Conjunto Papaupa and a brief glimpse on afro-venezuelan culture

(Music With Soul 7").

Actual growing interest for "tropical" music provides a wide variety of projects and vinyl releases. Muzzicaltrips looked into a afro-venezuelan influenced project (Conjunto Papa Upa, from the Netherlands based label Musicwithsoul), a very good actual DJ friendly sound, loaded with interesting traditional elements. This was opportunity to exchange with the father of this project, Alex Figueira, a real music specialist on the (yet little documented) afro-venezuelan culture.

Lets  start with a synthetic 7 minutes historical introduction to afro-venezuelan culture:

We need first to introduce the cumaco drum (bateria de cumaco), a long cylindrical drum played horizontally sat on it. Basis for several afro-venezuelan rhythms, it's usually played in pairs, a male and a female. Paliteros are additional musicians standing behind the cumaco drummer and hitting wood sticks on the body of the cumaco. These sticks are called laures and imbricate within the other drums patterns to create a specific afro influenced rhythm.
Call and response, connection between music and dance and his participative process, religious syncretism with colonial catholicism, are some aspects inscribing afro-venezuelan traditional music in a similar frame as many caribbean neighbours. But in every shore, depending on local influences and specificities, peculiar expressions were forged.
For example Culo e Puya, which represents in Venezuela both an afro rhythm and a thin drum directly inherited from Africa: it is particularly played in Barlovento area, where the runaway slaves (maroons/cimarrones) could escape and settle from the 18th century. Curiepe village was founded at this time and is still 90% afro-descendant, although not having preserved a specific bantu based language (differently to San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia). Afro-venezuelan cultural manifestations also include events directly rooted in history or believes, as San Benito Festival where dedicated drums (the "chimbangueles", composed by seven different drums) are used. In the same way, anybody knowing colombian gaita would be surprised about what is called gaita on the other side of the border: it's the christmas rhythm in Venezuela, no indian flute is played but cuatro guitar, and the drums patterns are different...
A rich tradition and variety of rhythms, popular but longly underestimated to a part of the population.

Musical instruments additional info here:

Coming back to Conjunto Papa Upa, "Vintage vaudou" comes originally from a drumming session with a stirring afro-venezuelan rhythm, and became a real track including various influences such as a semba on rhythm guitar (although initially conceived with parranda venezuelan rhythm), psyche sound on the lead, voices...
Rhythm itself is supported by the male cumaco (1m30 long, 45kg) and laures, triangle, colombian maraca (as "their bigger size sounds better than a maraca criolla on the mid range frequencies"...).
Please contact directly Alex if you're interested in differences between maraca colombiana, maracon, maraca rumbera, maraca criolla and their respective frequency ranges...

Conjunto Papa Upa - Vintage Vaudou:

On Camuri Chico, drumset is composed of cumaco (male and female), guira, tambora merenguera, and some conga. Psyche guitar sound is still gliding, and a cuatro is played by Baldo.

Conjunto Papa Upa - Camuri Chico:

The psyche and vintage color of the track is strengthen by the keyboard, a Farfisa Compact, rooting the sound in the 70's. Farfisa contributed to a part of african 70's sound shape, as widely used (partly because easy to carry, and rather cheap but catchy sounding), as for example by ghanian musician Kim Frimpong on some recordings.
Anyway, these Conjunto Papa Upa sounds correspond more to a creative process including traditional influences than a heritage conservation. But as in many cases, when you have deep knowledge on the traditional rhythms, blend works better.

Looking back in time, probably the first recordings including afro-venezuelan rhythms were released on a latin-rock album by Grupo Pan (1970), led by Carlos "Nene" Quintero as singer and guitarist (but also conguero within the excellent salsa band Los Dementes). A great (but unfindable) 7" has been release following this first LP and is clearly based on afro-venezuelan rhythms.

Grupo Pan - Comunicate cut:

Vytas Brenner, a famous venezuelan keyboardist (and multi-instrumentalist), included then the surprising authentic track "Aguacero", in a prog-rock obscure LP. Same as for afro-cuban culture, rain has a mystic role and tracks named "aguacero" (cloudburst) can be found, originally aimed to make the rain fall.

Vytas Brenner - Aguacero part 2 (1978):

In the late 70's a venezuelan band Un Solo Pueblo (one single people) emerged including many folkloric component and particularly "tambor", popular name for afro-venezuelan music. It represents the first real promotion and affirmation of african components in venezuelan music, making it more visible and popular outside of the afro-venezuelan community. An evidence of this african rooted culture's new claim to be a legitimate component of the national venezuelan identity: the folkloric dancers stand in front of national hero Simon Bolivar's portrait on the LP cover.

Un Solo Pueblo - Tambor Culo e Puya (Volume 4, 1981):

Political reorientation last 15 years had the effect to promote folkloric national culture. Joropo benefited significantly from official institutions, but afro-venezuelan culture also received some support contributing to his growing visibility (although controversial in its form, as a recurrent issue for any governmental cultural promotion: things are always more nuanced than just to consider as political propaganda or as a legitimate selfless cause). Similar process being known in Brazil and Colombia with also a recent institutional activism around afro-descendant culture, I guess it just takes part of a wider (sincere?) awareness increase, linked with global growing ease to recycle folkloric music. Result is that these rhythms inspire naturally many popular styles.
Rhythms being more and more blended, as for any traditional material in tropical capitals, this leads to urbanised expression: some naturally evolving but strongly rooted in original tradition, others swapping complexity of interlinked rhythms for electronic beat or dance efficiency.

Here's another recent example with Tambor Urbano, really nice actual but roots folkloric track:

Tambor Urbano - (Recorriendo Venezuela, 2005):

Unsurprisingly, we can internationally find some afro-venezuelan rhythms in a Omar Sosa early album (cumaco, culo e puya and quitiplas played by venezuelan drummer Gustavo Ovalles). So let's finish the trip with a jazzy track from this master cuban pianist and black atlantic open-minded explorer.

Omar Sosa - Oda al Negro (Sentir, 2001):

To complete the post, here is the afro-venezuelan playlist:

And a video playlist, to be fed with more afro-venezuelan sounds:

Many thanks to Alex for sharing his knowledge on the subject.
Check Music With Soul label and support the project: HERE
Discover more, have a look at a special issue from LAMECA (very good inputs, sounds and pictures to learn more about afro-venezuelan music and culture): HERE
Afro-venezuelan instruments extract from "Musiques et Rites Afro-americains" (V. Doucet): HERE
Dig Venezuelan folklore: HERE
Muzzicaltrips post about afro-peruvian instruments: HERE
Take a trip to a 60s blend of jazz and afro-uruguayan rhythms: HERE

Comments and additional information are always welcome!