Arts & Entertainment

Venezuelan maestro nurtures budding musicians in Caracas slum

By Genesis Carrero

Caracas, Jul 1 (EFE).- The normal din of the street fades to silence when 18 youngsters in a working-class neighborhood of the Venezuelan capital launch into the salsa classic “Mi desengaño” under the baton of maestro Juan Manuel Mejias.

With only the street for a rehearsal hall, Mejias and his students show the art and imagination can flourish anywhere.

It was September 2020, months into the Covid-19 pandemic, that Mejias got the idea to go door-to-door in northeast Caracas in search of aspiring musicians in need of an opportunity to practice and play with others.

The band has grown from four people at the start to 18 now and their performances outside a machine shop have become occasions for spontaneous neighborhood celebrations.

Passers-by stop to applaud and sing the lyrics to the tunes they know, while local residents and businesses have taken to bringing soft drinks and sweets for the musicians.

Some members were part of Venezuela’s acclaimed National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras, a government-funded program whose alumni include conductor Gustavo Dudamel, left isolated by the pandemic.

But Mejias also welcomes children and adolescents with no formal musical training.

He told Efe that for his pupils, the classes in the street are just “another experience” and one that is improving their focus and concentration.

Simon, a 13-year-old trombonist, confirmed that the process has contributed to his musical development and allowed him to sharpen his technique.

“I was more into symphonic music, but this has helped me a lot,” he said. “This street style has made me improve.”

His father, also called Simon, said that seeing the positive effect has motivated him to bring his son to rehearsals.

“The good this about this is that here one loses stage fright, because here anyone stops and dances, sings and has fun with us,” the musician’s dad said.

Given the response from the students and the community, Mejias is hoping to bring together the resources to create a proper music academy, the Afro-Venezuelan Latin Jazz Foundation.

“It’s a lot of satisfaction,” he told Efe. “Because despite the rain and some obstacles we have had, I know that good things are coming – I believe it – and that motivates you to continue.”

“That is the satisfaction: to see them (his pupils) grow, to see them with their perseverance, their effort to be good musicians,” Mejias said. EFE gcs/dr

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