A joyous evening, Venezuela-style

The group brought a party to the smaller stage at Proctors thanks to the newly launched “Passport Series"
Betsayda Machado
Betsayda Machado

For their debut album, “Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree,” Venezuelan singer Betsayda Machado and her backing group La Parranda El Clavo literally did just that — recorded under a mango tree in their small village of El Clavo with much of the town participating, Machado said through a translator at Proctors on Thursday evening.

Machado and La Parranda El Clavo brought that spirit of inclusion to their show in Schenectady, inviting audience members to join them in front of the stage to dance with abandon to the Afro Soul troupe’s joyous ancestral music, which was driven by insistent drums, unusual percussive instruments (including hollow tree trunks) and powerful call-and-response vocals.  

Behind the soaring voice of Machado — one of Venezuela’s most celebrated singers — the other six members of the group, wearing brightly patterned clothes and all related by family in some way, added harmonious vocals and relentless percussion for an explosive, highly dynamic performance that lent itself to movement. 

After 30 years playing at town festivals, holidays and funerals in the area around El Clavo, a village of 1,500 near the Caribbean coast, the group launched a crowd-funding campaign online to raise money to tour North America for the first time earlier this year.

Parranda is a Spanish term for Afro-Venezuelan Christmastime music festivities, and the group brought a party to the smaller stage at Proctors thanks to the newly launched “Passport Series,” an extension of the well-curated Music Haven world music concert series held every summer in Schenectady’s Central Park. 

“Some of the most inspiring music comes from some of the remotest places,” said Mona Golub of Price Chopper, Music Haven’s producing artistic director, as she introduced the group before the show. They had the feel of a thrilling discovery, in that way: a group accomplished and rooted but little known to larger audiences. 

Although the words of their songs were entirely sung in Spanish, making their meaning not always accessible for English-only speakers, it was often possible to discern the emotion behind the song.  
 “It makes me cry when innocent people die. Stop guns, let’s play the drums” said Machado before “Sentimiento,” a pointedly political song about unrest and violence in Venezuela. 

Before “Sirena,” members of the group brought out a doll-sized figure of Saint John the Baptist and placed him on a bench. The saint served as a rallying figure for the rest of the show, representing the spirit of the San Juan Festival, an important three-day Afro-Venezuelan tradition that goes back to the days of slavery when Venezuela’s slaves where allowed a short time off, and they would gather during the summer solstice to pay homage to Saint John the Baptist through drum playing and celebration.

After the performance, a crowd lingered for a meet-and-greet with the band, which gave audience members a chance to ask questions about things like the group’s unusual (to Americans) instrumentation.

Next up for the Passport Series is Nubian pop group Alsarah and the Nubatones at Proctors on Nov. 30.

Categories: Entertainment

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