Photo: Anakena

A Celebration of ‘Typical and Autoctonal Venezuelan Dance Bands’

The ironic category Los Amigos Invisibles gave to themselves can also be used for several music projects that have been fusioning rock, jazz and many Caribbean genres since the 1980s

The first time I saw Anakena play a live concert was kind of magical. The band was competing in the 2018 edition of the iconic Festival Nuevas Bandas in Caracas, a year when the competitors were bands like Esos Cubos, Walking Like Ants and Drossera Capensis, bands that play their own version of garage rock and heavy metal. But the kids from Anakena came out, played an honest to God bachata and made all the comegatos in the audience stand up and dance. 

The idea of a dance group with Caribbean influences being an important part of the Venezuelan alternative scene isn’t new. From iconic groups from our 1980s pop generation like the still active Daiquirí and the disbanded Adrenalina Caribe, to more recent projects like Okills and the lesser-known Pagana Trinidad and Wannamaker, we’ve always had a tendency to create dance music with electric guitars.

The most evident example of this is, of course, the guys that coined the expression “Typical and autochthonal Venezuelan dance band,” Los Amigos Invisibles. The band, old enough to have participated in the first edition of the Nuevas Bandas back in the ‘90s, is a mix of acid jazz, disco music, Latin influences, pop and rock instrumentation and some of the best live shows by any dance band in the world.

Los Amigos Invisibles aren’t scared of working with merengue, salsa, boleros and whatever other dance rhythm they can take from the Caribbean. Even while most of the alternative scene was still mostly influenced by the new wave, ska and grunge movements. Los Amigos were one of the most popular groups to inject Latin sounds into the alternative scene, and hits like Esto es lo que hay, En cuatro or Espérame are songs that you can listen to at any Venezuelan party.

Los Amigos are hardly the only band that trades in Latin sounds. While they started working with a blend of indie-pop and reggae it would be hard to ignore a band like Rawayana. In their first record, the now-classic Licencia para ser libre, you could find some hints of Latin sounds. Their records after that used salsa in pieces like Ay, ay, ay and Disculpe usted.

It seems like Okills gets more and more Caribbean the more they keep going. América Supersónica was a record full of experiments in using instruments from South America, while their recent Dimensión Caribe has bachata, salsas and even reggaeton.

That’s the roadmap that Anakena seems to be following. One of the big controversies in Venezuelan music Twitter, a group formed by like three people, was that the band won the Nuevas Bandas by playing a bachata piece, Guayaba, and their more recent single Carita triste uses modern trap rhythms that could’ve appeared in a Bad Bunny record. Other songs, like Cinco, derive their sound from calypso music, and Saudade ends as a full-blown bolero. 

At the end of the day, the band is the most recent example of the Venezuelan alternative scene trying to find its own identity away from its equals in other parts of the world. The same search for an identity in our pop scene that projects like even Aldemaro Romero’s Onda Nueva started in the 1960s: crossing the bridge between international jazz, pop or rock and our Caribbean and traditional roots. At this point, our “typical and autochthonal Venezuelan dance bands” are a tradition, and with projects like Rawayana, Okills and even Daiquirí and Los Amigos Invisibles still active, and Anakena planning an international tour and a new record this year, we’ll probably get to listen and dance a lot more.

It’s the eternal search for the Venezuelan identity reflected in our rock scene. And now that a lot of these musicians have left the country, it can only give us more interesting sounds.