Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo
El Clavo and Caracas, Venezuela
La Parranda El Clavo and their clarion-voiced leader Betsayda Machado have inspired international acclaim for the exuberant sounds of their Afro-Venezuelan heritage. The New York Times declared them “the kind of group that world-music fans have always been thrilled to discover: vital, accomplished, local, unplugged, deeply rooted.”
The music of the Barlovento region on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast is based in African sounds and rhythms, nurtured and adapted by cacao-plantation workers and their descendants over centuries of slavery and then freedom. Notable among these traditions is the parranda, a troupe of singers who serenade neighbors house-to-house at Christmas time. With intricate call-and-response harmonies, polyrhythmic percussion, and vibrant dancing, the parranderos weave tales of local history, make pointed social commentary, and celebrate life’s passages.
Some 30 years ago the residents of tiny El Clavo (population 1,500) decided to form their own parranda. To distinguish themselves from groups in larger neighboring towns, they chose New Year’s Eve as their day to celebrate. In the decades since, this ensemble has become the sound of El Clavo’s cultural life year-round, playing parties, saints’ days, weddings, and funerals. However, their New Year’s festivities remain legendary: they entertain at every house in town over the course of 24 hours, eventually leading an entire village of revelers to the town square to welcome in the new year together.
Betsayda Machado and her siblings grew up at the center of the parranda: her father, Pedro, was a noted trumpet player, and the Machado house was the parranderos’ home base. Betsayda left El Clavo for Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, at age 18, building a career, and becoming one of the nation’s best-loved singers. She is celebrated today across Venezuela as “the Black Voice of Barlovento,” carrier of a tradition of community music-making that she first participated in as a child.w
Now Betsayda has embarked on a multifaceted project to bring the joyous music of El Clavo to the world. La Parranda El Clavo began by making a recording of their music as they perform it at home, fittingly titled Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree. Next came a wildly successful international tour in 2016. Now the eight-member group, comprised of a close-knit group of friends and family (including Betsayda’s sister, Nereida, and three other family groupings), is exploring the history of their town and their music: this year they are taking DNA tests, and planning a tour of their ancestral points of origin in Africa. They are also harnessing global interest in their story and their music to develop sustainability projects for El Clavo and other villages in Barlovento, building a vibrant future out of the power of their cultural legacy.