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Group Brings The Rhythm and Message of Tambor Venezolano to U.S.

It's "a dream come true" for a group from a small town in Venezuela that is sharing the arresting sounds of "tambor venezolano" in U.S. cities.
Image: The Venezuelan national flag is seen atop the building housing the National Assembly in Caracas
The Venezuelan national flag is seen atop the building housing the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Marco BelloMARCO BELLO / Reuters

NEW YORK — It's a long way from the rural town of El Clavo in Venezuela, but the arresting and rhythmic Afro-Latino sounds of the "tambor venezolano" are right at home in the American city.

To the beat of drums and maracas, the Venezuelan folk group Betsayda Machado y La Parranda del Clavo are sharing their music on their “Sabrosito Rico” tour, their first in the U.S.

The group, from the small town in Miranda state, has been playing tambor venezolano - a music genre in the country - together for over 30 years. It wasn't until last summer that they had never played outside of their town of 1500 people.

“We are like kids with a brand new toy,” said lead singer Betsayda Machado to NBC News. “We loved the warm welcome people have given us, the way people have taken our performance and how we interact with the audience; it makes us feel like we back home in el Clavo”, said dancer and percussionist Jose Gregorio Gómez.

“This is definitely like living a dream,” said Blanca Castillo, a founding member of the parranda. The group grew out of a tradition in El Clavo, a town in the Barlovento plains of Venezuela that is located about 70 miles from the capital Caracas.

"Every year on January 1st the entire town joins the band and they play all day long, going from house to house," explained band member Oscar Ruíz. “Like us who grew up in the band, there is a group of kids in the town who will be the future of the band”, said Ruíz.

Their music’s African roots and ancestral dances can make even the most inexperienced dancer jump on their feet. But perhaps the most magical thing of their performances here is that for many of the Venezuelans living in the U.S. they are reminded of their home country, its favors and its rich history.

For other Venezuelans in the U.S., the group is a sad reminder of the country they had to leave due to the crisis in the country.

“El Clavo has been neglected for many decades by the Venezuelan government”, said the band's manager, Juan Souki.

And like the rest of the country, they feel the current economic and social crisis. Several of the band’s newest songs like “La Situación” and “No la Pelees Papá” speak of the current food and product shortages, as well as the long lines Venezuelans have to make every day to purchase anything.

Betsayda and the Parranda also advocate against the gun violence.

“We would love for all of our songs to be about happy things, but unfortunately there are sad things happening that we have to take into account and reflect on them” said Youse Cardozo, another band member who has composed some of the songs for the band. “We have to carry the message that these things should not continue to happen. We wrote “Sentimiento” after the death of two people in El Clavo”.

The rest of their songs talk about growing up in El Clavo, the town's religious believes, the slavery the town experienced during the colonization period.

Their seven-city tour in the U.S. was possible due to an Indiegogo campaign put together by Souki and a group of entrepreneurs who called themselves “Imaginarios Caracas - Toronto”.

The band was invited last summer to Lincoln Center in New York City to participate in a festival, but they could not make it because of the band members did not have visas to the United States. They were however able to tour in Canada in several folk music festivals including in Vancouver and Calgary.

Donations inside of Venezuela allowed the group to release their first recording, which was made in their hometown underneath a mango tree.

The band is set to play Friday in Boston, Saturday in Philadelphia and their final concert will be in D.C. at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage before returning to Venezuela on Monday.

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