If you’re a young adult in Venezuela and not an active supporter of the dictatorship, you probably took part in the protest movement of April-July in some way. The struggle and its abrupt end have become a recurring topic of every gathering.
When I told Carlos, a dear friend and local musician, that I was set to write about the role of music as part of the resistance, he was dispirited to think of how all the combined efforts of so many was all for naught.
“Now you’ll have to write something like so much blood for nothing. There was a time during the fight when the musicians got mad, and sung for hope and peace… para que igual fuera la Constituyente.”
During the plantón organized by UCAB Guayana students, Carlos sang a rendition of La Vida Bohème’s El Zar, followed by a self-composed song titled Guasina, after the infamous concentration camp where political prisoners were tortured during the Pérez Jiménez regime.
There was a time during the fight when the musicians got mad, and sung for hope and peace… para que igual fuera la Constituyente.
Around 150 musicians from Guayana got together and released a cover of Victor Manuelle’s Que suenen los tambores, under the name of Bolívar está sonando, adapting the lyrics to send a message of national reconciliation. Rather than basking into the harshness of the daily happenings, musicians marched among us, re-awakening the canción protesta.
All these songs, written by people from all sorts of backgrounds, generations and upbringings, reflect the same from different angles. The sociopolitical critiques in music aren’t new to Venezuela; before la Quinta, acts like Alí Primera, Yordano and Desorden Público burst into the mainstream with lyrics that pictured a reality most people brushed off, overusing the phrase “esto en la Cuarta no pasaba”. They denounced poverty, corruption and raging street violence, all of which remain unchanged, if not worsened. While it’s true this country has seen better times, we’ve always had reasons to protest. The big difference is that, in those times, the canción protesta had airplay.
With the rise and consolidation of the Bolivarian Revolution, the number of mainstream protest acts decreased noticeably. Many sold out to the government’s propaganda machine and, ultimately, this became the only way to get played in public media. Things seemed to die down… and then social media happened.
Rappers like Gabylonia released tracks against police and military repression; and with rock’s new wave, came the aforementioned La Vida Bohème, referencing the social and political milestones of our times with tunes like Viernes Negro, Hornos de Cal and Angelitos Negros.
Apache, another rapper born and raised in Caracas, had just one word for us: enough. His new track, Basta, doesn’t mention cities, streets, people or parties. His message is universal, based on his own experiences with violence (“la pluma frente al plomo”, as he puts it), and it’s nothing less than a wake-up call.
Rappers like Gabylonia released tracks against police and military repression; and with rock’s new wave, came the aforementioned La Vida Bohème.
Even pop stars are making statements. Take it from Nacho and Víctor Muñoz, who became icons after a crowd blasted Mi Felicidad over and over since its release in 2015. This year, they got back together for a follow-up not recorded in a studio. The video has been seen over 650 thousand times.
Then there’s the most recent tear-jerker, Valiente, performed by Nacho, Olga Tañón and Luis Enrique in the Tu Mundo Awards last week. It’s almost impossible to watch that and not break down in bitter sadness, despite its uplifting lyrics of being brave and fighting for freedom.
Some may argue that a few songs don’t make a difference, but the fact is, and always has been, that music has huge power as both solace and fuel to keep things — anything — alive. That’s why Wuilly Arteaga, a seemingly irrelevant violinist that gained international fame when the GNB smashed his instrument, was illegally arrested and tortured.
After his release, he recalled his ordeal and even spoke against a MUD that presented candidates for governor elections. This media exposure, again, was only possible because of the music he played. Other political prisoners, like the forgotten UPEL students in El Dorado, don’t have the privilege of such coverage.
Walking through our soundtrack and the stories that come with it, there’s no doubt that it can only be homemade. So, until something happens that miraculously reignites the protests, we’ll resort to the ultimate ‘no-fucks-given’ hymn: Muerto en Choroní.
May we sing again.