By Russell Maddicks
Folk group La Sardina de Naiguatá will be bringing all the feelgood fun of a Venezuelan street party when they tour the USA in June and July with a series of free concerts in Washington, Houston, San Francisco and Chicago to promote their new album "Parranda! Venezuelan Carnival Music", which is being released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings today, 19 June 2012.
As the name suggests, the group comes from the town of Naiguatá - located on the long strip of Caribbean coast north of Caracas known as the Litoral Central.
The town is not the most picturesque spot on the coast - many people only stop here to stock up with alcohol from the many liquor stores before heading off to the popular seaside sands of Los Caracas or the more attractive and isolated beaches of Osma, Caruao and Chuspa - but for those in the know Naiguatá is famous for celebrating the largest number of street festivals in Venezuela.
The party people of Naiguatá have preserved the tradition of Diablos Danzantes (dancing devils) during the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, hold parades in honour of Saint John the Baptist on June 23-24, and dance madly in masks and costumes during carnival.
But the festival that most clearly marks the town as special is the annual procession on Ash Wednesday known as El Entierro de la Sardina (The Burial of the Sardine).
Amid much mock solemnity a man dressed as a priest leads a motley assortment of men in drag known as viudas (widows) in a funeral cortege for a papier mache sardine that is ceremonially cast into the sea while the celebrants, including a horned devil, lament the end of carnival and the the start of Lent.
Fundamental to the procession is the music, a shuffling merengue beat that can be adapted to cover virtually any popular song of the day and which has evolved dramatically thanks to Ricardo Díaz - a local fisherman, trumpet player and founder of La Sardina de Naiguatá.
Realizing that he could add more oomph to the traditional procession music provided by cuatro (four-string guitar like a ukelele), charrasca (gourd or metal scraper) and Afro-Caribbean drums, Díaz added brass, electric bass, electric keyboard, and a choir of female singers.
The group now lead local revellers around the streets of the town from the back of a truck, giving a real carnival feel to the annual procession, which was brought to Venezuela by the Spanish and mirrors similar festivities still celebrated in the Spanish cities of Madrid and Murcia and on the Canary islands.
Over the years La Sardina de Naiguatá have built up a repertoire of songs that draw on local folk styles such as parranda and fulía that tap into the Spanish and African roots that gave birth to these hybrid musical forms that are as unique to Venezuela as vallenato is to Colombia or bachata to the Dominican Republic.
The Smithsonian was so keen to capture the authentic sound of the group that Folkways director Daniel Sheehy, the musical director Alexander Livinally, and sound engineer Peter Reinier travelled to Caracas to oversee the recording of the album, which was later remixed in the USA.
Folkways Recordings is the most important repository of World Music in the United States and was founded in 1948 by Moses Asch to document "people's music" from around the globe.
To coincide with the release of the CD, the Smithsonian has produced a mini-documentary about La Sardina de Naiguatá.
Parranda! Venezuelan Carnival Music
1. Abran la puerta [Open the Door] (calipso)
2. Parranda calle [Street Parranda] (parranda)
3. Volveré [I Will Return] (fulía) - Audio clip
4. Pájaro amarillo [Yellow Bird] (parranda)
5. Guayana es [It’s Guayana] (calipso)
6. Potpourrí “Alí Primera” [“Alí Primera” Medley]
7. Tambores de Naiguatá [Drums of Naiguatá]
8. El pilón [The Corn-Pounder] (parranda)
9. Flor de loto [Lotus Flower] (vals)
10. Potpourrí del gallo pinto [Spotted Rooster Medley] (fulía)
11. Río Manzanares [Manzanares River] (parranda)
12. Bandido [Bandit] (calipso) - Audio clip
13. Carmela (fulía)
14. Potpourrí “Sabor a navidad” [“Taste of Christmas” Medley]
To buy the album, download it from Amazon or listen to audio samples, click here.
For details of other releases on the Smithsonian Folkways music label click here.
US Tour dates and details:
Free places are limited to some of these events so reserve early to avoid disappointment
29 June - Washington - Smithsonian Folklife Festival - Free - 6:30 pm
1 July Houston, Texas - Miller Outdoor Theatre - Free - 8 pm
5 July Washington - Embassy of Venezuela - Free
8 July San Francisco - Yerbabuena Gardens Festival - Free -1-3 pm
11 July Chicago - Chicago School of Folk Music - Free - 8:30 pm
13 July Chicago - Chicago School of Folk Music - See link above