New York-based Venezuelan vocalist Nella won the 2019 Latin GRAMMY Award in the “Best New Artist” category, the first nomination and first win for the artist. The awards took place at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas on November 14 and were broadcast live on the Univision television network.
Nella also made her performance debut on the Latin GRAMMYs when she joined Spanish pop superstar Alejandro Sanz on stage for a performance of his Latin Grammy Song of the Year “Mi persona favorita” together with two other Best New Artist nominees, Aitana and Greeicy.
Nella’s debut CD “Voy” was released on May 31 on Casalimón Records. The CD was a collaboration with multiple GRAMMY-winning producer, composer and musician Javier Limón, who composed all except one of the songs on the album.
Nella dedicated her Latin Grammy win to her native Venezuela and “all those who, like me, have come from another country and every day are fighting for an opportunity. You are my inspiration.”
“I feel very proud of Nella,” said Limón. “I wrote the songs on this album with my heart but her voice took them over the moon. She is the best vocalist of a new generation of artists ready to change the world with music and love”.
Following her Latin GRAMMY win, Nella will perform live on Univision’s national morning show Despierta America! on Friday, November 22.
Born Marianella Rojas in Isla Margarita, Venezuela, Nella cites pop divas Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Celine Dion as her earliest influences. She left Venezuela at 21 to study voice at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In addition to her debut CD, Nella also performed “Fin de Fiesta” on Javier Limón’s soundtrack to the film Everybody Knows, directed by Asghar Farhadi and starring Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz.
Nella will follow her Latin GRAMMY win with November concerts in Athens, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; and Fort Lauderdale and Cutler Bay in Florida. Concert details are listed below.
Nella in concert.
Nella (voice), Gilad Barakan (guitar), Paulo Stagnaro (percussion), Daniel Torres (bass)
Nov 18 Athens, OH Ohio University Memorial Auditorium
Nov 20. Chicago, IL Old Town School of Folk Music
Nov 22. Miami, FL. live performance on Univision TV Despierta America!
droppable-1573841698212 Nov 22 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Broward Center for the Performing Arts / Amaturo Theater
Nov 23. Cutler Bay, FL South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Ctr
Marianella Rojas, better known as Nella, in Isla Margarita, an island in the Caribbean Sea, off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. Nella spent hours as a child singing over recordings by pop stars like Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, and Mariah Carey. “I took singing lessons and was a bit embarrassed about my singing, so to hide it, I played the music very loud.” The plot worked well until her voice teacher asked Nella’s father to listen “to the student in the next room” and he was surprised to find it was his daughter.
“I was 11, and from then on they were really supportive,” reveals Nella. “I was involved in anything that would come up: singing, acting, dancing, you name it. At 13, my voice started to change and without realizing, by singing to the records, imitating these divas, I was studying a lot. They were incredible teachers. I loved it. I was also into the challenges of how high I could go vocally or how well I could do certain vocal turns, and I believe that helped me develop a vocal flexibility that perhaps I wouldn’t have by just listening to Venezuelan music. Now, even when singing Venezuelan songs I don’t sound like a typical traditional singer.”
Nella moved to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, in 2007, at age 17. And in 2011 she enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston, majoring in performance, composition and production.
She started singing in a trio that played folk music from Latin America with jazz and pop influences. “It was part of the process of rediscovering myself,” says Nella. “Once you leave your country, your roots start knocking at your door”. At that time, Nella also discovered the work of Afro-Spanish singer Buika, rooted in copla and flamenco.
“After all the vocal acrobatics I had learned, I found the importance of interpretation, of how to say a lyric,” says Nella. “I fell in love with flamenco and with that honesty between cantaor and audience. It is something I had not found in any other genre.”
It was also in Boston that an a cappella performance by Nella of a Venezuelan song, “La Negra Atilia” caught Javier Limón´s ear. “I had heard her before and thought she was really good and very versatile, but that night I heard an original way of phrasing,” recalls Limón, who is a well-known Spanish musician and producer. “She has something special, and it’s all hers.”
Limón, who has worked with several top singers including flamenco star Estrella Morente and fado diva Mariza, says “Nella has an Andalusian way of phrasing that is beautiful and very natural. In fact, many people assume she is from Andalusia. When she sang the title track in Everybody Knows, the Asghar Farhadi movie with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, many people thought she was from Córdoba or Granada.”
Her fans now include Latin pop superstars such as Alejandro Sanz and flamenco celebrities such as Miguel Poveda.
In her album Voy, produced by Limón, Nella sings love stories such as “Fin de Fiesta” (Party’s End), an early choice and a song Limón “got from a dusty notebook and sang to me accompanying himself on the guitar,” remembers Nella. “As soon as I heard it, I said ‘This one! This one! That’s a song we must do together’.”
Other favorites include “Los Nacidos” (The Born Ones) and “Me Llaman Nella” (They Call Me Nella), her autobiographical song — written by Limón.
“We were in Colombia and I remember we needed one more track,” recalls Nella. “So we have breakfast, we talk, he goes to his room, I go to mine, and a few minutes later I get a message: ‘I got it’ And he reads me the refrain ‘I am Nella, the one with the broken voice’ And I say ‘Excuse me?!’ We get together and he sings “Above the Margarita Sea, the moon almost full …’ and I tell him ‘Javier you’ve never been to Margarita!’ And he says ‘I know, but you talk so much about Margarita, you even carry it literally under your skin, so you helped me create a story.’”
Meanwhile, the emotional “Volveré A Mi Tierra” (I Will Go Back To My Country) was written by Limón as a response to news from Venezuela. “He sent me a text and I burst into tears and told him we need to put music to it,” she says. “And as soon as I had it, I sent the mockup of the song to friends around the world and that’s how we ended up with the video, with images of Venezuelans all over the world, lip-syncing the lyrics.”
“I try to not get into politics,” articulates Nella. “Because what we are suffering now transcends politics. I don’t care which side you are on, we are all affected by the situation. One of the things that moves me the most is when after a concert people come up to me and say things like ‘Nella, I felt I was in La Guaira, at the beach, with my grandmother, having a coffee while she read me a story.’ There is no better response than that.”
Regarding her songwriter side, Nella says: “Yes, I have a lot of songs in a drawer, but right now I am very comfortable with Javier’s writing and to have someone like him writing for you is a luxury. Most important, I feel them as my own.”
The recording includes guest appearances by Spanish flamenco singer Alba Molina (the daughter of the fabled flamenco duo Lola y Manuel); string player Santiago Prieto, from Latin Grammy-winning Colombian band Monsieur Periné; and two outstanding Venezuelan musicians, cuatro wizard Jorge Glem, and singer and composer Ilan Chester, a Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
“I feel these songs as if I had written them myself,” says Nella about their partnership. “They often reflect exactly what was happening in my life at the time. The music is a mix of many sources and the lyrics tell stories. I want to reach people, I want to give them more than just something to dance to.”
Joropo is a musical genre and dance form found in the plains of Venezuela. Los Llanos, the broad plains of western Venezuela and eastern Colombia, watered by the Orinoco River and its tributaries, are home to música llanera (literally, “plains music”), the engaging musical traditions created by ranching people with a love for cattle, horses, music and dance. At the heart of this region’s music is joropo, a hard-driving music that brilliantly showcases the percussive capabilities of stringed instruments and the musician’s ability to improvise.
The main instrument of llanera music is perhaps an unexpected one – the harp. Introduced to South America in the 18th century by the Spaniards, in the hands of the llanero, or plains cowboy, the harp became a percussive dynamo that serves as the backbone of música llanera Joropo ensembles are generally comprised of the harp, the bandola llanera (a four-stringed pear-shaped guitar), the small four-stringed cuatro, contrabajo (acoustic bass), rounded out by maracas (gourd rattles) and vocals.
Joropo music features both slower, more lyrical songs called pasajes as well as faster tunes called golpes. The hallmarks of the traditional joropo singer are a powerful voice that can handle the fast, hard-edged vocal style and the ability to improvise the lyrics.
As rural llaneros and musicians have migrated to cities for economic opportunities, the music of the plains has gained prominence in Colombia and Venezuela and is now a part of the commercial music industry and festivals Música llanera has become an expression a regional pride.
Joropo oriental – Joropo Oriental is a rare Venezuelan version of the genre that is characterized by an improvisational style of singing, a variety of stringed instruments such as the bandola, mandolin, guitar and cuatro plus a regionally distinct style of maracas that provides the only percussive element.
Sources: Richmond Folk Festival, Old Town School of Folk Music
Tarén o Taremurú is a Pemón word that means blow and it is used when referring to magical incantations. It is a genre of its literary creation and it praises the Penatosán eremú (chants of the ancient).
Taremurú started to take shape in 1995 when musicians and composer Elías Castro traveled to the Venezuelan regions of Gran Sabana, Edo. Bolívar and later to Río Negro, Edo. Amazonas with the intention of researching the music of the indigenous population in the area. He later moved to Caracas to continue studying the indigenous music and the African influence in the country through foundations such as FUNDEF (Fundación de Etnomusicóloga y Folklore) with FUNDEF ethnomusicologist Lizardo Domínguez as his advisor. Castro compiled a wide variety of music legends, instruments and rituals of Venezuelan aboriginals and the Afro-Venezuelan culture.
The research and compilation of the Venezuelan roots phase had the intention of rescuing the indigenous and African tendencies in Venezuelan music to project tem later using audio contemporary sound channels where the rhythmic and melodic structures of contemporary music such as Jazz or electronic music are combined with a wide variety of aboriginal and Afro-Venezuelan instruments and chants.
With this cultural manifestation Castro experiments with the sound of a country characterized by racial diversity.
In 1998 added Jonathan Velásquez who plays piano and synths as well as programming and sampling. Later Oswaldo Rodríguez, Juan Santana and folk multi-instrumentalist Luís Negrín were added to form Ensamble Taremurú in 1999.
With the sponsorship of Corporación Cafeína, Taremurú recorded Sincretismo sonoro de una raza which includes sounds of the Pemón Ye´kwana hiwi and wayu ethnic groups as well as Afro-Venezuelan music. The group uses instruments from the rich Afro-Venezuelan tradition of coastal Venezuela: cumaco, tamboras de fulías, culo e’ puya, and quitiplás. In addition there are native Venezuelan folk instruments such as cuatro, bandóla and maracas used with a contemporary foundation.
Musicians involved include Huáscar Barrada, Ernesto Laya, Alberto Vergara, Ricardo Hernández, Carolina Sequera, Fernando Colina and Omar Herrera.
• Elías Castro: guitars programming and samplers.
• Jonathan Velásquez: keyboards and samplers.
• Oswaldo Rodríguez: drums and percussion.
• Juan Santana: Bass.
• María Elena Millán: vocals.
• Luís Negrín: vocals, cuatro, bandóla and percussion.
• Cesar Natera: violin.
• Wilmer Ríos: percussion.
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