Andres Rodriguez/Kushika Fest
Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Devendra Banhart remembers watching a coup attempt on television in 1992 led by Hugo Chavez.
“It was over there, these two were holding [firearms] And they say, ‘We’re taking over the country,'” he says.
Banhart soon moved to the United States and became a musician and visual artist. An artist who dabbles in psychedelic folk, plain songsynth rock, and salsa—some of which, he says, are satirical interpretations of variety shows such as: sensational super saturdaywhich he saw on television as a child, contained a lot of “people in tuxedos covered in syrupy strings 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 and, except for a brief period in 2002, held the position until his death in 2013. More than 50 countries, including the United States, recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim 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. .
With family still living in Venezuela and visiting over the years, Banhart takes that reality seriously in his music.in the song “Abre las Manos” from his 2019 record pose, he sings:
“Mira la Fira, veinte mil horas” (see 20,000 hours long dialogue)
“There is my aunt waiting for her bread”
“what percentage of people are hungry” (what percentage of people are 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/Kushika Fest
Kushika Fest welcomed over 10,000 attendees On the campus of Simon Bolivar University, surrounded by the misty mountains of Calaca, on December 17th and 18th.
However, the festival actually started in 2014, when people in Venezuela struggled to buy music on iTunes because of the fixed exchange rate regime, when the Bolivar (the local currency) e-commerce platform was launched. first started with (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.'” “We are still here, always putting the artist and the audience first,” explains Burvano.
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 members watching him live for the first time, so he performed 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…at eight years old I would have been proud.”
Andres Rodriguez/Kushika Fest
Co-starring with Banhardt at Kushi Cafe Lawayana is a band that mixes rock, reggae, funk and Caribbean rhythms. that music.
Lawayana began over a decade ago among a group of friends in Caracas, says lead singer Beto Montenegro. They posted a sarcastic song on MySpace as a joke, which eventually spread all over Venezuela and made him take music more seriously, eventually leading him to become famous pop artists such as Chino & Nacho and Servando y Florentino. We shared the act and the stage.
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.
The band’s music also became more political in nature. Its 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.”