Music Draws Venezuelan Youth to Revolution

As 10,000 young people danced the night away in a concert that was part of the closing events of the pro-Chavez electoral campaign, they countered the enduring alienation of capitalism and got sweaty screaming for socialism. Yet something was lacking, something was still the same.

As 10,000 young people danced the night away in a concert that was part of the closing events of the pro-Chavez electoral campaign, they countered the enduring alienation of capitalism and got sweaty screaming for socialism. Yet something was lacking, something was still the same.

As we waited in the science faculty of the Los Andes University for an overnight bus to Caracas, free and organised by the JPSUV (Youth of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela), one organiser went around handing out red t-shirts and hats. The t-shirt said ‘Marcos Diaz, Governor [for the state of Merida], and had the electoral slogan ‘vamos con todos’ – roughly, ‘We all go together’. Some people put the t-shirts and hats on over their clothing, others rolled them up and stuffed them in their bags, to be used as pillows on the bus and a change of clothing after hours of concert moshing.

The concert was part of a nation wide initiative organised by the JPSUV called ‘convoy of happiness’ where there were a range of youth concerts in various states of Venezuela, many following marches or rowdy car convoys. Of course, all concerts were free, and the final concert was held in Caracas on Saturday November 15.

The aim of the initiative was three-fold: to encourage young people to vote, to give the PSUV a face to the youth, and pure music filled enjoyment. According to JPSUV press releases, the message of the concerts was a rejection of capitalism and for Latin American Unity.

Our bus arrived in Caracas at 2pm, but the concert wasn’t due to start till 4 or 5. So we sat, chatted, read, some people started a game of hackey-sack, others lay against the pile of backpacks and debated a leaflet that someone was handing out. Then a truck covered in a colourful mural pulled up, rapping out a mix of a Chavez speech encouraging youth participation, with a Manu Chau song. “Revolucion Carajo!” (Revolution Damn It!) A few young people looked up confused, or disgusted, as if this politics was invading their fun day out, whilst others nodded along.

Uninterested, disillusioned, or distracted by the temptations of capitalism- one of the sectors that this revolution has struggled to involve has been the youth. The communal councils and the PSUV branch meetings are almost always led and attended by people of middle age and above. Likewise, the national leadership and the coordinators of the social missions contain disproportionately few youth. Hence, the formation of the JPSUV over the last few months, with its founding conference on September 11-13.

In the opening speech of the concert youth were encouraged to vote. This was followed by a diverse line-up of bands, both local and international, playing music from heavy metal, to reggae, rap, and punk. I talked to a number of the concert-goes and it was clear that politics was reaching a layer of people it wouldn’t normally- either here in Venezuela, or else where.

Max Pena, from Maracaibo, said he came to see Ska-p, the feature band, and to have a good time. “No, I didn’t come for the politics.”

Jose Diaz came for the “great band, for the concert.” He said that politics interest him “very little.”

Daniel Lopez, from Valencia came to see Ska-p because he likes their sound and they are anti-imperialist.

Rita Contreras, from Caracas, said that her friends had invited her to the concert but that the event “has nothing to do with politics…maybe they are organising it for the politics but I’m here for the music.”

Douglas Gonzales, from Merida, also came to the concert to see Ska-p, “because they are a super revolutionary band.”

Ska-p, named after their ska-punk music style and a pun on the word “escape,” is a band from Spain, which formed in 1994, and which does not mince its words. There is no mistaking their criticisms of imperialism, capitalism, homophobia, or of the church, where for example, in the song “crimen sollicitationis,” they call the church a tyranny and torturer and end with “I HATE THE VATICAN.”

After six years without publication, they released a new album, “Lagrimas y Gozas” – tears and joy – in October of this year. It included a song, “El libertador” (The Liberator), which is dedicated to Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, and which saw even the most reluctant dancers getting up and running and dancing and screaming at 2am last Saturday night as the concert drew to a close.

The song, which looses its joyful rhythm when translated (and abridged) goes:

Among misery, hunger and desolation, someone planted a flower in the mud…
Shouts of justice, land and freedom resound again in South America,
A new revolution has started and this time it advances with conviction…

Forward commander, put yourself in front with honesty
Its starting to dawn in Latin America
Firm step forward, resounding strong steps
When the people know how to organize
They are a wise and free people

Oh oh oh oh far from perfect
One advances at walking speed when one has illusion

In an interview with RNV active–the state run youth radio station–Ska-P member, Pulpul (Roberto Ganan Ojea) said that he had encountered more culture in Venezuela than over many years in Spain.

“We ask the young people their age and they talk to us about politics like great thinkers. This says a lot about the revolutionary movement.”

The band, who identify as libratory socialists, said at first they thought Chavez was just a populist who knew how to talk, as a result of the media in Spain. However, they changed their opinion after reading about and watching documentaries about Venezuela on the internet.

We are back in Merida, and today is the electoral campaign close for the PSUV. A truck in the main plaza blasts out revolutionary songs, with one especially composed about the PSUV candidate for governor, and another about the candidate for city mayor. Just a few blocks down the road there is another red campaign tent, with a live band. People in red t-shirts hand out voting propaganda while dancing, or at the very least, tapping their feet or heads, to the music.

Music has been a vital part of this revolution from the start. There is no revolution without communication and debate, and music is part of that. But music also gets people together, countering the alienation propagated by capitalism. It is expression, consciousness, and joy. It gives us a glance of that other kind of world we are fighting for.

Venezuelan-American rock singer and composer, Paul Gillman called on young people to vote, saying, “This union of culture, of energy, with the youth and with the street is only ever seen during revolution.”

Concert attendee, Manuel Dugarte from Merida, agreed, “Every type of music has a message, whether it is negative or positive, it can be anything from social protest, raising awareness, or it can just take us a little further than the personal.”

Sergio Briceño, from Caracas, said that he came to the concert “to celebrate that we are free people.” However, he explained, “There are a lot of things to change, and music exists to create consciousness in the human being. And music is love, without it we’d keep killing each other…to me Ska-p isn’t just rock music, its part of a music movement. It’s an idea, a way of participating. The bands don’t [perform] because they are paid, they do it for a cause.”

Laurie Amico, the technical director of the concert, told me, “Music is a weapon…” He explained that in a city like Caracas where violence is so common, especially among the youth, it’s important to have a space where violence doesn’t exist. “We’re creating an autonomous space….and music tells us that we can all live together.”

Gabriel Jose Tivani, from Valencia, has a radio program back home, and came to see if he could do an interview with the Wailers. The Wailers are Bob Marley’s former band, although only one member today is the same as in its beginning. Tivana said that music can draw a lot of people, and that regardless of the style of music you can communicate all types of messages.

But is music alone enough to motivate the youth to participate in the revolutionary process and in their communities? The starting band at the concert, a metal band, screamed out “Hands in the air for socialism!” and got a great response. But then the Wailers, who only sing and speak in English, were more limited in what they could say, and got a similar response when they called out “Venezuellllla!”

This years election campaign (for the regional elections to be held this Sunday November 23) has put red posters on every corner, has made “socialism” as common, if not more, than any TV celebrity names. Yet the manner in which the PSUV campaign has been conducted does not seem very different from elections under a neo-liberal “democracy.” Slogans, speeches, and flyers and posters with nothing more than a face and the party’s name. Likewise, the words at this concert were different, but the format was the same. Young, big, often topless men moshing is not exactly the most inclusive behaviour—for women, children, older people, people with disabilities, or those who just like a bit of space. The concert itself was very much organised from the top down, by the national and regional leadership of the JPSUV.

Music is a good start in making politics relevant to young people, but ultimately we need to be involved in the organisation of the country at all levels, as in the long term, the revolution is aimed at the future, and we are that future.