“If there’s a god, it sounds like this woman," film producer Juan Souki says of the voice of Betsayda Machado, an iconic Venezuelan singer who was born in the community of El Clavo, Barlovento (population 1500).
Dubbed The Black Voice of Barlovento, Betsayda is the carrier of a long tradition of nearly extinguished Afro-Venezuelan music genres. After doing some project work with Machado, Souki embarked on a field trip to discover the source of her powerful pipes, and he describes his 60-minute bus trip to her tiny hometown village as time travel. There, he discovered the rich sounds of its former cacao field-working descendants, capturing songs and beats never before heard outside of the area. This sound is typified by El Clavo's resident band, La Parranda El Clavo, which began decades ago as a joyful, unstructured jam group, and has matured into a virtuosic percussion and voice ensemble. The music's raw percussive nature is reminiscent of other African-rooted music – from countries like Colombia, Cuba and Brazil – but was born of its own unique history and culture. For nearly thirty years, the ensemble has performed at town festivities, funerals and celebrations, preserving songs which reinforce town history and local anecdotes. Betsayda’s career took off when she started singing with them in the late 1980s. Since relocating to Caracas in her early twenties, Betsayda has become a celebrated national figure, but she has retained the vital connection to the music of her roots.
Since Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo first captivated Juan Souk, they have recorded a series of albums and organized the first Parranda tour. This infectious music, anchored by Machado’s thunderous voice, is a wonderful example of the African diasporic traditions being celebrated all weekend long by TD Sunfest ‘16’s new programming component, AFRIKALIA: African Heart Beats.