Miguel Siso and the Future of Venezuelan Music

Text published in Ladosis Magazine, and originally found on Guatacanights.com

This post was originally written by Gerardo Guarache Ocque. By sharing this piece, Ernesto Rangel is in no way claiming ownership of these words. Rather, as Co-Founder of Guataca Nights, he is merely sharing the wonderful music of Miguel Siso and the wonderful words of Gerardo Guarache Ocque. 

The Venezuelan music of the 21st century has an overdeveloped extremity: the cuatro, the country’s king instrument, began to detach itself from the moorings that had kept it circumscribed almost exclusively to the more hermetic traditional proposals. Miguel Siso’s new album,  Identidad , is a sample of it. It is also the exercise of a cosmopolitanism that works instinctively; that, although it implies experimentation, use of technology and incorporation of foreign spices, does not prevent the achievement of a work with deep roots that cross the Guayanés Massif.

Identity  is a bath of hope. It is the realization that Venezuela was not always this dark and sad jungle, and that it does not have to remain so in the future.  Horizons“, the second track, condenses the spirit of the 11 songs, which besides painting a lush landscape in the minds of those who listen to them, without wanting to, draw the map of influences from its creator.

“I wanted to look for a more global sound for Venezuelan music. Give it a projection, refresh it. Make a world music  made in Venezuela, “explains Siso, born and raised in Puerto Ordaz and trained in the old Iudem (University Institute of Musical Studies, now University of the Arts) of Caracas. Precisely, took the opportunity to evoke what he felt when he returned from the province to the capital, where he lived as a student, in a delicate merengue called ” Arriving in Caracas .” It is, in a way, an indirect tribute to Aquiles Báez  and his album Reflejando el dorado  (2003), which profoundly influenced his way of conceiving music.

Siso is like a wise master of martial arts who manages his blows very well. He is able to dazzle, turning his hands into possessed acrobats, but does not abuse the resource. Although it does contain some solos,  Identidad is not a record in which the cuatro strut around all the time. A concept floats on the work and defines it. A delicate craft weaves acoustic sounds, voices used as wind instruments and console artifacts proposed by the engineer Darío Peñaloza  (always from the organic). ” Wooden Moon  “, for example, seems to have an electronic beat, but no: what always sounds is the four, hit like a bass drum, making charrasca, enhanced by flangers and other effects.

Experimentation in the studio generated songs such as ” Kerepakupai Vená (Angel Falls) “, the delicious calypso that starts the journey singing to the highest waterfall on the planet, called here by its name in Pemón dialect. It is, in parallel, the official presentation in record record of the four triple, the great novelty of Siso that stands out in the cover illustration. The instrument was created by the luthier Alfonso Sandoval , who had previously worked on a Cruz Quinal mandolin  that was the first Venezuelan multi-arm instrument. One of the handles corresponds to a traditional four; the other is more serious, “as aguitarrado” -says Siso-; and the third one has metal strings, like the one used by his colleague Edward Ramírez, of the C4 Trío and El Tuyero Ilustrado.

Afro-Venezuelan percussion, with chimbangles and cumacos, joins with a djembe that comes straight from West Africa, thanks to specialists such as Nené Quintero and Yonathan Gavidia . The four is supported by an electric bass (or double bass) and drums, followed by flutes, saxophones and even fliscorns, vibes and Fender Rhodes keyboards. But let’s not get confused. It is not about the mere combination of instruments; Identity works because the arrangements are carefully thought out according to the demands of the songs. It is a disc from which fragments can be extracted, but, being conceptual, it makes more sense when you hear it running.


Changes and absences

“The four was always very jealous with me,” says Siso. I loved the piano, the guitar, the mandolin and the bandola, but when I tried to study another one, I felt that everything was slower. He returned to four and again it was easy. It was as if he were saying to me: ‘why see the sides, if everything is here!’ And so I went enfiebrando  and taking more songs and more songs. ”

The Siso Cuatrera fever began, with true intensity, at 9 years of age. With a ” Bésame mucho ” with a new wave rhythm, he won the third edition of the La Siembra del Cuatro Festival , a contest created by Cheo Hurtado  (Ensamble Gurrufío) that, in almost 15 years since 2004, has contributed to the evolution of the Venezuelan music scene , because it has served as showcase to virtuous performers like Carlos Capacho  and, nothing more and nothing less, the three members of the C4 Trio : Jorge Glem, Héctor Molina and Edward Ramírez.

Siso, during the talk, does not stop being grateful to have shared with so many musicians that he admires, and that gratitude is manifested in the album. A Nené Quintero , one of the best percussionists in the country and also of the most loved in the musical world, wrote the sympathetic ” Nené Chimbanglero “, which combines the chimbangle with the tambora drum.

” De Borbón a Las Patillas ” is based on his family history. It is the sentimental encounter that gave fruit to his existence, describing the long journey between his father’s hometown and his mother’s, both in the robust Bolívar state -which has almost the territorial surface of the United Kingdom-. The nostalgic ” Sounds of Absence ” is a Venezuelan waltz, with jazz trio treatment, which he composed for his wife when he emigrated to Ireland and he had not yet reached it, so it can work as a melancholic soundtrack for the great diaspora Venezuelan of these times.

Siso rescued ” Sin contratiempos “, a song he had composed for what was to be the second album of his old ensemble,  El Quinteto Menos Uno . It is a new wave with certain rhythmic variations introduced by the drummer José “Tipo” Núñez , with a wonderful instrumentation thanks to the flute of Eric Chacón  and the bass of the late Gustavito Márquez . It is a subject with cinematic potential, perfect for a collage of images of Caracas.

In Identidad , an album that adds to the Guataca catalog , several generations of musicians were found. As well as José Núñez  and guitarist Gustavo Medina , both of Siso’s partners in the Iudem, the bass player Freddy Adrián  or the brothers Eric and Chipi Chacón , trained in the System of Orchestras, also more experienced instrumentalists -yes of the Guyanese- participate as the contrabassist Elvis Martínez , who played several; the flutist Luis Julio Toro , who collaborated in the taciturn ” Tiempo “; or the flute player Huáscar Barradas, who participated in the closing party, called ” With four and with Patanemo “, which ends with a Caribbean download with metal section and voices by Marcial Istúriz,  Rafael Pino  and Rafael “Pollo” Brito .

” Tiempo de cambio “, a reflective song recorded with Eric Chacón  (sax), was written during the bloody anti-government street demonstrations in Venezuela in 2017. In keeping with the leitmotif  of Identity , it reinforces the message Siso seeks to convey. Faced with the violence of those days, the musician responded with harmonies. When she plays it live, she usually accompanies her with the faces of famous Venezuelans and a quote by Arturo Uslar Pietri that repeats at the moment of the interview: “We can all be excellent at what we do”.

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