Originally released in digital and CD formats in 2017, Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo’s ‘Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under The Mango Tree’ was released on vinyl July 19th. This album is one of the most exciting things to hit my headphones in recent memory, combining my two favourite things – drums and nature. For this special album, Betsayda Machado gathered about 30 of her best friends to sing, play the drums and have a parranda (a party) under the mango trees of her home town of El Clavo in Barlovento, on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.
The beauty of this album lies in its simplicity and its authenticity. The group literally recorded Loé Loá under a mango tree, in the open air, as if they were in the midst of celebration. You can hear the sounds of the outside, birds and wind, and sure, some of the nuances of the instruments may be lost but it is hardly missed. The location ends up adding even greater depth, transporting us to the party. I can feel the wind blowing in my hair, kissing my earlobes, and carrying the strands of my hair away with the notes of the song. I can hear the feet stomping and the hands clapping as if the revellers were right there next to me, or more like if I were one of them.
But this isn’t just a party for the party’s sake and the choice of location was no accident. Machado is taking us back to her roots for a reason, the history of which is integral to understanding Machado’s perspective. Barlovento has deep African roots, tracing all the way back to Senegal. In fact, the town of El Clavo was founded by escaped slaves. And though we are witnesses to a lively parranda, that history tells us it’s not just a joyful celebration, but that embedded in that joy are pain and burden and even a little grief. If you’ve listened to the news lately you probably know Venezuela is in the middle of great upheaval and the people are hurting and scared, lacking steady access to the very basic of necessities; food and medicine. Combining the current situation with the history of her hometown, Machado makes sure that as you are listening to her you are also listening to her people.
There is not one throwaway song on the album but there are a few standouts. ‘Oh Santa Rosa’, a song dedicated to the saint of escaped slaves, is full of deep energetic drumming and beautiful call and response, voices filled with reverence and joy. ‘Barlovento’ stopped me dead in my tracks; I can easily say I’ve never felt music so viscerally. The handclaps travelled through the open spaces in my body and wrapped themselves around my calves urging my legs to move. ‘Borracho de Aguardiente’ is a beautiful example of Machado’s style, “Tambor”, a percussive technique that is said to make the spirit shake so much the dancer starts to float.
Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo is the invitation to the party we’ve all been waiting for. It accepts you as you are and only asks you to do the same. The gentle nudge to take all the parts of yourself, those you love and those you’d rather not acknowledge, form them into a ball, and instead of throwing them away or boxing them up, to shape them into shoes, put them on your feet and allow them to carry you away. Machado reminds us of the fullness of our experience. That to live, to survive, is to be defiant and in that, there is much joy.