How a Sinatra Song Told the Story of the Venezuelan Diaspora
When David Calcaño and Ala Nulu made the annual Christmas animated video for the Old Blue Eyes’ YouTube channel, they chose an angle that goes directly into our hearts
Even when we’re scattered around the world, there are some cultural moments when you can almost feel how the Venezuelan diaspora reacts everywhere. This year, we had a couple of those during the Olympics and another one this month when we discovered and started sharing the new Frank Sinatra animated video.
The piece that accompanies the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” talks about migration, and specifically, about the Venezuelan experience. It starts with a look at Carlos Cruz Diez’s famous piece decorating the floor of the Maiquetía international airport, and then it tells the story of a young migrant living and eventually thriving in New York City.
The story isn’t different from that of its two directors: a Venezuelan in Los Angeles, David Calcaño, and a Polish in Portugal, Ala Nulu. The idea was born from Calcaño, who realized the song’s feeling of nostalgia could help tell his story. It helps that he’s been a Sinatra fan since childhood thanks to his father. “It’s been a musical love affair for decades,” he laughs. Nulu, for her part, isn’t that close to Sinatra, but she jumped at the chance to work with the music of a legend.
Even while telling a deeply Venezuelan story, Nulu felt the connection as soon as Calcaño told her his idea for the video. “I felt incredibly moved by David’s story, as an immigrant myself I got the connection to the idea of finding your place in the world, and the feeling of nostalgia,” she explains. That same connection was one of Calcaño’s biggest bets with this project, considering how particularly Venezuelan the video might seem with symbols like arepas or making hallacas: that it could have been hard for people from other countries to connect with the work.
Still, when he made the pitch to Universal, Calcaño was pretty nervous. Even after working with them in other projects for their Christmas classic series, including last year’s video for Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” he was nervous about the project this year: “Luckily they said yes pretty quickly,” he says relieved. The project was then produced by a team in many countries, but especially in the U.S. and Portugal where each director is based.
“Polish people are used to migration, but the far-right movement in power and taking away women and LGTBQ rights has made more people leave to other countries in the European Union,” explains Nulu, who saw a lot of that experience in the project, and hoped others would feel that connection. Luckily, the final result was a success. “When Universal executives saw the video, they started crying,” Calcaño explains. For Nulu, the story reflects many people in the world who are looking for their own place in the world, just like the two directors have.
For Calcaño, that place is at the front of his studio, Fanstoons, which he founded in 2009 back in London with his wife Linda Otero before they moved to LA, with the idea of creating animations and cartoons that would go hand in hand with music. Since its creation, the studio has collaborated with some real icons of the music industry like Rush, Frank Zappa, Billie Holliday, Alice Cooper and Marillion. Still, he’d like to make that list longer, “I would love to work with Queen, Primus or do anything with the Beatles or the Stones. I would also love to do something with more recent artists like Billie Eilish, who is great, or Willow Smith.”
Of course, he also has a list of Venezuelan names that he would like to add to his resume. Some are legends of the ‘80s, like Franco de Vita, Ricardo Montaner and Yordano, but he brightens up when he talks about composer Aldemaro Romero. “People don’t realize how revolutionary his work was, his music could even become psychedelic at times, it’s amazing.” But his dream job is to make a film about the life of Simón Díaz: “It’s not our next project, but we already worked with Betsimar Díaz—the daughter of the great musician and manager of his legacy—on a book (El ABC de Tío Simón) and we’d love to do it,” he explains, smiling.
And the door to those projects could be opened by the success of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” When we wrote this post, the video had around 700.000 views and climbing. The directors say they’ve received a lot of messages from people who cried and felt recognized because of the video. “There’s a window now for these stories to be told, for minorities and immigrants to tell their own narratives,” Calcaño explains, excited for the future.
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