene and reclaimed their presence.
Several indigenous leaders became members of the national parliament, and a lot has been done to better their position in society. As the Afro-Venezuelans are much more integrated into Venezuelan society, specific policies to better their lot have been more difficult to formulate and to implementate, but changes have come here too.
Thus, although the African heritage in Venezuela is very diluted, in the field that interest us most here - that of music and dance - it made a spectacular renaissance. In popular culture, the 'black' drum dances that were once forbidden by the authorities, have by now become indispensable in any representation of national culture. Pioneering groups like Un Solo Pueblo, Madera, Vasallos del Sol and Convenezuela, already testified of this move, and by now most Venezuelan artists are eager to include elements of “Afro-Venezuelan music” in their repertoire.
A side-effect to the rediscovery of this music (though still mostly for interior consumption), has recently been a certain 're-africanisation' of national music styles.
Also there is a wider acceptance now of a neo-African identity. Another symptom of this revalorization seems to be the wider acceptance of the term “Afro-Venezuelan” itself (although many “black Venezuelans” perceive themselves just as Venezuelans, citizens of a modern state).
During the time of the transatlantic slave trade, Africans from many regional and social backgrounds were forcefully transplanted to the new plantation societies in the Americas.
In the process they became a commodity in the rising global market. The descendants of the black diaspora in the northern parts of the Americas are called Afro-Americans, and by analogy their descendants in Venezuela are called Afro-Venezuelans. During the period of the slave trade about 120,000 people were sold into slavery in Venezuela. Here slavery came to a relatively early end, although it took longer then the lifetime of El Libertador Simón Bolívar, who promised manumission to the slaves once Independence would be achieved. As a social institution it just seemed to dwindle away; 'an anti-climax,' Lombardi called it, and even 'a non-event'. The ‘early’ dismissal of slavery also meant that blacks became more assimilated to the incipient national society - with its growing overall criollo identity - than elsewhere in the wider Caribbean (in Venezuela criollo means “native, local”, and in its racial sense comes nearest to the term “mestizo”). The enslaved people were the victim to severe shocks and traumas, but there were several escape strategies, real or symbolical: There were active and passive strategies of maroonage. Ethnic diversity and geographical dispersity led to a stronger abandonment of localised 'African' magico-religious practices, but Afro-Venezuelans evolved their own specific discourses and forms of resistance in the context of the slowly consolidating multi-ethnic nation-state Venezuela. Folk Catholicism at times softened the impact of the process of dehumanization and the reign of terror.
In - and beyond - the religious context, music became the priviliged vehicle for self and collective expression for the uprooted and disinherited, and a niche for the retention of 'African culture elements'.
In the context of music and dance, black identity crystallizes most visibly and dramatically.
uantitative sources are evidently very unreliable and racial identity itself is subject to strategic ambiguity. In 1950, official statistics had it that about 32% of the Venezuelan population was black (estimates for Brazil and the US being, respectively, 33% and 10%). According to a NACLA-report, 10% of the Venezuelan population is black. That would mean that about 3 million Venezuelans would be ‘statistically black.’ But we have to remember, that all ‘racial’ categories are part of wider criollo society, with overlapping, multiple identities to be situated in their context. It would also be a mistake to consider the “black population” as one homogeneous category: shades of color still hold their significance here. And besides an internal wave of blacks migrating to the cities, many Afro-Antillians (most recently many Haitians) and even more Afro-Colombians migrated towards Venezuelan centres of opportunity and employment.
The African contribution to Venezuelan music
La Burra - the donkey - is a part of village lore which has become part of national folklore. It is a very amusing song during which a donkey messes around with the bystanders. In its version by Un Solo Pueblo it became a huge success.
Musicologically, the most important aspect of Afro-Venezuelan music is its use of polyrhythms; the synchronic unfolding of more than two melodic motives or percussive rhythms at the same time. Next to an inventive play with polyrhythms, and ageneral emphasis on rhythm as the most important aesthetic organizing principle (instead of for instance melody or harmony), other characteristics of 'African music' are the use of call-and-response patterns and the repetition of phrases. The lyrics may also contribute to the 'African' flavour of the music, the sabor africano. One might also note the use of syncopation and even the democratic nature of the performanceitself, in the sense that nobody is excluded from actively participating in the musical process.
El baile del tambor is the generalized description of the various drum dances. When drums resound, it doesn’t take long before a couple starts to dance and soon bystanders follow.
Saint John the Baptist in full glory on his altar. Here we see the typical Catholic iconography, but in some villages we encountered black statues taking the place of this ‘Eurocentric’ image.
This picture was taken during the festival of San Juan in 'his house,’ in the village of Chuao. This was one of the first cocoa haciendas on the Venezuelan coast and due to its isolation many Afro-Catholic traditions are still honoured. Celebrants sing and dance for the saint.
The society of Sanjuaneras is a female association and each year they select someone amongst them to take care of San Juan in ‘his house’. When the fiesta is nearing, San Juan dresses up for the event and the women talk and sing to him. During the dawns of the festival, they sing sirenas in front of his statue when he comes back from his visits to the church.
San Benito, two drums and pilón.
(Video 5 (youtube) - San Millan)
These images were shot at a live performance in Petare, Caracas. These are the opening shots of a documentary on Afro-Venezuelan music: “Of Saints and Drums” (released under the title “Going Native in Venezuela” by PAN Records). The locations of several black communities are shown on the map. San Millán is one of the most emblematic Afro-Venezuelan bands and in time has come to define a proper style.
Los Pastores is another Roman Catholic tradition that is playfully reinterpreted by the people from these isolated communities. These are the shepherds that guarded the cave where the Holy Virgin gave birth. A whole spectacle evolved around this theme in the village of Chuao, including an innocent version of a transvestite dance in the church. Nowadays they also sometimes put a black Jesus Christ in the crib, mostly next to the ‘official’ white one. On the picture we see a cachero who amuses the bystanders.
Here we see the cumacos just in front of the Holy Cross.
In the month of may, the summer festival cycle starts with the Cruz de Mayo (The Cross of the month of may). Every Holy Cross is adorned and a procession is held to visit them all. These are spread over the whole territory of the community. At each cross, prayers are said, and at the main cross in the village, drums and songs might be played all night.
(Video 6 (youtube) - Chimbangueles)
This is another, longer selection from the documentary on black subcultures in Venezuela. First we see images from Curiepe - long the archetypical black village in Venezuela, ‘discovered’ by intellectuals in the 1950’s, and still a very popular destination at the time of the local fiestas. It is followed by an interview with Juan de Dios Martínez (1945-2005), “captain of the captains of the Chimbangueleros”. Born in Bobures within its traditions which reach back to Africa, he took these to the aulas and became the defender of “Afrozulianidad” – the African presence in Zulia, Venezuela’s easternmost state. He also recorded the Tambor veleño, the drum music from the area around Coro, which resembles the tambu from the nearby Dutch Antilles. He was Venezuela’s most ardent promotor of the Afro-Venezuelan heritage. Festivals for San Benito and San Juan last for several days and nights without any break. A quite exhausting affair, but to devotees it is unquestionably the most cherised event on the yearly ritual calendar.
Nowadays, instruments and songs are often played out of their original context, as a leisure activity, and often for an outside audience of tourists and urbanites, or just for the sake of fun, as the Afrovenezuelans seem especially dedicated to the art of parrandear (mounting improvised parties).
(Video 7 (youtube) - Chuao beach session)
During holidays, an exodus starts from the overcrowded cities. Many people flock to the beaches and the party is on. On these images one sees a group of young students bringing back the music from the black villages to its source, a music and a culture they can now identify with. The images were shot on the beach of Chuao. A valley that can only be reached by crossing the sea in small fishing boats. This village evolved out of a hacienda, founded in 1568 as an encomienda of native Amerindians. At an early stage slaves were introduced, in the beginning to work alongside the ‘indians.’ In 1671 the hacienda was donated to the church, and an estimated 350 slaves worked at the Obra Pía de Chuao. Only very recently, the hacienda has become the property of those who work it, a local cooperative. Its cocoa is still renowned as one of the world's finest.
The most striking characteristic of traditional Afro-Venezuelan musical culture is the regional distribution of different drum ensembles.
Here the director of Café y Panela (the same group as Grupo Osma - see video) proudly poses next to his drums. These cumacos are typical for El Litoral, the coastal area near Caracas, West of Barlovento.
Son de Chuao is another grupo de tambores. They are from Chuao, a valley, cocoa hacienda and village on the coast of Aragua State (west to Caracas). On the left we see a metal scraper, the charrasca. Adapted from salsa and merengue orchestras, it has become part of the grupos de tambores, as they produce a much stronger sound as the maracas.
The palitero forcefully strikes a rhythm against the body of thecumaco, thus giving a basis to the player of the drumskin. The same rhythm is maintained, and this continious beat becomes entrancing.
This picture was taken on the beach-front – el malecón – of Choroní, a small colonial village. Every weekend a multitude of urbanites invades this place, eager to hear the sound of the drums and enjoy the - often alcohol induced - orgiastic atmosphere.
This picture is from an archive, and probably from the 1950s. The cumacos are at the core of local identity, and it seems things didn’t change that much over the last fifty years. The players of the drums are called the cumaqueros; anyone is allowed to join in, but physical strength is a benefit.
The drums are tuned in a more or less intuitive way: If the sound is too low, a fire is lighted to heat up the skin, until the pitch is high enough. The cumaco is played with both hands, but the heel of the foot can also be used to press against the skin and thus influence its tone.
(Video 8 (youtube) - Vasallos tamborero)
This song - “Lucero” (Morning Star) – is a typical drum song. Here the drums explode full force (tambores trancao). Part of the Vasallos band is a dance troupe, dressed in a more or less folklorized fashion. In order to bring the repertoire of the villages to urban audiences, accomodations have to be made to the performance. It has to be structured in space and time, and made more attractive to spectators willing to consume these performances, be it as part of their own identity or as a form of ‘local exotism.’
Another type of drums are the chimbangueles. These are specifically used for the festival in honor of San Benito de Palermo.
Before the festival of San Benito starts, money has to be collected. To this end, processions with his statue and drums are organized, especially in places where many people gather. This picture was taken at the bus station of Maracay, the capital of Aragua State, just west of Caracas. In this way, this picture also shows that he is venerated in many parts of the country (but most intensely so in Zulia) and has never been an exclusively Afro-Venezuelan saint.
(Video 9 (youtube) - The festival of San Benito)
(Audio 3 - “Ajé/Benito/Ajé”, Villagers of Bobures, Tierra Del Cacao - Afro-Venezuelan Music And Dance)
Ajé-Benito-Ajé is one of the rhythms played by San Benito's devotees, los Chimbangueleros. The Chimbangueleros perform different golpes de tambor during the procession for their Afro-Catholic patron saint Ajé/Benito: Ajé when the saints are requested to come out of the church; Chimbanguelero Vaya is played once the saints are out in the streets. Ajé begs the Santo Negro to be one with the pueblo. On this recording from Bobures, the group consists of seven drummers. Ajé is probably a deity of African origin, who later got assimilated to the Catholic cult of San Benito as a means to control a potentially subversive folk religion.
A follower - vassal - of San Benito drums out his devotion on one of the drums of the chimbangueles drum ensemble.
A set of culo ‘e puyas. These were made by master-drummer Miguel Urbina in his workshop in Caracas and are now in the expert hands of Marco Toro.
(Video 10 (youtube) - Mina)
Here we see Grupo Mina in its embryonic form, with a set of culo ‘e puyas and with Chucho García on the left playing the maracas (Miguel Urbina with the blue shirt is playing the drum on the right). Although they have a Workshop of Afro-Venezuelan Percussion in La Pastora, Caracas, the first record they produced was with batá music (the drums of the Cuban Santeriá cult). In 2006 the cd “Somos Mina” appeared, an independent production which is more in a latin-jazz vein.
During the festival of San Juan, it is possible to see drums - you may have looked for anxiously during your stay in Venezuela - on every corner of the street. Here two young boys demonstrate their drumming technique to a group of bystanders (in Curiepe).
(Audio 4 - “Barlovento”, Caracas Kontambor, Caracas Kontambor - The Bululú Project)
Barlovento is one of Venezuela’s favorite songs, orginally composed as a Venezuelan merengue, it became adapted to every imaginable musical style. It is a hymn to the region of that name - literally “the region where the wind comes from” - and to its inhabitants, who form a multi-ethnic society with a predominance of blacks: “Barlovento, fiery land of drums, of devotional songs and beautiful negresses, who go feasting with their fine dark waists and dance to the rhythm of the drums. How heavenly delicious she moves her body, how marvellous the pounding of the drums resounds.”
As the area - to the east of Caracas and part Miranda State - was renowned for its cocoa plantations, it is also referred to as La Tierra del Cacao. There is a strong black subculture in this impoverished zone, and some popular leaders elaborate on the theme of “afrobarloventeñidad,” using powerful regional symbols - like the mina - to generate a culture of resistance...
This interpretation by Caracas Kontambor starts off with an instrumental version, performed on culo e’puya, cuatro, bass, and sax. In the second part, Betzayda once again gives a superb demonstration of her vocal mastery.
Another drum from this same culture area, Barlovento, is the enormous mina, a drum measuring two to up to four metres (with a boca - literally mouth; diameter - of about 50 cm).
El Teatro Negro de Barlovento is also from the heartland of Venezuelan cocoa culture. Like Elegua, they actively try to recover their African roots, and both have come to adopt a pan-African repertoire recently. Teatro Negro opted for a more diversified instrumentation though, and their sound resembles that of world music pioneers Osibisa, or of the afrobeat more in vogue nowadays. In front of the band stands the 'mina' - the typical drum of the region.
Here we see the mina and its partner the curbata in a museum setting: At the FUNDEF which - during revolutionary times - was being rebaptized as the Centre for Diversity. This is the hothouse of national popular culture.
The furruco - a type of frotting drum - is mostly used at parrandas. This might refer to a spontanously mounted party, or to a genre of Christmas music. This picture was taken during a nightly procession through the village of Chuao. They go from house to house, play in front of the door and when the door is opened the party is on in the living room of the mostly very humble dwellings. During the day this woman works in the cocoa hacienda.
During festival time and parrandas the drums are intensely used (not to say abused). Often skins have to be replaced, or sticks, or the attachment of the skin renewed. But still even the youngest children can’t resist the drums; they have to play them and else they fabricate their own instruments from what they find.
(Audio 5 - “Bocón (Chatterbox)”, Belén Palacios, Heide, Miguel Urbina, Chucho García, Bocón - Afro-Hispanic Music From Venezuela)
This song derives its magic from the quitiplás. Belén and Heide - from the cocoa village of Tapipa - now form the nucleus of an all-female band: Eleguá. With the help of their manager they started to perform on other stages far from home and by now are one of the foremost neo-African bands of Venezuela. The title of this song refers to a bigmouth, a twaddler:
“Stop tattling and flying rumor, else your fiancée will drop you
Leave those lies behind, ’cause I know the truth:
I fear no one, because I have a strong voice”
Two bigger tubes (called cruza’o and puja'o), each played by one person, complete the ensemble. When pounded on the ground, one hand partly covers the upper orifice of the tube, thus manipulating the pitch. Though classified as idiophones, these sticks produce very drum-like sounds. Juan Liscano has been credited with the rediscovery of this instrument when he encountered it in Barlovento around 1940. Since then, the quitiplás have been revitalised through its adoption by folklore groups.
This is an all-female band from a small cocoa village in Barlovento: Elegúa here performs on the quitiplás, a percussion ensemble consisting of hollow bamboo tubes. The director of the band is Alexis Machado (who has his own Afro-Venezuelan band: Akende). He ‘invented’ the name of the band and is responsible for their presentation (repertoire, dress and so on). All musicians belong to the Afro-Venezuelan network.
Belén Palacios always worked on her own cocoa hacienda andconuco, and as a popular artist maintained the traditions of her village. Here she plays the quitiplás in her backyard; with the all-female band Elegúa, she has been performing on various international stages recently.
(Video 11 (youtube) - Belén Palacios on quitiplas)
(Audio 6 - “Tonada De Quitiplás”, Toro Ensamble, Barrio Latino)
Songs played on the quitiplás, typical of Barlovento and nominally only played during the fiesta of San Juan. The verses belong to oral tradition and have become quite standardized (de-localized).
(Video 12 (youtube) - Osma)
The band Café y Panela is from the village of Osma, located on the coastal stretch near Caracas called El Litoral (near to La Sabana and Chuspa). They make their own drums and these help to create the impression of a very powerful band (see also the picture). In the video we see a “Baile de Tambor”, one of the typical Afro-Venezuelan dances. We also see the guaruras, here played by women. These images were shot during a performance in honor of San Juan in Caracas, thus bringing the black saint and his people to the center of the national stage.
(Audio 7- “Carángano”, Santiago Muñoz, Bernardo Sanz & Erasmo Llasmoza, Bocón - Afro-Hispanic Music From Venezuela)
The carángano is made from the trunk of a coconut palm. A horizontal incision is made in the stem and is put under tension by two wooden pieces that are inserted between it and the trunk. The strand of bark is struck with sticks, and - supplementing this percussive effect - a bowl with corn seeds is placed on top and moved along it, thus producing different maracas-like vibrations. The song is comical: “The monkey tomfool smokes a pipe and drinks cocoa. The monkey of Juan Ramón smoked a pipe and drank our rum!”
|From invisibility to empowerment - Cultural resistance and afrocentricity|
(Audio 8 - “El Nieto Del Retorno”, Grupo Mina, Somos Mina)
The second song by Grupo Mina “El Nieto del Retorno” (The Grandchild of the Return) is a theme by Chucho García, and it ‘returns’ as a bonus track as well. Here Chucho only plays the thumb-piano and sings with a soft-spoken voice (very contrary to his more rethorical voice): ”I came back to you as the grandchild of memory / to shelter in your naked and tender breast / Muakaka koko ya kento....” The song was inspired by a trip to the Kongo in 1987; the first in situ confrontation with the roots of Afro-Venezuelan culture, the first “Salto al Atlantico” (the title of a 1989 documentary based on the experience of the return, which shows the intimate similarities between Afrovenezuelean and ‘African’ culture). Miguel Urbina also made the return trip in search of “nuestra africanía” – “our Africanness” and went to Senegal. Grupo Mina elaborates on the rhytmical affinities and family resemblances between African and Venezuelan - and Cuban - musical traditions.
Jesús 'Chucho' Garcia, advocate of the Afro-Venezuelans.
New directions in Afro-Venezuelan music - From localised soundscape to world jazz
Miguel Urbina (to the left) is leader of Grupo Mina. He also plays with Alfredo Naranjo (on the right) in his latin jazz band. They stand in front of El Maní, the nightspot in Caracas for live music.
(Audio 9 - “Somos Mina”, Grupo Mina, Somos Mina)
The first record by Grupo Mina is called Somos Mina (“We are the mina-drum”). It is also the title of the first song:
“The mina is not just a drum
It is a movement / from Africa to Barlovento...
The mina doesn’t exlude, because we are all mina
Those who feel that in their soul
something new is coming...
Move with the mina / Move.”
Another interesting attempt at this was made by the group Vaya Mandinga! with members from Venezuela, Gambia, Guinee and the Netherlands.
(Audio 10 - “Tumbao Mandinga”, Vaya Mandinga!, El Mambo Del Diablo)
"Tumbao Mandinga" is from the first album of ¡Vaya Mandinga!, a group of musicians from Venezuela, West-Africa and The Netherlands. The ¡Vaya Mandinga!-project was organised by Fundación Interchange in an attempt to reconnect indigenous traditions across the Atlantic. The pairing of the African and the Venezuelan harp was done to demonstrate that the African contribution to the evolution of Venezuelan music has been more intensive than ever believed. The development of the national musical style joropo - and especially the playing of the harp - was always explained in terms of its embeddedness in the grand Western classical tradition. As if Venezuelan harp music was nothing more than a manifestation of the music that had been en vogue in Europe at earlier stages. Although the memory of it might be vague or even absent, the continuities between the kora and the harp are deeper than hitherto acknowledged.
Tumbao Mandinga is a calípso, a genre made popular through the emigration of West Indians:”Listen to the drums, and how kora and harp resound; with this groove that invites you to celebrate carnival.” During the Christian Carnival, the established order is reversed and turned upside down: The devil and his mob of fools temporarily reign supreme. In calipso the bumbac is used, a drum brought by the West Indians. Cissoko from Guinee plays the balaphone. This song is an eloquent testimony to the family resemblances between African and circum-Caribbean musics.
(Audio 11 - “Stringed to Senegambia”, Vaya Mandinga!, El Mambo Del Diablo)
"Stringed to Senegambia" is a traditional Mandinga song. The title points to the ‘strings’ between Venezuela and the Senegambia. Harp and kora weave an intricate tapestry: So many ‘genetically’ connected strings, that one gets disoriented at times by this play of mirror images between kora/Africa and harp/Venezuela.
(Audio 12 - “Mambo del diablo”, Vaya Mandinga!, El Mambo Del Diablo)
"Mambo del diablo" is a song based on the festival for Saint John the Baptist. The celebrants dance with the statue of the saint when he leaves his ‘house’:“Take him outside; I want to see him”. The expression at the end means “Go back to hell, you evil forces.” This song is ”¡Vaya Mandinga!’s devil’s mambo against the forces of darkness.
(Video 13 (youtube) - Sutukung)
The band Vaya Mandinga! was created to reestablish transatlantic musical links. The African kora is seen next to the Venezuelan harp and the European double bass. This song derives from Mande culture in West Africa. It is a praise-song in honor of a powerful man, who lived in the time of the ancestors and founded the village of Sutukung in the Gambia.
(Audio 13 - “Ritmos de la humanidad”, Vaya Mandinga!, El Mambo Del Diablo)
In "Ritmos de la Humanidad" the harp provides the funky foundation for a stylistic experiment. Vocalist ‘Cotufa’ is one of Caracas’ hottest rappers, performing with a latin hip-hop posse and with a reggae band. His inspired lyrics speak of universal unity. Jesús Bosque here plays the vibes; he established himself as a high-priest of música afro-urbana, a drum-fusion of rock, jazz and Venezuelan popular music.
(Audio 14 - “Agua que va a caer” (Rain that’s gonna fall), Vaya Mandinga!, El Mambo Del Diablo)
Venezuelan-Dutch percussionist and bandleader Marco Bernal (born in Caracas, 1969) founded rock band Laberintoin 1989, and in 1992 these “latin-metal rockers” made the jump to Amsterdam. In time, Laberinto achieved a certain notoriety, but Marco never lost his rootedness in Venezuelan popular culture, in which pan-Latin and Afro-Venezuelan rhythmic patterns predominate. As he matured, he embarked on a new project: The Toro Ensamble (2004). With this band he returns to Venezuelan popular music and to the salsa brava of his youth, integrating these with new soundscapes of the global village. This song modernized and salsafied drum-dance; San Juan being associated with summer solstice and the beginning of the rainy season.
Marco Toro is an all-round percussionist who started his career as aheavy metal drummer, but in time returned to the Afro-Venezuelan traditions too. He is the founder of the Toro Ensamble.
But Afro-Venezuelan rhythms still remain something of a terra incognita to the outside world. In the second edition of the ‘Bible of World Music’ - The Rough Guide to World Music (2000) - for the first time a chapter on Venezuela was included. Its author, Dan Rosenberg concludes: “While Afro-Venezuelan culture is as strong as ever in isolated villages along the northern Caribbean coast, it is growing more and more apparent, that, at least for now, if you want to see and hear it, you’ll have to travel to South America to do so.”
Another scene from a village parranda. The parranda is one way to pass on local traditions and songs to the younger generation. The atmosphere tends to be very relaxed and informal, even in the church. Drums - and bottles with liquor - are carried around the village and everyone is invited to join the party. Ecstasy is on the faces of the participants, but if it is out of religious fervour ?
The dancers/chorus girls of Tambor Urbano demonstrate the use of the guarura. This picture was taken on the beach of Choroní, while a commercial for a soft drink was being shot. To ‘purists’, the band has lost credibility for its outright commercialism, but on the other hand they did well on the national music market, reaching new audiences with their local exotism.
For most Afro-Venezuelans, the lives of blacks in the USA and in Africa are beyond their horizon. Malcolm X was a relatively unknown ‘entity,’ foreign to Venezuelan reality. But some city-based militants adopted his image when he became ‘rediscovered’ in the predominantly black youth subcultures of rap and hip-hop. This flyer was spread around by “an Afro-Venezuelan free jazz band” named Cacri Jazz, directed by Pablo García (none other then the one participating in Vaya Mandinga!).
(Audio 15 - “Comadre Juana”, Caracas Kontambor, The Bululú Project)
Comadre Juana is a composition with three parts, based on a very popular Afro-Venezuelan song: “Comadre Juana take my hand and make me dance with you!” This version gives a daring new interpretation of this song, as it is included in a ‘suite’ about contemporary Venezuela (here Comadre Juana becomes Godmother of all the Venezuelans and a metaphor for Venezuela). Comadre Juana represents the intimacy of relations in a small-scale society. Lead vocalistBetzayda Machado - ”La Perla Negra de Barlovento,” being herself from a typical Barloventean village of small cocoa-hacienda owners - also sings with Vasallos del Sol, Un Solo Pueblo and Vaya Mandinga! The chorus sings: “Sí es, no es,” echoing the Shakespearean dictum “To be or not to be.” The second part delivers a message about the broken dream of progress in Venezuela. The third part represents the continuity in Venezuelan history, symbolized by the harp - the basic instrument of joropo, the national dance and a kind of musical key to the national soul. Its sound is reminscent of the West African kora, and blends harmoniously with the African derived percussive traditions of Venezuela. The band Caracas Kontambor was formed in 2001 by Bartolomé Duijsens and Gilberto Simoza. TheBululú Project derives its name from “Bululú” - disorder - a common theme in the history of Venezuela. Caracas Kontambor presents a musical fusion that might be dubbed “world jazz,” reflecting the variegated musical styles of a multi-ethnic society in a global soundscape, an alchemical blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and homegrown anarchy.