it cannot be denied anymore that much of the corpus of national
music got permeated with elements derived from African traditions,
giving a specific
'coloring' to Venezuelan music. The music is the outcome of a process
of creolization, and some genres – especially the drum dances
(with many regional varieties), but also the guasa,
fulía, parranda, tamunangue,
and so on – have a more Afro-Venezuelan character than others.
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
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 a general
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 performance
itself, in the sense that nobody is excluded from actively participating
in the musical process.
music absorbs the spheres of dance, literary invention and lyrical
improvisation. This makes this part of expressive culture into a
synaesthetic experience; a sensually encompassing artistical musical
complex. The dance that in a generalized way has come to typify
this complex is el baile de tambor, the
drum dance of great sensuality and almost ritual intensity, but
now mostly considered as a purely secular dance. The spectators-participants
gather in such a way around the tambores that a small circular
space is left open for one ‘couple’ to start the dance.
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.
They start to dance close to each other, with undulating body movements
and gyrations, and with pelvic thrusts that accentuate the 'meaning'
of the dance as a game of erotic challenge. The couple might break
up any moment, as any of the bystanders might jump into the circle
and push the person of his or her sex out of it. In this way, at
the end of the dance all of the participants of one sex might have
danced with all of the participants of the opposite sex in the enchanted
space formed by the community in celebration, achieving a form of
musical traditions are most intimately related to the festivals
of the “black folk saints” San
Juan and San Benito. Specific songs are
related to the different stages of the festival and of the procession,
when the saints start their yearly paseo – stroll
- through the community to dance with their people.
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’
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.
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.
context of this music is thus Roman Catholicism as it provides a
ritual calendar for the fiestas (and a context for syncretic
processes that can be subversive to a certain degree). These fiestas
are part of winter and summer cycles, and the festivals demand a
real effort of the community, mobilising the people and demanding
much of their resources (as it is also a question of local pride
to organise a good fiesta).
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
we see the cumacos just in front of the Holy Cross.
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.
In former times,
Afro-Venezuelan music was much more embedded in a magico-religious
order, be it in the form of syncretic “Afro-Catholicism”
or in a form of maroonaged ethnicity.
(Video 6 (youtube)
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.
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
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.
may state that it is justified to speak of a well-defined “Afro-Venezuelan
Musical Complex,” in which music, dance and song are united.