Bidimensional, the album by acclaimed Venezuelan salsa band Guaco, has won the Best Contemporary Tropical Grammy award at the 18th Latin Grammy Awards. On half of the album Guaco collaborates with the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela (OSSBV), conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.
Music was Irene Farerra’s first language. Her earliest memories of Venezuela are full of song and dancing feet. “Music is part of every celebration and social occasion,” says the Oregon-based vocalist. By the time she was six she could sing dozens of aguinaldos or holiday songs. She loved the rhythm of Venezuela’s gaita music too so much that she insisted on organizing her brother and three sisters into a band to perform for the family. Impressed by their fervor their father bought a drum for the brother maracas for the sisters and presented Irene with a cuatro a Venezuelan four-stringed guitar. The instrument became her constant companion.
What began as a childhood diversion has become a deep commitment to the universal language of music. Farrera’s album Soy de Ti (Indígena Records) is a testament to her mastery of the guitarwhich she wields as both melodic and percussive accompaniment and her skill in translating emotion and observation into poetic lyrics. Accompanied by steel drum master Andy Narell (who produced the album) and Afro-Latin percussionists Michael Spiro, Jesús Diaz and Jackeline Rago Farrera weaves her silky voice through verses of caressing tenderness urgency and hope.
“These are songs about being in love being on fire,” she said. “Some are songs to embrace the world to bring people together in the dance. Ideally I would like my music to reinforce the sense of positive activism and power that each of us carries within.”
All but one of the 11 tracks are originals that Farrera penned over the last ten years. The arrangements with lyrics in Spanish and English cover a range of styles: the samba-reggae rallying cry of “For the World” a romantic rumba flamenca for “I’ll be There” and the title track a bossa nova performed with Brazilian guitarist Carlos Oliveira and violinist Darol Anger of The Turtle Island String Quartet.
Farrera’s siblings indulged her every Christmas season by crooning the choruses to the aguinaldos that quickly became a family tradition. By the time she was a teenager Farrera was lead singer and the family bandwith the addition of her sisters’ boyfriendswere playing paid gigs at holiday parties. “They were having fun but I was serious ” she recalls. “I was certain that this is what I needed to do. Something in me could not separate from the music. I went everywhere with my guitar.”
Still a musical career seemed unrealistic. After high school she packed up her guitar and moved to New York to study architecture. She returned to Venezuela to work but grew restless, a scholarship offer eventually brought her to Oregon where she completed a degree in humanities. At one point short of cash and encouraged by a voice teacher she auditioned at a jazz club in Ashland. “I played ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ and they hired me for the weekend!, “she said. “I had no formal training and was thrilled to get paid. The audience was supportive and wonderful. Word spread the gigs got bigger and better. I didn’t think I would stay but the music has kept me here.”
The club gave her the opportunity to play with Charlie Byrd since then she has toured extensively and opened for the likes of Cesaria Evora, Tish Hinojosa and Susana Baca. Critics lauded her first two albums “Walking in the Jungle” (Same Sea Music 1993) and “Alma Latina” (Redwood Records 1995) comparing her voice to fine chocolate.
Her live sets continue to pay homage to the Venezuela of her childhood. “The cuatro makes you want to play joropo the folk music that goes with that instrument. The way I strum the six-string guitar now is as a percussive instrument, charrasqueado with all the fingernails together. The gaita also is very percussive. The two styles are very strong. Of course I have now traveled the world and been exposed to many musical styles. Most important to me are the music of Cuba and Brazil with their rich and compelling rhythms and melodies. ”
Much of Farrera’s repertoire has a message a plea for enlightenment action or redemption. Beyond the words however rings her dedication to a universal and non-verbal language of rhythm and expression. “Many people tell me that my music is passionate. I like to think it’s from the heart that it awakens those places in you that feel strongly about life and love. I want to move people with my music. Often when I play some of the audience doesn’t understand the words whether they’re in Spanish or English. But they feel the meaning in every cell of their bodies.
“It’s not that music breaks geographic borders,” she added. “It simply demonstrates that they don’t existthey’re imaginary lines drawn to divide us. I need to perform my music as a Latina and as a woman to represent my culture con pasion to bring us all together. I think we are ready for it.”
Maracaibo drum ensemble Huracan de Fuego explores the regional drum patterns of Venezuela and the roots of Afro-Venezuelan percussion. Huracan de Fuego was founded by Maracaibo native Nestor Gutierrez who played the congas in a salsa group before becoming fascinated by the great wealth of traditional Venezuelan drums.
Gutierrez gathered together a talented group of percussionists who share his passion to preserve the traditional instruments and performance practices in danger of disappearing in many parts of Venezuela. Huracan de Fuego’s music embraces the regional drumming techniques style of singing and barefoot dance associated with traditional drum performances.
Each region of Venezuela has its own drums and each village often has its own distinctive drum beat. On its Nubenegra album Vamos a Darle (We’re Going to Play It) the group focuses on the cumaco drums which are essential for dancing and have a history that can be traced back to the Congo. A wide variety of other percussion instruments and the strong male voices of the singers supply additional color and vibrancy to this exciting album.
Among the musicians joining Gutierrez on this recording are Carlos Telez, a singer and percussionist from Palmarito (a region known for its rich drumming traditions); Elvis Sanchez, a Maracaibo native who has experimented with fusing jazz and the Afro-Venezuelan drums; Isaac Angulo whose playing is influenced by his Colombian roots; and Nemecia Prieto who played merengue and salsa before dedicating himself to the drums.
Several band members relocated to Madrid, Spain in the late 1990s.
Asdrúbal José Hurtado, better known as Cheo Hurtado is an acclaimed musician, who received many awards and plays the four-string cuatro, in addition to several other string instruments t. This small instrument is normally used for the rhythmic accompaniment in the folkloric tradition of Venezuela, but Hurtado plays it so sophisticated that it becomes an outstanding solo instrument.
Cheo Hurtado was born in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela on May 2, 1960. Son of the guitarist and composer of Venezuelan popular music, Ramón Hurtado, his master, who initiated him in the field at 7 years of age. At 13 he won the first prize in the National Cuatro Festival.
Between 1975 and 1983 he worked as a teacher of cuatro, guitar and mandolin in the Ciudad de Bolivar Culture House, where he founded in 1977 the Carlos Raúl Villanueva Students Band. He was also founding member of the Cuerda de Carmito, a traditional Guyanese musical group, and played acoustic bass in the Angostura Orchestra, conducted by Juanito Arieta. In 1985 Cheo Hurtado moved to Caracas where he founded the well-known Gurrufío Esemble together with Luis Julio Toro and Cristóbal Soto. He was also member of Un Solo Pueblo, a pop music group, and conductor of the Costa Caribe Group and of Bandolas de Venezuela.
Cheo Hurtado has played together with many national and international music figures such as Alirio Díaz, Aldemaro Romero, Paquito D’Rivera, Oscar D’Leon, Simón Diaz, Bela Fleck, Serenata Guayanesa, Soledad Bravo, Lilia Vera, María Teresa Chacín among others.
With Gurrufío Ensemble, Costa Caribe and Bandolas de Venezuela he has toured the USA, Japan and Europe since 1982.
La Cuerda de Carmito Vol. 1 (1981)
La Cuerda de Carmito Vol. 2 (1986)
El Seis Guayanés (1988)
Costa Caribe Vol. 1 (1989)
Que Te Vaya Bien, with Costa Caribe (1990) Bandolas de Venezuela (Musicarte/Dorian, 1990)
Sin Fronteras, with Costa Caribe (1991)
Compadre Pancho (Musicarte/1993)
Maroa, with Ensamble Gurrufío (1993) Cruzao, with Ensamble Gurrufío (Dorian, 1994) Music from the Orinoco River (Ocora, 1996)
El trabadedos, with Ensamble Gurrufío (Sony, 1997) Cuatro arpas y un cuatro (Tropical Music, 1998) Cosas del ayer, with Ensamble Gurrufío (1998) Ensamble Gurrufío con la Orquesta Sinfónica Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho (1999)
Ensamble Gurrufío en vivo, with Ensamble Gurrufío (1999)
33 de 4 (2000)
Seis Guayanés (Fundación Bigott, 2002)
En Vivo, with Camerata Criolla (2002)
Sesiones con Moisés Torrealba, with Ensamble Gurrufío (2002)
El cuatro suelto (Fundación Bigott, 2004)
El Reto, with Ensamble Gurrufío (2004)
42 años Instrumenteando (2009)
Leonard Jacome, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer and producer, is one of Venezuela’s most prolific and accomplished harpists. He has numerous awards representing Venezuela abroad and has toured and performed throughout Latin America, Europe and Japan.
He performs Joropo and other traditional Venezuelan styles as well as salsa and contemporary pieces.
Inberoamerican Music Expo (EXIB) organizers were forced to move the outdoor showcase venues to the historic Teatro Garcia de Resende. The beautiful renovated theater turned out to be an excellent space to experience the live performances.
The first act on stage was La Colectiva Corazón, a multinational group of graduates from the Berklee College of Music – Valencia, Spain Campus. The collective plays what they describe as cumbia fusion. Bear in mind that it’s Chilean cumbia along with guajiras, boleros, funk, Andean music, and pop. Think of Chico Trujillo mixed with Manu Chao.
The slow dance beat immediately got members of the audience dancing (primarily women). The band brought a dance party atmosphere to Teatro Garcia de Resende and the performance was very well received.
La Colectiva Corazon was created by Chilean composer, vocalist and percussionist Gonzalo Eyzaguirre. The ensemble includes musicians from Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Ecuador, Colombia, Italy and the United States. La Colectiva just released its debut album titled “Viajero.”
The band included Gonzalo Eyzaguirre on vocals, charango and percussion; Travis Smilen on electric guitar; Sebastián Laverde on congas; Carlos Llido on drums and timbales; Eric Benavent on saxophone; Alfonso Benavent on trumpet; and Javier Giner Garrido on bass.
The second act was Portuguese singer-songwriter and guitarist Luiz Caracol. He’s a talented artist who combines the rhythms of Portugal with jazz and the music of African countries, Brazil and the sounds of Jorge Drexler.
Luiz Caracol has a captivating laid back song style supported by his rhythmic electric guitar and a fabulous rhythm section that includes a percussionist from Brazil and a West African drummer.
Caracol was born in Elvas right after his parents arrived from newly independent Angola, where they had lived before the African nation became independent. Luiz Caracol released his first album, Devagar, in 2013. Devagar includes special guest performances by Fernanda Abreu, Sara Tavares and Valete. He’s currently recording his new album titled Metade, scheduled for release later this year, in 2016.
Concert lineup: Luiz Caracol on guitar and vocals; Chico Santos on bass; Miroca Paris on drums; and Ruca Rebordão on percussion.
Mexico was represented by vocalist Zaira Franco. Zaira’s show crossed numerous musical boundaries. She was accompanied by a rock band and delivered a mix of Mexican music, boleros, funk, Afro Cuban sounds and rock. The band’s electric guitar player was impressive, releasing fiery solos using various types of techniques. At one time, Zaira’s band went into full blown progressive rock. Zaira Franco presented her latest album, Tumbalá.
Showcase lineup: Zaira Franco on vocals; Mario Patrón on piano; Federico Erik Negrete on bass; Alfredo Martínez on guitar; Fausto Aguilar on drums; and Luis Manuel García on percussion.
The fourth act was truly spectacular. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the entire event. C4 Trio is an award-winning ensemble of three Venezuelan cuatro players along with a bassist.
C4 Trio are highly skilled musicians who demonstrated virtuosity, creativity and delivered a captivating and fun show featuring ensemble pieces, solos and interplay. The repertoire included Venezuelan folk songs as well as pop standards played at dazzling speeds. The group received repeated standing ovations and was the only act that came back for an encore.
The C4 Trío lineup included Jorge Glem on cuatro; Héctor Molina on cuatro; Edward Ramírez on cuatro; and Gustavo Márquez on bass.
The closing act was 78 year old Brazilian vocalist and guitarist Dona Jandira. The charismatic performer started her career in 2004 after she met producer José Dias.
Lineup: Dona Jandira on vocals and guitar; José Dias Guimaraes de Almeida on bass and Eugenio de Castro Ribeiro on violin.
Headline photo: La Colectiva Corazón, courtesy of EXIB Música