What Lies at the Heart of Corazón Llanero

Two beloved radio stations just went off the air by executive decision. As you might expect, nothing in the Revolution happens by chance...

On the night of August 25th, two well-known FM radio stations in Caracas left the airwaves by orders of CONATEL: Magica 99.1 FM and 92.9. Tu FM. Immediately, two new ones took their places, Radio Vinotinto FM and Corazón Llanero.

Under the official excuse that their broadcasting licenses were not “renewed”, they became part of the 50 radio and TV stations closed down this year, with 80% of all radio stations in Venezuela in legal limbo regarding licensing. It’s the latest signal of an escalation strategy (which reached the international front), at a time when a new piece of legislation could kill free speech for good.

But there’s a strange connection between 92.9 Tu FM and its replacement, which started as a series of concerts two years ago and is now a full-fledged multimedia group.

Let’s start with llanero music. You know who really loved música llanera? The comandante eterno himself. Hugo Chávez liked to break into song and his love for joropo didn’t go unnoticed to artists of the genre and the Ministry of Truth. During his funeral ceremony, a medley of well-known llanero songs were performed, with contributions from a certain Lt. Juan Escalona.

There’s a strange connection between 92.9 Tu FM and its replacement.

A young man from the Portuguesa State, he joined the Venezuelan Military and crossed paths with Chávez in 2006. He’d be very close to the comandante presidente during his last two years of life, becoming his personal aide-de-camp; a role he continued for Nicolás Maduro.

In 2015, a three-day concert named Corazón Llanero was organized at the Poliedro under sponsorship of national and local authorities, “honoring the late Comandante”. Along with many local artists, Juan Escalona performed too.  

Corazón Llanero went on to do a nationwide tour with full support of the central government, broadcasted by TVes (RCTV’s replacement) as directed by Winston Vallenilla and Roberto Messuti since 2014. It was a “win-win” partnership: The passion project of Escalona needed a platform, and the channel needed fresh content. Escalona talked big about Corazón Llanero, with stories of TV shows, concerts, tours abroad, record labels, talent agencies and a radio station. He boasted about full official backing, which Maduro confirmed on State TV.

Flash forward to August of 2016: Corazón Llanero announced a huge expansion, including a new HQ in Teatro Junin, and its first-ever international concert in La Habana. And their plans for this year include movies, museums and schools.

During his funeral ceremony, a medley of well-known llanero songs were performed, with contributions from a certain Lt. Juan Escalona.

Meanwhile, Escalona himself got a new bureaucratic post early this year, then ran as a candidate for the Constituyente, won a seat and now serves as Vice-Chairman of the ANC’s Cultural Identity Commission.

Why was 92.9 Tu FM chosen?

Because of the Social Responsibility Law on Radio and TV, established more than a decade ago. Article 14 dictates that 50% of all music programming in radio must be of Venezuelan origin; of that 50%, at least half must be “Works of Traditional Venezuelan Music”, including:

  1. Presence of genres from diverse geographical areas of the country;
  2. Use of Spanish or the official indigenous languages;
  3. Presence of Venezuelan cultural values;
  4. Venezuelan authorship or composition;
  5. Presence of Venezuelan performers.

Radio stations were forced to make changes for the new law, birthing the “neo-folklore”, a fusion of traditional Venezuelan music and other genres. In the case of 92.9.Tu FM, they resisted by creating “El Bolajala”, taking the imposition of música llanera, and making fun of it. Hardcore Chavistas saw the character (and the station) as an attack on morality and the Venezuelan identity itself.  

Was the takeover payback for insulting llanero music? Hard to tell when the Corazón Llanero model is expanding to Corazón Urbano (hip-hop & rap), Corazón Rockero (rock and heavy metal) and Corazón Salsero (salsa). The last one is Maduro’s favorite for playing Nero.

The government insists that these efforts are to promote culture, but they feel like more of the monopoly on arts that the hegemony adores. Get your fingers on the media and you have propaganda, this time with a shot at making good business.

Ain’t capitalism grand?

Additional information used in this report was provided by Venezuelan journalist Victor Amaya.