Venezuela Musician Hopes Change Is On The Way To His Embroiled Country As Venezuela's economy collapses, a musician once successful enough to live a life of privilege now wanders a hotel lobby playing the saxophone for an inattentive audience.
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Venezuela Musician Hopes Change Is On The Way To His Embroiled Country

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Venezuela Musician Hopes Change Is On The Way To His Embroiled Country

Venezuela Musician Hopes Change Is On The Way To His Embroiled Country

Venezuela Musician Hopes Change Is On The Way To His Embroiled Country

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/703687102/703687105" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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As Venezuela's economy collapses, a musician once successful enough to live a life of privilege now wanders a hotel lobby playing the saxophone for an inattentive audience.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This morning, we're going to look at the crisis in Venezuela through the eyes of one man, a musician who says he's led a wonderful life for many years by entertaining others. Now Venezuela's economy is collapsing, and so is its infrastructure. The country's becoming dangerously unstable as President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido battle for power. This man says he desperately wants something to change because his life literally feels like it has been turned upside down. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves from Caracas.

CORRADO CAMMISULI: (Playing saxophone).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Breakfast is served in one of this city's fanciest hotels. Corrado Cammisuli glides between the tables with his silver-plated saxophone. The guests applaud a little and eat a lot. Most seem more interested in their omelets than in a highly accomplished sax player who's here because, like the song says...

CAMMISULI: (Playing saxophone).

REEVES: ...He finds himself in times of trouble. Cammisuli's career as a professional musician in Venezuela has taken a downward spiral that he's finding very frightening.

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "I'm afraid because I've gone from being upper middle class to survival levels," says Cammisuli, who's 52. For years, everything went so well. Cammisuli played with Venezuela's Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra back when it was winning international plaudits.

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: He often performed on TV. He composed for some of Venezuela's finest talents.

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "I had three cars, a home on the beach and a summer house," he says. He ate in the best restaurants in Caracas. He also had a collection of 15 saxophones. Cammisuli he says he quit the Simon Bolivar Orchestra seven years ago when it stopped paying his wages. Since then, Venezuela's economic collapse has made life as a musician ever more difficult.

CAMMISULI: (Playing saxophone).

REEVES: Performing in this five-star hotel earns him...

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: ...A dollar a day. Cammisuli says he plays hotels for pocket change because every now and then he picks up a gig from a guest willing to pay him real money, a couple of hundred bucks. Yet he's still struggling...

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: ...To put food on the family table. Cammisuli could always leave Venezuela, like the 3 million others who've migrated elsewhere to escape the crisis. He has friends in the international music business. He can and sometimes does get hired to work abroad, he says.

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "I stay here because I'm stubborn and because I love my country," says Cammisuli.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESPERANZA")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Speaking, singing in Spanish).

REEVES: Cammisuli loves his country so much he's composed a song for Venezuelans who've moved abroad and now feel homesick. That's him on piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESPERANZA")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

REEVES: These bad times will pass, say the lyrics. The song's called "Esperanza," hope. Staying stubbornly hopeful hasn't been easy for Cammisuli. He says he's twice been robbed at gunpoint.

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: On one occasion, thieves stole four of his 15 saxophones, another time, two. They took the silver-plated sax he plays today...

CAMMISULI: (Playing saxophone).

REEVES: ...A vintage classic crafted in Paris around the time of the Second World War. A friend spotted thieves with it in the street, and the thieves let Cammisuli buy it back. Cammisuli says it's worth thousands. He'll never part with it, no matter how desperate he becomes, because...

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "The sound is so sweet and clean," he says.

CAMMISULI: It's my son.

REEVES: It's your son.

CAMMISULI: (Laughter, speaking Spanish).

REEVES: And it's so easy to play.

CAMMISULI: (Playing saxophone).

REEVES: This week, Cammisuli's life became harder still. Venezuela was hit by the worst electricity blackouts on record. Cammisuli's house had no power for five days - no water, no internet and no cellphone connection. When he showed up to earn his dollar a day at the hotel, he found this.

(CROSSTALK)

REEVES: The lobby jammed with rich Venezuelans who couldn't cope at home. Cammisuli says, as he started to play his sax...

CAMMISULI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: ...He felt like a musician on the deck of the Titanic.

CAMMISULI: (Playing saxophone).

REEVES: "The ship's sinking, yet I have to keep playing," he says. After being stubbornly hopeful for so long, Cammisuli's beginning to despair. He now says maybe he will leave Venezuela after all. Maybe he'll have to. On Tuesday, the hotel management told Cammisuli they're struggling to cope with Venezuela's crisis. They no longer want him to come with his silver-plated sax to earn one dollar a day. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Caracas.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN'S "FEBRUARY")

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