If you’re in a party mood, grab the 7 train and head to Flushing Town Hall tonight, Oct 21 where Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo are throwing a wild Afro-Venezuelan bash at 7:30 PM. There will be all kinds of ecstatic call-and-response, booming drums and dancing: Flushing Town Hall always keeps the front section close to the stage open for the dance crowd. Cover is $16, $10 for seniors, and if you’re a kid between 13-19, you get in free, as you can at all the shows here.
Machado recreates a Venezuelan hill country party vibe, a high-voltage tradition passed down through the centuries and maintained by the descendants of the first African slaves kidnapped and brought to the Venezuelan coast. But not all those slaves remained in chains: just as the Maroons in Jamaica did, some managed to escape and set up self-sustaining communities where the the old African traditions survived more or less intact. Machado and her village band trace their ancestry to those days: with just a choir and many drums handmade from local lumber, they are as oldschool as you can get. Parranda musicians don’t stand still – they typically make a procession. The soaring voices and stomping rhythms of Machado’s band are similar to Carolina Oliveros’ Afro-Colombian bullerengue crew Bulla En El Barrio.
Machado’s new album Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree is streaming at Spotify. It’s amazing how catchy these songs are: a brass band or a salsa orchestra could have a great time filling in the harmonies between the singers and the beats. Which are all over the place: sometimes a straight-up dancefloor thump but more likely to be a swaying triplet groove, a funky dance pulse or tricky, intricate polyrhythms. What’s consistent throughout the album, and the music in general, is the contrast between the hypnotically booming drums and the energy of the vocals. The songs celebrate good times, dancing, console the lonely or the bereaved and invoke the ancient spirits, recast as Christian saints. You can sing along; it helps if you know Spanish.