Every evening, the members of the Latin Grammy-winning rock group Viniloversus gather at their studio near the Little River area of Miami. They are hard at work practicing for an upcoming tour. The band’s recording gear sits ready, with meters lit brightly on computer screens.
Rodrigo Gonsalves (lead vocals, guitar); Juan Victor Belisario (bass, keys, synths); Mangan (drums) and Alberto Duhau (guitar) are longtime friends, some knowing each other from back in grade school in Venezuela. Originally from Caracas, they have since moved to Miami, feeling they had a better chance of succeeding in the music industry outside of the turmoil in their home country. The group considers themselves to be political refugees, and are keen to raise awareness of what the Venezuelan people are going through back home.
The U.S. State Department released a statement earlier this month condemned Nicolás Maduro’s regime, saying it “has consistently violated the human rights and dignity of its citizens, plundered the country’s natural resources, and driven a once prosperous nation into economic ruin with his authoritarian rule.” In the wake of the chaos, Viniloversus and other popular musicians have seen their livelihoods diminished, and felt forced to move to other countries, such as Argentina, Mexico and the U.S., to be able to pursue musical careers.
Viniloversus formed 10 years ago and have recorded four albums so far, including their first English-language release. In common with other groups, they found authorities in Venezuela increasingly moving to suppress people gathering for concerts. The band uprooted their lives and began their move to Miami a couple of years ago.
At first, they were like most other young rock musicians, singing about love and desire. “We started at the same time as basically President Hugo Chávez was in power, things were a little more stable back then,” describes Gonsalves. “The first album, we were teenagers, we were singing love songs and sexually driven tracks, you know, and it was very teenager kind of songs.”
In their twenties, they released their second album and became more descriptive of Venezuela in the political sense, and the country’s decline in the hands of Chávez. “We started putting that into the music,” says Gonsalves. “In our second album called Si No Nos Mata (2010), which translates as “If It Doesn’t Kill Us,” you can tell what we were already feeling.”
In both interviews and performances, the band has been critical of Nicolás Maduro, who became President of Venezuela in 2013. Since January of this year, the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency has been widely disputed. “We don’t even like to refer directly to his name, it's this thing where if you mention these ignorant people’s name, it gives them importance in history,” says Alberto Duhau. In their song “Ares” off of their album Cambio Nombres, (or, I Changed My Name), Ares, the God of war in Greek mythology, looks at the high rate of violence in Venezuela. “It’s a message to anyone on the other side of the gun to say to say ‘don’t shoot,’ don’t wake up the God of war, it’s not necessary,” explains Mangan.
If everyone is afraid to go out at night for safety reasons, musicians lose their audience and the music scene dies. “There was a whole scene growing and bands were doing really good,” says Mangan. “But the country was collapsing so all the bands left, most of them went to Mexico or Argentina. We were one of the few that came here to the United States.”
Once one of the wealthiest countries in South America, Venezuela’s economy has now descended into hyper-inflation and basic needs are not being met. “When you are hungry for food, a concert is no longer a priority, and that will happen here and that will happen anywhere in the world,” describes Gonsalves.
For many Venezuelans in Miami, these musicians provide a vital connection to their homeland, but even though the members travel back and forth to Venezuela regularly, they don’t expect to be performing there anytime soon.
“President Nicolás Maduro is an ignorant man that happens to have a lot of power. We’ve basically been robbed of our home, just like the Cubans did in the revolution,” says Alberto Duhau.
“[the regime is] Pushing people into such a level of desperation because you are not thinking about going out to protest, you are thinking about whether you are going to be able to eat. I just got back from Venezuela last night,” Duhau continues. “It has been some harrowing weeks. Every way out of this crisis, every solution is about killing or eliminating the other side, punching out of complex situation".
Viniloversus music gives voice to these frustrations. Their first English-language album Days in Exile, released in 2017, addresses gun violence, censorship and oppression. “All of us have had a gun pointed at our heads,” says Gonsalves. Like many Venezuelans, they each have stories about either being robbed or harassed by the National Guard at gunpoint.
On Viniloversus’ upcoming album Ultraviolenta, due out May 3, they explore a more feminine approach, reframing the way they look at things to find a solution to a complex problem. “I’ve come back even more sure that we are exploring something more important,” says Alberto Duhau. “We have the humility to say step aside for a little bit. Everyone wants to talk louder to get their way. People are having a really bad time and no one is listening.”
The second single from the album, Carpe Diem, out on April 12, features Mexican actress and singer Tessa Ia. It asks people to live in the moment, not in the past. “It is about learning from women themselves. Part of the problem is we have associated women with weakness and vulnerability,” Duhau says. “We need to look at the other side, at the power that women have.”
Viniloversus’ Latin America tour kicks off in Mexico next month with concert dates in Miami later this year.