Posts Tagged ‘music’


According to Billboard Music, the band Mongrel is “genre smashing”. The supergroup promotes peace and political consciousness in their lyrics.

Comprised of  members from several bands, including Reverend & the Makers, Poisonous Poets, Arctic Monkeys, and Babyshambles, Mongrel is set to put some Venezuelan flavor in their tunes.

This month they’ll travel to Venezuela to launch a musical program and give a free show.

Mongrel is dedicated to sharing music and will give away thousands of CDs when they arrive in Caracas later this month. 400,000 copies of their last album “Better than Heavy” were distributed for free throughout Britain.

They’ll also make an appearance on the President Chavez’s weekly television show Aló Presidente. Plans are in the works to do a new album based on Jamaican reggae and Venezuela folk music, hopefully featuring Damian Marley.

Watch this video of their song “The Menace”.

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No visit to Venezuela is complete without a visit to Caracas, and no visit to Caracas is complete without Saturday night at El Maní es Así, a veritable institution of Latin American salsa.

Called El Maní (the peanut) for short, it is simply one of the greatest salsa clubs on planet earth. Located in the heart of Caracas in Sabana Grande, nearly every taxi driver can take you there. It’s Metro accessible, but you’ll need to take a cab back, since the Metro shuts down before the party does.

Admission to El Maní is usually free, and the crowd is diverse and friendly. Get there early to nab a table. The caraqueño nightlife custom is to purchase a bottle of liquor (with mixers) or mini keg of beer to reserve your table for the night.  The waitstaff is attentive and quick, so tip well! The place is full by 9 pm, but the dance floor always has room for another couple.

Top Latin American salsa bands perform there every weekend, and even party goers without skills will be tempted (and invited!) to dance.  Don’t worry — someone will offer to teach you the steps. The rhythm is hard to fight, the rum is superb, and the house lights will come on before you know it.

El Maní is a great place to see the real Caracas, and a wonderful place to fall in love — with Venezuela, of course!

Check out this great photo montage of the club with music by salsa legend “la voz” Héctor Lavoe.

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Venezuela’s successful state-funded youth music education program, “El Sistema,” continues to have an impact abroad. Most recently, it inspired a similar initiative by the Jackson Symphony Orchestra in Michigan. Their program, called “String Team,” offers affordable group classes in stringed instruments to elementary school students.

Venezuela’s “El Sistema” has reached about a quarter of a million young people in poor areas and produced classical music stars such as Gustavo Dudamel. Like “El Sistema,” the  “String Team” is about getting young people to learn and improve their lives through music. Read more here. In case you missed it, don’t forget to check out the documentary about “El Sistema” on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

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The wildly popular Mexican norteño band Los Tigres del Norte has a new song about Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called “Corrido de un Hombre Valiente” (The Song of a Brave Man).

The song is a corrido, a traditional a Mexican musical style often used to recount the stories of legendary figures and heroes. Chávez’s corrido tells of his struggle to defeat corruption and alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Los Tigres applaud the Bolivarian movement, singing:  “the elderly and the children have education and health.”

They call President Chávez “a great example and a great man,” and express hope that other countries in Latin America will follow his example.

Click here to listen. Article in Spanish.

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Marco Granados has just released a new disc entitled The Music of Venezuela. The master flutist’s latest work is composed of 16 traditional pieces accompanied by the cuatro, bass, and percussion.

Granados, called a virtuoso by music critics, has had a long and active international career as a soloist, chamber musician, and teacher.  He has  also shared his gift by conducting musical workshops for children in Guatemala and South Africa.

Granados’ works range from classical to folk, but always maintains that Venezuelan flavor.

Here’s a great review from EJazz.

Check out Marco and and his band Un Mundo performing a traditional Venezuelan Gaita:

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Wondering what you’ll have to look forward after Obama’s inauguration comes and goes and all the parties are over?

Here’s something: the arrival of “the Dude.” That’s right, Venezuela’s master conductor Gustavo Dudamel comes to the U.S. to lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic next season.

He’s in New York this month conducting Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, and after that, he’s off to California.

Check out the latest from The Economist.

UPDATE: Somehow we missed this article from the Guardian about “El Sistema,” the world-famous youth music education program on which Dudamel was weaned.

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Las 4 Monedas (The Four Coins) are pioneers of Venezuelan ska and reggae. The band, originally known as Los Hermanos O’Brien, was composed of the O’ Brien siblings Marlene, Kenny, Brenda, and Gary. The famous Venezuelan composer and producer Hugo Blanco discovered them in 1968 and changed their name.

Las 4 Monedas represents Venezuela’s “first wave” of reggae-rocksteady and was the first Venezuelan group to record a reggae song. That song,  “Buena Suerte” (Good Luck), is set to the tune of Desmond Dekker’s “007 (Shanty Town)” and is still popular in Venezuela today. The band toured the world, performing in Europe, Israel, and throughout Latin America.

Las 4 Monedas translated numerous English-language classics into Spanish, including Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” and Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”

For more information and a discography check out these links.

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Si se puede! A Venezuelan pianist groomed by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra will be performing at the inauguration of President elect Obama next week.

Her name is Gabriel Montero. She will perform with the master cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and clarenetist Anthony McGill — get this — right before Barack Obama takes the oath of office.

Montero says: “I’m very excited to be part of this great day. It’s going to be a great moment for the entire world.”

Montero is now a naturalized U.S. citizen. She first came north on an educational scholarship from the Venezuelan government.

In the clip below, watch her take a silly ditty that is the theme song for the BBC children’s program The Wombles and turn it into an amazingly beautiful improvised piece. Improvisation is Montero’s trademark, according to the New York Times.

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Christmas cuteness at its finest: El Burrito Sabanero is not about food, but a favorite Christmas song in Latin America. Burro in Spanish means donkey, and burrito is little donkey. El Burrito Sabanero is about a boy who rides his little donkey to Bethlehem to see the niño Jesús.

This famous Venezuelan Christmas song, written by Hugo Blanco, gets played with about the same frequency as “Silent Night” does in the U.S. El Burrito is a joyful staple at elementary school Christmas recitals. The song is so precious that it’s not even necessary to know Spanish to enjoy it — but it has been translated.

El Burrito Sabanero has been covered by many artists, a few of which are below:

The latest version is by Incaptepec, a Latin-style jazz band. Click here for an article and the song.

Here is an adorable hip hop version by the Puerto Rican boy band Tick Tock:

The cuteness continues with a bilingual version by Bachata group, Aventura, from the Dominican Republic:

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Last Sunday and Monday, the Venezuelan conductor joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to perform shows at Carnegie Hall commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel.

According to this New York Times review, Dudamel achieved a “killer reading” of Tchaikovsky.

UPDATE: the Washington Post weighs in on the Carnegie Hall show, calling Dudamel “the wild child of music” and “better than the hype.”

For more about the state-run music eductaion program in Venezuela that inspired Dudamel and brought him to star status, see a new L.A. Times article.

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Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on Gustavo Dudamel, the classical music conductor who — along with the state-funded music education “sistema” in Venezuela that he champions — is becoming muy famoso.

El Sistema takes children, often from circumstances of abject poverty, and teaches them to play instruments. According to most press reports, there are more than 250,000 children in El Sistema right now — its Web site cites 350,000 — playing in group classes and youth orchestras culminating in the Bolívar orchestra, which Dudamel will bring to Washington on April 6.

The Post credits Dudamel with “bringing a breath of fresh air to the familiar.” It also turns a critical eye to Dudamel’s family life, pressing him to explain why he refers to his musical endeavors as so many “wives.”

Does he extend this kind of morality to his real wife, the journalist and former dancer Eloísa Maturén? “No, no, no, no!” he said, laughing, and amended his description of the orchestras: “It’s polygamy, but in a beautiful way.”

So there you have it. ‘The Dude’ comes out on top again!

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“West Side Story” is coming to Broadway, and it will do so with the help of Venezuelan performer George Akram.

Akram is cast as Bernardo, the gang member who leads the Sharks. The role was played by George Chakiris (pictured at right, center) in the original 1961 movie.

A very talented singer and dancer, Akram comes from an artistic family. His mother is the choreographer Anita Vivas, and his father, Antonio Drija, was in Cirque du Soleil. Akram’s brother, Victor Drija, is also a famous dancer in Venezuela.

Akram achieved success on the national stage in productions like “Visa para un sueño,” a musical based on the music of Juan Luis Guerra. He moved to the U.S. in 2001 and has since shared the stage with an impressive bunch: salsa singers Celia Cruz and Oscar d’León, pop phenoms Gloria Estefan and Paulina Rubio, and even reggaeton powerhouses Wisin y Yandel and Don Omar.

We look forward to seeing Venezuela represented among the cast of West Side Story in New York starting in March 2009!

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