Friday, July 16, 2010

Venezuelan maracas - much more than a hip accessory for rock bands

Wilmer Montilla from Valera in Trujillo State shows off his maraca-ulous musical skills with a pair of traditional Venezuelan maracas.

Made from a hollow gourd filled with seeds from the capacho tree, maracas are played by indigenous shamans, who use them during curing and initiation ceremonies to make contact with the spirit world and the gods. Often they are decorated with incised symbols or designs related to mythical animals or figures and sometimes contain crystals, considered powerful channels of spiritual power.

During the Spanish conquest and the later arrival of African slaves, maracas were incorporated into the new forms of popular music that emerged from the melting pot of European, indigenous and African rhythms.

Today, maracas are a key instrument in Venezuelan joropo music where they provide the percussive drive of the music and keep the beat for dancers.

Montilla has played traditional Musica Llanera and more experimental music with groups such as Kapicua, as well as working with the flautist Huascar Barradas and guitarrist Aquiles Baez.

He is currently working with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela on the project "Mi Llano a lo Clásico", giving a classical treatment to the traditional joropo music of Llos Llanos.

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