Traditional Venezuelan Night Spot - El Caney del Arpa

January 22, 2005, Guanare, Venezuela. As midnight approached, 8-year-old Johnny was drooping. At El Caney del Arpa, Johnny brought his musical talent and interest to a new level. He played maracas and danced throught the evening. Although his skills were rudimentary, the experienced musicians were careful not to discourage him. Once or twice, Adolfo told him discreetly that he should stand behind the singer, not in front. Much of the time he sat alongside a more experienced maraca player, learning in the traditional way, "enyugado" (yoked together), watching and copying the older man.

No sign marks the location of El Caney del Arpa. Instead, a line of cars parked along a residential street, late at night, marks the spot. The atmosphere is very family-friendly. The music is all acoustic. Although harp is central, the singer gets more glory. The cuatro player, essential for the rhythm, gets the least. The fourth member of the traditional group plays maraca.

In general, each musical role is distinct. Last night, one singer accompanied himself with maracas, in a remarkable show of virtuosity. Otherwise, performers might sing or play maracas, but not both. I never saw anyone sing while also playing the harp or cuatro.

In singing, a performer who displays a great deal of emotion, with dramatic gestures, is called "rancheriado," reflecting a Mexican influence. These performances are crowd-pleasers. On the other hand, a more traditional style of delivery is more reserved. In the traditional style, favorite performances involve two singers who challenge each other with alternating verses, called "contrapunteo," in musical forms known as Zumba que Zumba and Quirpa.

In the audience were several other children and babies, as well as couples. Our party included my host, Adolfo, and his wife and baby, plus a babysitter, plus Johnny. However, the audience was predominantly male. I noticed several men sitting alone. The audience sometimes sang along. Adolfo is known locally as "el profesor" and "La Doctora Gallina" for his composition of children?s songs. Adolfo performed three songs last night.
For the record, the singers last night other than Adolfo Cardozo included Jose Alejandro Castillo, Carlos Morales, and Agustin Perez. The heroic cuatro player was Jose Verro. The owner of the establishment, Aurelio Rodriguez (Longo) was the main harpist. Also harping was Jose Antonio Surbaran.

Songs identified last night include the following (with composer if known): Flor Sabanera (Perdomo), Pescador del Rio Apure (Perdomo), Laguna Vieja (Reynaldo Armas), Fiesta en Elorza (Perdomo), Adios Barranca de Arauca (Perdomo), En Silencio (Julio Miranda), Por un Poquito de Amor (autor de Apure), Alza la frente, mujer (R. Armas), Viajando en el Bus (pasaje jocoso, author unknown), and Tierra Negra (Angel Cotorio Loyola). Traditional songs in public domain included zumba que zumba, pajarillo, seis por derecho, quirpa (Amame Siempre)