Andrés Rodríguez/Cusica Fest
Rising up in Caracas, Venezuela, Devendra Banhart remembers flipping on the tv and watching the failed coup try led by Hugo Chávez in 1992.
“There it was, these two folks holding [firearms] and saying, ‘We’re taking on the nation,’ ” he says.
Banhart moved to the U.S. not lengthy after, and went on to turn out to be a musician and visible artist dabbling in psychedelic folks, tonadas llaneras, synth rock and salsa — a few of which, he says, is a satirical interpretation of selection exhibits like Súper Sábado Sensacional, which he watched on TV as a toddler and included a number of “syrupy strings and folks in tuxedos coated in sweat and make-up.”
Whereas Banhart leaned into his inventive pursuits away from his residence nation, the state of affairs in Venezuela took a flip. In 1998 Chávez was elected president, a place he held — apart from a quick interval in 2002 — up till his dying in 2013. His successor, Nicolás Maduro, continues to be backed by the Venezuelan army at the moment; although greater than 50 nations, together with the USA, acknowledged opposition chief Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president in 2019.
The political instability has contributed to a socioeconomic disaster of meals and medication insecurity, violence and deteriorating public companies that is pushed greater than 7 million Venezuelans to go away the nation, in response to the United Nations Refugee Company.
Banhart, who nonetheless has household dwelling in Venezuela and would go to all through the years, paints that actuality earnestly in his music. Within the music “Abre las Manos” from his 2019 document Ma, he sings:
“Mira la fila, veinte mil horas” (Have a look at the road, twenty-thousand hours lengthy)
“Ahí está mi tía esperando su pan” (There’s my aunt, ready for her bread)
“Qué porcentaje de gente con hambre” (What share of individuals going hungry)
“Es necesario pa’ que algo cambie” (Is important for one thing to alter)
It is a state of affairs that is impacted all Venezuelans and made issues troublesome for artists making an attempt to maintain a inventive scene within the nation alive.
“My expertise is that it has been over 20 years, and yearly, we’re enjoying Caracas,” says Banhart. “And it will get actually shut, and proper on the final minute, it falls aside.”
That’s, till this previous December, when he took the stage at Cusica Fest. “My expertise [in Venezuela] was survival,” he says. “And what I noticed on this journey was celebration.”
Andrés Rodríguez/Cusica Fest
Cusica Fest welcomed over 10,000 attendants on the campus of Universidad Simón Bolívar, nestled in between Caraca’s misty mountains, on Dec. 17 and 18.
However the pageant truly originated in 2014 first within the type of an e-commerce platform in bolívares — the native foreign money — when folks struggled to purchase music on iTunes in Venezuela due to a fixed-exchange charge regime. (Spotify did not start working within the nation in 2021.)
“We mainly created an e-commerce portal so folks might legally help nationwide bands,” says Cusica co-founder Maria Fernanda Burbano.
Quickly, Burbano and her companions launched Cusica+, an internet site publishing music information and evaluations; not lengthy after, they began working a venue in El Hatillo. As they produced increasingly more stay exhibits and their following grew, they knew they wished to finally launch a larger-scale pageant. In 2019, that dream got here true with the primary iteration of Cusica Fest — however they have been compelled right into a pandemic hiatus till 2022.
“What we wished was to present that knock on the desk like, ‘Hey, we’re right here. Venezuela continues to be a spot, regardless that the state of affairs will be sophisticated,’ ” Burbano explains. “We’re nonetheless right here, and all the time pondering of the artist and viewers first.”
Their technique has a number of primary objectives: first, to carry Venezuelan artists who constructed their careers overseas, like Banhart and Simon Grossmann, to play on their native stage. Burbano says she looks like oftentimes, it is laborious for artists in that place to know simply how a lot help they’ve again residence, and that it is essential for Cusica to supply an area the place they’ll truly see and expertise that reference to the viewers firsthand.
For Banhart, that viewers included a lot of his household watching him play stay for the primary time ever — so he did so sporting a costume.
“I began singing that method in Caracas. My mother would depart and I might placed on one in every of her clothes and sing,” he remembers. “And so to sing once more that method … I feel little 8-year-old me would’ve been happy with me.”
Andrés Rodríguez/Cusica Fest
Additionally performing alongside Banhart at Cusica Fest was Rawayana, a band with a melange of rock, reggae, funk and Caribbean rhythms in its music.
Rawayana began as a bit between a gaggle of associates in Caracas over a decade in the past, says lead singer Beto Montenegro. They posted ironic songs as a joke on MySpace that went viral all through Venezuela and the band began to take music extra critically, finally sharing levels with famend pop acts like Chino & Nacho and Servando y Florentino.
In 2015, across the peak of the disaster, Rawayana’s members made the troublesome determination — like so many different Venezuelans — to go away the nation, relocating between Mexico Metropolis and Miami. However the forms again residence nonetheless impacts them, says Montenegro, including additional hoops to leap by for issues different artists won’t battle with as a lot, like acquiring visas and passports wanted to tour.
Rawayana’s music grew internationally alongside the mass exile of Venezuelan residents, he explains, as a result of folks took it with them to the locations they moved to. In diaspora, Rawayana’s exhibits turn out to be a option to reconnect with different Venezuelans.
“In Spain, for instance,” he says, “A Rawayana live performance is like an excuse to fulfill your neighborhood.”
The band’s music additionally turned extra political in nature. Its 2021 album, Cuando Los Acéfalos Predominan, takes a direct shot on the polarization taking maintain in Venezuela and far of the remainder of the world, eschewing the right-left dichotomy so many techniques are caught up in.
“For me, there is no purpose to be one facet or the opposite as a result of it’s totally clear that going to the acute left or excessive proper — it isn’t the best way,” says Montenegro.
So he says he feels a bit on edge, given the politically charged setting of the nation, when he is again in Venezuela to carry out publicly for the primary time in six years, at Cusica Fest.
However he is aware of it is price it when a younger fan approaches him, the day after Rawayana’s set, and gushes about how he has a band that may hopefully play with Rawayana in a couple of years. It is a reminder, he says, that massive festivals like Cusica are displaying youthful generations of Venezuelans that there is nonetheless a inventive path ahead — that they’ll nonetheless categorical themselves whatever the nation’s state of affairs.
“In a method, that is our accountability,” says Montenegro.
Burbano feels that dedication, too. Beneath the steering of larger Latin American festivals, like Estéreo Picnic in Colombia, she hopes Cusica can flip Venezuela right into a vacation spot for stay music once more, not only for nationwide bands however for worldwide acts, too.
“It is double the work,” she says, of placing collectively a pageant amidst an ongoing socioeconomic disaster. “However it’s all the time about shifting ahead and making issues higher.”
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