Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Venezuela Bids Adios to A Much Loved Folk Legend


Venezuela's most famous and best loved folk musician Simon Diaz, known affectionately by his fans as Tio Simon (Uncle Simon), has died aged 85. The news of his death sparked a huge outpouring of support for his life and work on the social networking site Twitter from Venezuelans, folk music fans, and his fellow musicians. 

His daughter Betsimar Díaz made the announcement on 19 February, tweeting. “Tearfully I announce to the country that my beloved father passed away this morning, in peace”..He had been suffering for some years from Alzheimer's Disease.

Over a long career he wrote over 200 songs, but his most famous composition is "Caballo Viejo", which became a huge international hit for the Franco-Spanish group the Gipsy Kings after they renamed it "Bamboleo". 

From the 1970s to the 1990s he hosted a number of children's TV shows that promoted Venezuelan folk traditions, humour and songs, something which won him a special place in the hearts of those Venezuelans who grew up with him.

Born on the 8 August 1928 in Barbacoas and baptized Simón Narciso Díaz Márquez, he is famous for his renditions of folk songs known collectively as joropo or música criolla from the area known as Los Llanos, a vast swathe of seasonally-flooded cattle country that stretches from Venezuela into Colombia.

Considered a national treasure, over a career spanning more than 60 years he almost single-handedly rescued for future generations the traditional working songs of Los Llanos. His great achievement was to take these simple songs called tonadas and reinterpret them with spare arrangements that highlight the sometimes haunting vocals, and bring to life the daily chores of the cattle ranch. 

He was also known for his wicked sense of humour and made more than one tongue-in-cheek song about life on the Llanos, like "El Peine".

So influential has Simon Diaz been on Venezuelan folk music that tonadas like "Tonada de Luna Llena", "La Vaca Mariposa", and "Luna de Margarita"  have been recorded by a host of singers across Latin America and Spain, including Mercedes Sosa, Caetano Veloso, Joan Manuel Serrat, Gilberto Santa Rosa and contemporary indie musicians like Devendra Banhart and Natalia Lafourcade. 

A 2007 album called simply "Simon: Remixes" brought together Venezuelan electronica groups like Babylon Motorhome, Masseratti 2 lts. Todosantos and Panasuyo interested in reinterpreting songs like "Mi Querencia", "La Tonada del Cabrestero" and "Arbolito Sabanero" for a new generation.

In 2008, Tio Simon was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award
at the Latin Grammys after a campaign by a group called "Venezuelans in Hollywood", supported by actors such as "The Mummy" actress Patricia Velasquez, and musicians such as Oscar D'Leon, Los Amigos Invisibles, Ricardo Montaner, Jose Luis Rodriguez ("El Puma") and the Gipsy Kings.

Click here for a video of "Caballo Viejo"
Click here for a video of "Angustia" by Simon Diaz remixed by Babylon Motorhome

Click here for a video of "La Tonada del Cabrestero"
Click here for a video of "Alma Llanera" 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Venezuela's Hottest Party Band to Play London 7 Feb

LAI playing 'Mentiras' live in Buenos Aires

London is bracing for a Venezuelan invasion as the hottest Latin-party band in the universe, Los Amigos Invisibles, prepares to rock the UK capital to its ultra-funk foundations with a single live show at the Garage on Friday 7 February.

Tickets priced £25 are on sale through Latino Life but don't hang about as they're selling faster than hot buttered arepas.

To get a taste of the full Amigos experience, here's a video of the track 'Mentiras' from an LAI gig in Argentina in 2010 where the boys blew the place apart with a trawl through their back catalogue.

Summer sounds don't come any fresher, funkier or funnier than the band's upbeat Latin grooves and music lovers can expect the Venezuelan party boys to shine a ray of South American sunshine over a grey, wet London in Islington on Friday.

It should be a very special gig as the UK is like a musical Mecca for Los Amigos Invisbles. Growing up in the Caribbean, in a country awash with merengue and salsa, the boys swam against the tide and immersed themselves in US rare grooves and music from the British acid-jazz scene.

Playing pool parties for their pals, they quickly learnt how to blend the sounds of early Santana, the Fania Allstars and 70s disco with 80s electronica and house music to create sexed-up songs with irresistible sing-along choruses.

Few other bands have the ability to tease Latin-lover dance moves from an audience, and even the stiffest British wallflower will find it hard to stay still when the music starts.

It's been seven years since LAI played a gig in the UK but luckily for us their latest album "Repeat After Me", has been a big hit, prompting a massive tour to bring what the Invisible Friends call la gozadera (the party fun) to their full panas (best mates) in Europe.

The boys have certainly been busy of late, picking up a Latin Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album for the CD "Comercial" and releasing a movie called "La Casa del Ritmo" to celebrate their 20 years of making great music.

Starting out as an indie-underground group playing acid-jazz-inspired funk and boogaloo for a Caracas in-crowd, the six members of Amigos Invisibles were catapulted to international stardom when ex-Talking Head Davis Byrne signed them to his Luaka Bop label in 1996 for the album "The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera".

Since then they have recorded tracks with Masters at Work and Dimitri from Paris, played in over 60 countries, produced seven quality albums, and gained a reputation as one of the best Latin music acts performing live today.

To keep up with all the latest from Los Amigos Invisibles follow them on Twitter: @AmgsInvisibles

Venue: The Garage, 20-22 Highbury Corner, London, N5 1RD
Time: Doors open at 22:30
Nearest Tube: Highbury & Islington
Tickets: On sale via Ticketmaster

Friday, November 1, 2013

Venezuela Guide on Instagram - FITVen2013


In October 2013 I was invited to travel around Venezuela on a Press Trip organized by the Tourism Ministry (MinTur) in the run up to the FITVen2013 International Tourism Fair.

As I lost my laptop and camera en route to Venezuela I was forced to improvise. Armed only with an HTC One S mobile phone with an 8 megapixel camera, I decided to document my trip on Instagram.

Through trial and error, I learnt how to get the most out of a single shot and train my eye to find images that would work in a square. The filters I just responded to depending on my mood that day. The feedback on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter has been really encouraging.

I am pleased with the results.

The restrictions of Instagram forced me to be more creative and think carefully before taking each shot, which helped me to see Venezuela in a different way.

I came home with some great new images of Caracas, the islands of Margarita, Coche and Cubagua, rafting in Barinas, paragliding in Mérida and the folk festivals of the Pueblos del Sur, remote villages in the Andean mountains south of Merida.

To see more of my Instagram images follow me at @Venezuelaguide -

Street Theatre: In the area around Plaza el Venezolano and Plaza Bolivar in the centre of Caracas, actors recreate key scenes from Venezuela's history by bringing to life famous characters from the past who tell the story of their time. Here, the dictator Juan Vicente Gomez takes a stroll with Independence hero Francisco de Miranda.  

Whitewater Rafting: On the Rio Acequias in Barinas, adventure tour company Arassari Trek took us on a bumpy, adrenaline-pumping ride down a Grade 3 stretch of foaming rapids. It helps if everybody rows together.

For more details of rafting in Barinas contact Arassari Trek

Remote Andean Villages: Just outside San Jose de Acequias, one of the so-called Pueblos del Sur, we came across this tiny chapel dedicated to San Isidro Labrador, the patron sain of farmers. 

Vibrant Folk Festivals: The Locainas de Santa Rita are gentlemen who dress like ladies for a day during the festivities in honor of San Isidro, as Santa Rita in popular lore is the wife of the saint. As their name suggests, these ladies can get quite "loco" during the festivities held on 21-22 May, and after dancing with their sticks they try to liven up the festive mood by flirting with the men in the crowd.

Paragliding in Merida: Close to the city of Merida is one of the best paragliding spots in Venezuela, a place called Tierra Negra. Jose Albarran of Fanny Tours is one of the pioneers of paragliding in Venezuela and a great pilot for a tandem flight. Known to his friends as "Piojo" (Flea), due to his uncanny ability to scale sheer rock faces, Jose is one of the founders of the paragliding school in the nearby village of Las Gonzales, close to the landing site, where youngsters are being trained to become the paragliding champions of the future. Watch a video of me paragliding with Piojo here

For more details of paragliding in Merida contact Jose at Fanny Tours

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Still Skanking - Desorden Publico "Los Dados de La Muerte"

Venezuela's top ska band Desorden Publico have been making music for more than 25 years and they just get better with each new album.

Their latest video for Los Dados de La Muerte, from the EP "Los Contrarios" shows a re-energized Desorden Publico in blistering form.

After the Colombian-influenced cumbia-ska of their last hit single Cristo Navaja, Los Dados de la Muerte is a return to the classic 80s ska of Madness and The Specials that first inspired them to start a band in 1985.

It features a cameo by Kanikazu Tanaka of Japanese ska band Dad Mom God.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Salsa star Oscar D'Leon invites fans to London show

Legendary salsa singer Oscar D'Leon will perform with his full big band at London's Roundhouse on 3 November 2012 for a one-off concert that no Latin music lover should miss. As he says in this special video message to fans ahead of the show... it should be Sabroso!!
For full details of the concert and how to get tickets click here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Salsa king Oscar D'Leon comes to London 3 November

One of the truly great legends of salsa music, Oscar D'Leon, will be bringing his swinging big band and his even bigger personality to London's Roundhouse on 3 November for a one-off concert that no Latin music lover should miss.

Organized by London-based promoters Como No!, the show features Oscar D'Leon's full Venezuelan band and will start with sets from top salsa DJs, including Javier La Rosa (Cuba), Johnny G (Colombia), Jose Luis (Venezuela), Lubi (Gallo del Norte), Dr Jim (Londres del Norte) and Rich (Londres del Sur).

Known as El Rey Leon (the Lion King), El Diablo de la Salsa (the Salsa Devil), and El Sonero Mayor (The Greatest Singer of Son) Oscar D'Leon is not only an impressive singer with a huge voice and a matching stage presence, but also a brilliant double bass player and a twinkle-toed dancer (even now as he reaches 70).

He has been setting concert halls alight across the world with blistering dance numbers and smooth boleros since he first emerged as a star in Venezuela in the 1970s.

Born in the poor barrio of Antimano, in the south of the capital city Caracas, Oscar D'Leon drove a bus before fame called with his first band Dimension Latina. Back in those days he had a massive afro to complement his equally impressive moustache.

Starting off with the gritty urban power of the trombone-heavy salsa dura that had emerged from the Latino barrios of New York in the late 60s, he went on to develop a show that included big band numbers from the golden era of 1950s Cuba - when his idol Beny More and the Sonora Matancera ruled the radio and the Mambo kings played songs of love in New York.

Nowadays, to keep up with changing tastes, he continues to add contemporary Caribbean rhythms like rap and reggaetton into the salsa-son cubano mix and his band of percussion players and brass are so well rehearsed from constant gigs around the world they can move seamlessly between old styles and rhythms.

The result is that an Oscar D'Leon gig feels like one long dance party.

This is the perfect opportunity for anybody who takes a salsa class to hear this music played by the best musicians in the business. You can always stay and home and listen to the CDs, but performing live Oscar D'Leon can fill a concert hall in the coldest part of the world with all the warmth and joy of a South American fiesta.

You also get to check out the local Latinos busting moves they don't teach you in school.

But whether you sing along at the front or shuffle along at the back, the only thing certain at an Oscar D'Leon concert is that standing still is not an option - the rollercoaster of Caribbean rhythms unleashed by the Venezuelan salsa king rumbas along to an infectious clave beat that will leave you dancing your way home.

Date: Saturday, 3 November, 8:30 pm
Venue: London's Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden, NW1 8EH
Tickets: £25
For tickets: Contact the Roundhouse or Como No! or Ticket Web

Lloraras y Lloraras - Venezuelan Karaoke Part 1

To prepare you for the concert here are the words to Oscar D'Leon's most famous song "Lloraras" ("You Will Cry") so you can sing along at the gig (although as you can see in the video above Oscar loves to improvise during the chorus). As you might gather from the title, there's quite a lot of crying involved, I've translated the words into English so you get the full effect of this popular break-up song.

Lloraras (in English)
I know that you don't want me to love you,
You're always avoiding me somehow.
If I look for you over here, you pop up over there.
The only thing I want, is that you won't make me suffer anymore.

You will be sorry about your bad behavior,
My suffering will cost you dear.
You will cry and cry with no-one to console you,
And then you'll realize that when someone cheats on you it hurts.

Later on you'll come to ask for forgiveness,
But my heart won't remember you any more.
You will cry and cry with no-one to console you,
And then you'll realize that when someone cheats on you it hurts.
I swear.

You will cry, You will cry, You will cry (You will cry)
Like I suffered (You will cry)
Listen, you will cry (You will cry)
And no-one will understand you (You will cry)
All the bad things (You will cry)
Listen, you will pay (You will cry)

You will cry, You will cry (You will cry)
You will cry, You will cry (You will cry)

You made me suffer (You will cry)
Now I'm the one who's laughing (You will cry)
No, no, yes, yes (You will cry)
Now I will live (You will cry)
My life as I wish (You will cry)
I'm moving on (You will cry)
You will cry.
Take it away!!

Lloraras (in Spanish)
Se que tu no quieres, que yo a ti te quiera
siempre tu me esquivas de alguna manera
si te busco por aqui tu me sales por alla
lo unico que yo quiero es que no me hagas sufrir mas

Por tu mal comportamiento, te vas a arrepentir
muy caro tendras que pagar todo mi sufrimiemto
Lloraras y lloraras sin nadie que te consuele
y asi te daras de cuenta que si te enga?an duele

Y despues vendras a mi, pidiendome perdon
pero ya mi corazon, no se acuerda mas de ti
Lloraras y lloraras sin nadie que te consuele
y asi te daras de cuenta que si te engañan duele
Te lo juro que si!

Lloraras lloraras lloraras (Lloraras)
Como lo sufri yo (Lloraras)
Oye tu lloraras (Lloraras)
Nadie te comprendera (Lloraras)
Todo lo malo que hiciste (Lloraras)
Oye mira lo pagaras (Lloraras)
Lloraras Lloraras (Lloraras)
Lloraras Lloraras (Lloraras)
Tu me hiciste sufrir (Lloraras)
Ahora el que rie soy yo (Lloraras)
que no, que no, que si, que si (Lloraras)
Ahora yo voy a vivir (Lloraras)
Mi vida como yo quiero (Lloraras)
Echa palante ya me voy (Lloraras)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Venezuelan bands on Starbucks CD - Cafe con Musica

By Russell Maddicks
If you like a little Latin flava with your mocha coconut frapuccino then look no further than coffee chain Starbucks who have just released "Cafe con Musica" - their first compilation of contemporary Latino sounds in collaboration with LA-based indie label Nacional Records.

Two of the 16 tracks are by Venezuelan groups: "Mentiras" by the funky boogaloo pop-rocksters known as Los Amigos Invisibles - one of the best Latin dance party bands working in the USA today - and "Arenita Playita" by the hip hop group Cuarto Poder. 

The blurb from Starbucks highlights how mainstream contemporary Latin music is nowadays and how important Nacional Records has become in the promotion of so many talented artists from Latin America, Spain and the USA: "This is a snapshot of the current Latin alternative scene featuring an international array of artists exploring a range of genres, from rock to electronica and beyond. Working with Nacional Records, the foremost source of exciting new sounds from Latin musicians, we offer an introduction to elite talent from a thriving musical movement."

The participating artists cover a wide range of styles from the loungetastic cha-cha-cha reworking of "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This" by Señor Coconut, to the lyrical poetry of Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux on "1977" and the electro-tuba beats of Mexican DJ/electronica collective Nortec.

It's a shame they didn't include tracks by other Nacional Records' artists like Manu Chao and Plastilina Mosh, but there's still plenty of great artists to explore on this compilation.

So, what are you waiting for ese? With a Starbucks on nearly every corner of every major city in the States you should find no trouble picking up a copy. And with so many dance beats to shake your booty to on this album, it's a healthier option than the double fudge mini-donuts. 

The CD will be on sale at participating Starbucks outlets in the USA until 16 July.

Track List:
Diego Garcia - You Were Never There
Andrea Echeverri - A Eme O
Señor Coconut - Sweet Dreams

Sara Valenzuela - Para Continuar
The Pinker Tones - The Whistling Song
Polock - Fireworks
Pacha Massive - All Good Things
No Te Va Gustar - Chau
Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich + Fussible - I Count the Ways
Los Amigos Invisibles - Mentiras
Ana Tijoux - 1977
Monareta - Llama
DJ Bitman - Shine
Mexican Institute of Sound - Mirando a las Muchachas
Aterciopelados - Rio
Cuarto Poder - Arenita Playita

To listen to sample clips and buy individual tracks click here: