Published November 10, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela – As the harp and maracas ease into life, a familiar voice suddenly booms over the music:
"Listen carefully. Listen carefully to the words. They say everything."
In Venezuela, they're singing along with Hugo. Chavez, that is.
The Venezuelan president is lending his voice to a couple of revolutionary tunes -- literally -- on a new collection of songs and poems released by his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). It's what every youngster in Caracas will want on his iPod.
The album is called "Musica Para la Batalla" -- Battle Music -- and it's coming out less than two weeks before Venezuela holds state and municipal elections that analysts predict will deliver Chavez a number of defeats across his South American country.
On the cover of the album, a small white dove flies across a Venezuelan flag, next to a hand clasping a "cuatro," the small four-stringed guitar native to Venezuela. But set against the customary red backdrop is an enormous clenched fist, suggesting that while Chavez may be turning to the softer tones of music, his message of socialist rebellion is far from muted.
The collection of songs features different styles, ranging from traditional Venezuelan music such as "joropo" and "gaita," through the Caribbean flavors of salsa and merengue, to the more modern sounds of rock and rap. PSUV has produced 50,000 albums, which will be made available at party campaign stations, small stalls manned by party supporters that can be found anywhere from bustling city centers to the winding streets of the barrios.
Chavez's own effort -- El Corrido de la Caballeria -- lasts over eight minutes. He recites a famous poem about Maisanta, a rebel leader from the 19th century, who Chavez says is his great grandfather. Spoken with his customary gusto over "joropo" music, the poem was recorded at a government event in 2006, when the Venezuelan leader grabbed the microphone and began to regale the crowd with its verses.
Designed for "militants, supporters and friends" of the PSUV, the selection of 18 songs also includes excerpts from a speech by Chavez laid over a well known campaign melody. It was a tune that was also used for the campaign on the referendum on constitutional reform that Chavez's government narrowly lost last December.
"The revolution is happiness, it's music. We wanted to make a disc to take the happiness of this electoral party to the streets," said Gustavo Arreaza, the musician and producer in charge of the project. The album was recorded by artists and groups "engaged with the Bolivarian Revolution."
It is not unknown for Chavez to burst suddenly into song during his televised speeches, and although he often claims he sings "very badly," one presidential aide last year went so far as to compile his greatest hits from various political speeches.
Listening to the song, Venezuelan musician Carlos Rosales said he felt that "el comandante" had "everything that you need to sing our folk music: creativity and an ideal for which to sing." He added that in order to sing this kind of music the most important thing is "to sing with passion, and we can't deny that when Mr Chavez speaks, both his supporters and opponents alike feel that he really means what he says."