'Viva La Parranda' Immerses Theatergoers In Venezuelan Music, Culture & Food

May 9, 2019

A new musical at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach tells the story of Afro-Caribbean band Parranda El Clavo. The band comes from the small village of El Clavo nestled in Venezuela’s jungle. They regularly play house concerts around the village and are an essential part of the community.

The play, “Viva La Parranda,” is an interactive experience; the audience is invited to come on stage and sing and dance. Traditional Venezuelan food cooks throughout the show and is offered to the audience to eat at the end of the performance.

Viva La Parranda is playing until May 19. Sundial host Luis Hernandez spoke with musical director Juan Souki.

WLRN: How would you describe the show for those who haven’t seen it?

Souki: I think it's an experience. You know it definitely has elements from documentary and it has elements from music. It has an element from the gathering. When you go to El Clavo, the signature get together in El Clavo happens in the show. There is a soup cooking, this soup is made out of whatever each member of the community has and can bring to the table. And it's called sancocho. And sancocho is a slow cooking meal. It goes very much against the idea of, 'I'm sitting down, my meal is ready and I eat my meal and I leave' you know. With sancocho, you wait for a couple of hours or more for it to be ready and in that time you sing and you tell stories and you share your experiences. And that's what it is about.

Describe the tradition of La Parranda.

La Parranda has many meanings. You can define a party by the name of La Parranda but in this specific case the Parranda is a community group, it's a music group. It carols around town, plays house concerts and on very specific dates. January 1st is their big day. On any January 1st they'll play over 120 concerts that day, house by house. And then the whole village waits for them in the main square. When you say that in a town of 1,500, that's basically playing in every house almost you know.

It's an interesting story with this community. Being an outsider and being the only person in the show who was not born in El Clavo. I have to say that from the first time I went to the village I was so amazed by how inclusive they are. And that's exactly how they roll. If you are in my town, well you better walk into my house and see what we're cooking and try it and drink the contra that I prepare, which is like their own blend of rum with spices. It's a community that is incredibly open and I think there was no other way to do the show.

Lead singer of La Parranda Betsayda Machado performing in the Colony Theater production "Viva La Parranda."
Credit courtesy of colony theatre

How did you end up going down there? How did you end up in that community?

It's a long story but I will do my best attempt at the short version I was working with a radio anchor from Venezuela. He invited me to a project where the lead singer of the group was singing. I was so amazed by her voice the first time I heard her. I felt this is the most powerful voice I've heard in the world.

It doesn't sound like someone who went to Juilliard for singing. It sounds like someone who is like a bridge for the sounds of the Earth to come out into the world. And immediately I was so shocked and I said, "Why do you sing like this and where did you learn to sing like this?"

She said, "Well my dad was a street trumpet player and I come from a little village where everyone sings. So can we go, can we go!" And we kept working together for a long time and maybe a year to a year and a half later we finally found a day where it was okay for her to to take me and it was okay for me to go. She said, "Okay, I'm buying three kilos of meat and you're buying three kilos of meat and I'm bringing potato and you're bringing yam and I'm bringing this and you're bringing that we're gonna cook and we're going to sing."

And it was a life changing moment for me. I come from a really formal training in the arts, I'm a theatre director with an MFA at Columbia. I'm a formally trained artist and suddenly I found myself in a rural village seeing the most powerful artists I've ever seen in my life.

Watch members of "Parranda El Clavo" perform at the WLRN studios.