The village of El Clavo lies just an hour bus-ride from the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, practically hidden in the lushness of the jungle. Centuries ago, the settlement was founded by rebel Africans who set up secret free communities deep in the brush of the region.
A style of community music called parranda (which also means "party" - a popular word throughout Spanish-language speaking countries) was born in joyous celebrations as musicians strolled through town singing poems that commented on daily life, set to the pulse of drums made from the lano tree, an iconic tree from the region.
Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo, master exponents of parranda music, build their rhythmic, danceable poetry on waves of shimmering vocals and body and spirit-rousing percussion. The music they create preserves the tambor genre - said to make dancers float - which amalgamates several other dozen musical sub-genres, almost all on the path to extinction.
Machado, an accomplished singer who also developed a thriving solo career in the capital, is the daughter of a renowned trumpeter from the town and has shared the stage with Venezuelan musical stars from salsa singer Oscar D' León to punk indie band La Vida Boheme, yet she has never abandoned La Parranda El Clave nor tambor music.
Led by Machado, La Parranda El Clavo - which includes three cocoa farming brothers, a mother and son team, and Machado's sister - recently celebrated 30 years of existence. As the musical storytellers of the community, the ensemble celebrates all of life's daily occurrences, so it's no surprise that recent compositions such as 'Sentimiento' cry out against the current crisis in Venezuela:
The field recordings - the first time ever that La Parranda El Clavo was recorded - were produced by Juan Souki of Imaginarios and Jose Luis Pardo (aka DJ Afro, founding member of Venezuelan indie stars Los Amigos Invisibles as well as Los Crema Paraíso), so there's a contemporary freshness in the capturing and mixing of the rich ebullience of a music with a centuries-old legacy.
The album captures this ricura – the tasty, delicious savoriness - of Machado and the ensemble's energy. At the same time, the music wields the immensely vital power of beats that once accompanied Africans to freedom, now deployed to denounce the violence of current times as the musicians cry out:
"Me dan ganas de llorar, cuando matan a la gente, en este bello país, y en mi pueblo inocente".
"I feel like crying, the way people are being killed, in this beautiful country, and in my innocent town."
Betsayda Machado and La Parranda el Clavo are currently on a U.S. tour. Loé Loá - Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree will be available on Odelia Records on September 14, 2017.