Cusica Fest is trying to rebuild the Venezuelan music industry — starting by bringing artists back

Growing up in Caracas, Devendra Banhart remembers flipping through the TV to see a failed coup attempt led by Hugo Chavez in 1992.

“It was over there, these two were holding [firearms] “We are taking over the country,” he says.

Banhart moved to the United States shortly thereafter and became a musician and virtual artist dabbled in psychedelic folk. plain songsynth rock, salsa — some of which, he says, are satirical interpretations of variety shows like sensational super saturdaywhich he saw on television as a child, contained a lot of “people in tuxedos covered in syrupy thongs and sweat and makeup.”

While Banhart was away from home and immersed in his creative work, things changed in Venezuela.

In 1998, Chavez was elected president, a position he held until his death in 2013, except for a brief stint in 2002. More than 50 countries, including the United States, recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president in 2019.

Political instability contributes to a socio-economic crisis of food and medicine insecurity, violence and deteriorating public services, forcing more than 7 million Venezuelans to leave the country, according to the UN refugee agency. .

Banhart, whose family still lives in Venezuela and has been visiting Venezuela for years, paints that reality as earnestly in his music as the song “Abre las Manos” from his 2019 record. pose:

“Mira La Fira, look at Veinte Mil Horas/Rhine, it’s 20,000 hours long

Aunt Waiting for Bread / Aunt Waiting for Bread

Percentage of people going hungry / Percentage of people going hungry

something needs to change / something needs to change

This situation affects all Venezuelans and makes things difficult for artists trying to keep the country’s creative scene alive.

“In my experience, I’ve been playing Caracas every year for over 20 years,” says Banhart. “And it’s getting really close and falling apart at the last minute.”

That is until we hit the stage at Cusica Fest in December of this year.

“My experience [in Venezuela] “And what I saw on this trip was a celebration,” he says.

Andres Rodriguez / Cushika Fest


Kushika Fest

“For us, it’s just about growing the Venezuelan music industry,” says Cusica co-founder Maria Fernanda Burbano.

Kushika Fest welcomed over 10,000 attendees On December 17th and 18th, on the campus of Simon Bolivar University, nestled between the misty mountains of Calaca.

But in fact, it started as an e-commerce platform for the national currency, the bolivar, in 2014 in Venezuela when people struggled to buy music on iTunes because of the fixed exchange rate regime. (Spotify has not started operating in the country since 2021.)

Cusica co-founder Maria Fernanda Burbano said:

Soon, Brubano and her partner launched Cusica+, a website that publishes music news and reviews. Shortly thereafter, they began operating a venue at El Hatillo. As we produced more live shows and gained more followers, we wanted to eventually launch a larger festival. In 2019, that dream came true with the first iteration of her Cusica Fest, but was forced on a pandemic hiatus until 2022.

“What we wanted was to give a knock on the table like ‘Hey, we’re here. Things can get complicated, but Venezuela is still spot on.'” Brubano explains. “We are still here, always putting the artist and the audience first.”

Their strategy has several main goals. The first is to ensure that Venezuelan artists who have built their careers abroad, such as Banhart and Simon Grossman, perform on the stage of their home country. Brubano said that artists in such positions often find it difficult to grasp how much support they have in their hometowns, and for Cusica, seeing and experiencing a connection with an audience is a real experience. “It’s important to provide space where you can.”

For Banhart, the audience included many of his family watching him live for the first time, so he did so in a dress.

“I started singing like that in Caracas. My mom left and I put on her dress and sang,” he remembers. “And if I could sing like that again… I would have been proud at eight years old.”

"people go crazy," Beto Montenegro, pictured with Ilepersa, laughs at the crowd's reaction on the set of Rawayana. "that is the truth."

Andres Rodriguez / Cushika Fest


Kushika Fest

“People were going crazy,” Beto Montenegro laughed about the crowd’s reaction to Lawayana’s set with Ilepersa. “That’s the truth.”

Performed with Banhardt at this year’s Kushi Cafe Festival Lawayana is a band that blends rock, reggae, funk and Caribbean rhythms.

Lawayana began over a decade ago among a group of friends in Caracas, says lead singer Beto Montenegro. They posted the sarcastic song as a joke on MySpace, which eventually spread all over Venezuela to take music more seriously.

In 2015, in the midst of the crisis, Lawayana members, like many other Venezuelans, made the difficult decision to leave the country and move between Mexico City and Miami. But the bureaucracy in their hometown still affects them, Montenegro says, adding extra hoops to jump through things other artists might not struggle as much, such as getting visas and passports needed for tours. I am adding.

Lawayana’s music grew internationally with the mass expulsion of Venezuelan citizens, he explains. In the diaspora, Rawayana’s show becomes a way to reconnect with other Venezuelans.

“In Spain, for example, a Rawayana concert is like an excuse to meet the community,” he says.

Their music also became more political in nature. their 2021 album, When headless dominatesavoiding the right-left dichotomy and striking at the polarization that has entrenched in Venezuela and many other parts of the world, where many systems are entangled.

“For me, there is no reason to take one side or the other, because it is very obvious to go far left or far right, that is not the way,” says Montenegro.

So when he returns to Venezuela to perform publicly at Cushicafest for the first time in six years, he says he’s a little nervous given the country’s political climate.

But when a young fan approached him the day after Lawayana’s set, he knew it was worth it and talked about how in a few years he would have a band he could play with Lawayana. . Massive festivals like Cusica are a reminder to young Venezuelans that they still have creative avenues and show that they can express themselves regardless of the country’s situation, he said. say.

“In a way, it’s our responsibility,” says Montenegro.

Burbano also feels that commitment. Under the guidance of Latin America’s larger festivals, such as her Estéreo Picnic in Colombia, she hopes her Cusica will return Venezuela to a live music destination for national bands as well as international acts. increase.

“Having a festival in the midst of the ongoing socioeconomic crisis is double the effort,” she says. “But it’s always about moving forward and making things better.”

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