Betsayda Machado and Parranda El Clavo: Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree

Photo courtesy of Rock, Paper, Scissors

A simple combination of percussion and voice makes for an upbeat Afro-Venezuelan party on Loe Loa.

There's no tropical big band here. Singing powerhouse Betsayda Machado and her compatriots in La Parranda El Clavo bring strictly rustic Afro-Venezuelan musical styles to Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree, their first widespread release after three decades of playing together in their small Venezuelan hometown of El Clavo. The instrumentation here is simple, made up only of percussion and voice. The sound the group puts together, though, is large and full; I had listened to the album at least once from start to finished before I realized in seeing Machado and the band live that they did not, in fact, have any other accompaniment besides pure rhythm. It's simply all they need.

Betsayda Machado and Parranda El Clavo

Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree
Release Date: 04 Sep 2017

As frontwoman, Machado has tremendous musical charisma, her voice strong and soaring, vibrating with the ease that only comes from a lifetime of devoted practice. While she may be the top-billed star of the show, though, the respect and cooperation shared between her and each member of La Parranda El Clavo resonates, whether they sing and play in the form of calls and responses or united chorus. For the last 30 years, the group has played for festive occasions and celebrations, and it translates well to their recording, where the group embraces joy with every new song. The ability of ensembles oriented toward party-esque live performances to sound just as vivid in a studio session as out in the wild is a rare one, and the fact that the players of La Parranda have mastered the trick to it on their first album speaks volumes to the close ties and mutual comfortability between members.

There are no ballads on Loe Loa; the momentum is uninterrupted from start to finish. What that emphatically does not mean, though, is that there is a lack of depth or feeling. Each piece has its own statement to add to the larger picture of local tradition. On "No Me Voy De El Clavo", the performers are resolute; "Me Meo, Juliana" rings with a sweeter melody; "Oh Santa Rosa" hits clear, ecstatic highs that come from deep within the soul to hit the heavens. At the very end, "Sentimiento" begins with a few legato vocal lines, but percussion follows close behind to drive forward the beat.

The variations tend to be subtle; you could be forgiven for thinking of it as a one-trick pony after a single, casual listen. To dismiss it out of hand, though, is to disregard a wealth of sound that makes much from what is materially very little. Parranda El Clavo takes pride in the music that the group makes, and that is as evident on Loe Loa as it is in the stage shows that see them sporting the Venezuelan flag as both garment and mic stand decor. Theirs is a sound that pinpoints the group's (and their hometown's) Afro-Venezuelan origins with immediate sonic impact, and throws a seriously fun disc-long festival, to boot. On Loe Loa, there's no better cure for what ails your spirit than a bracing dose of polyrhythms, and that's exactly what Machado and her crew are here to bring us.


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