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Venezuela Moves to Promote Its Culture

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Venezuela Moves to Promote Its Culture

World

Venezuela Moves to Promote Its Culture

Venezuela Moves to Promote Its Culture

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When it comes to the arts, Venezuela is following Cuba's lead. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wants to combat what he regards as American cultural dictatorship. He has opened a national movie studio, and a broadcast law requires radio stations to play a specific amount of Venezuelan music. Even vocal opponents think the policy might promote the growth of Venezuelan art.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is promoting a new creative nationalism. This month he opened Venezuela's own movie studio in the capital city Caracas to combat what he called America's cultural imperialism. Late last year a law was passed that requires radio stations to play Venezuelan music at least 50 percent of the time.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

The head of the music department at the Ministry of Culture points to a white board where the play list for a new series of CDs are being compiled. Jose Antonio Naranjo is a short, older man who confesses that before this job, he held another one that he misses.

Mr. JOSE ANTONIO NARANJO (Former Flautist, National Philharmonic): (Speaking foreign language)

(Soundbite of laughter)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He was a flautist on the National Philharmonic. Naranjo is now in charge of implementing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's Responsibility in Radio and Television Law, which among other things, sets music quotas for radio stations.

Mr. NARANJO: (Through translator) There was a problem here that especially in the urban centers, there was a preference for music from other countries, which I don't think is a bad thing, but there must be a balance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The law is very specific. Twenty-five percent of the music people hear on the air must be local folk music. Another 25 percent can be contemporary, but it must be Venezuelan in origin; 10 percent has to come from Latin America as a region.

Mr. NARANJO: (Through translator) Our national music has got an extraordinary richness. You can't imagine how beautiful it is. And we didn't know it. And that was a concern of the Venezuelan state. We think that through your country's culture, you know yourself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: To promote this vision, the government will be handing out three CDs for free. One will have traditional Venezuelan music called harople(ph), like this song from Venezuelan artist Manuel Jose(ph).

(Soundbite of foreign language song)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the other two CDs there will be groups covering songs from Venezuelan artist Ali Primera, including revolutionary rock, like this.

(Soundbite of music)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ali Primera was a socialist, who wrote about the struggles of the poor. He died in 1986, and has now become the sanctioned voice of the Chavez revolution.

Naranjo says the law has caused a blossoming in Venezuelan music, and his boast is borne out by the figures. Record Report tracks music sales in Venezuela, and week after week all the top-ten best selling albums are now by Venezuelan musicians. A spokesman for the company said it never used to be like that.

But some are not happy about the changes.

(Soundbite of radio show)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A DJ records a promo spot in the studios of 92.9 FM. This radio station targets Caracas's youth. Before the law was passed in 2005, it would play a mixture of rock and pop. So as not to lose its core audience, the station has had to come up with humorous skits that run before each folkloric song demanded by the law. The characters are two rock groupies.

(Soundbite of radio show)

NAVARRO-GARCIA: He's saying, I don't have anything against this music, brother, but why do we have to have it on all the time? Why can't we just listen to whatever we feel like?

Miguel Carasco(ph) is a DJ at 92.9.

Mr. MIGUEL CARASCO (DJ): (Through translator) We had to incorporate this old-fashioned kind of music without losing our radio identity. So we narrate stories that have to do with the political and social reality of the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Carasco says the traditional music they play is also of a more vulgar type. Their signature song is now called Jalabola, Venezuelan slang for a sycophant who does everything his boss tells him.

(Soundbite of music)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a way of protesting the law, which Carasco does not agree with.

Mr. CARASCO: (Through translator) I think the people who made the law did it with a spirit that was excessively nationalistic, and with a lack of popular understanding. I'm against the law, because I think that it involves itself in what is a private business. If you own your own station, you should be able to put on whatever you want.

(Soundbite of music)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This song is from a Venezuelan group. They've got an Afro-Caribbean beat inspired by the English-speaking community on Venezuela's coast.

92.9's Tony Escobar(ph) also opposes the law, but even he admits that it has had some positive creative consequences.

Mr. TONY ESCOBAR (92.9): (Through translator) These are musicians that normally produce pop music, but now this new album has this kind of folkloric music, which normally, I'm sure, would never have occurred to them to play. But it's actually very good.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has now set his sights on a new medium. He inaugurated a new film studio this month to oppose what he says is Hollywood's cultural dictatorship.

President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): (Through translator) There is no revolution without the volcanic awakening of our culture and our identity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some in the Venezuelan film community are leery, though, of this newest project. Jonathan Jakubowicz is the director of the top grossing Venezuelan film of all time, Express Kidnapping. The film dramatizes Venezuela's crime problem, and has been roundly denounced by the Chavez government. He's also facing legal action that could land him in jail because of it.

Mr. JONATHAN JAKUBOWICZ (Venezuelan Film Director): I don't think there's any chance that that official culture that they are manufacturing is going to give any results, because I don't think that any artist that works for any government in the world is ever going to produce anything really important.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's unclear how much freedom these new government-sponsored filmmakers will have, but in the end it will be the movie-going public that decides if President Chavez's latest experiment is worth the price of admission.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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