José León & Family

Last night I saw a great presentation of Venezuelan music by José León of Caracas, as well as his son & daughter. It was a great introduction to the music of both the Amazonas and Zulia regions of Venezuela. Sadly, many of their instruments were destroyed on the flight here. They’re hoping to be compensated for their losses, but the instruments were not insured, and we all know how that goes… Welcome to the U.S.!

We were introduced to several wind, string and percussion instruments from both of the above regions.  They brought a large tambora (one-headed drum), a cuatro (4 strings) and bandola (4 strings), a beautiful set of maracas, several flutes, and a clarinet-like instrument made from a long solid reed and gourd.

We learned of the three types of joropo (national dance music): central, oriental, and llanero. They typically perform as trios.

The part that interested me the most was a curious instrument called quitiplas: hollowed bamboo tubes traditionally played on river rocks by striking them on the ground.  They appear to be tuned (i.e. cut to different sizes), although he didn’t mention it.

Overall, a great introduction – I’m looking forward to attending the remainder of their residency events! This morning, I’m listening to a lovely ethnographic BBC 3 show called “The Hidden Music of Venezuela”. You can listen to it here. About 37 minutes into the show, you can hear all about quitiplas (and hear them played!), and learn that they have Ghanaian roots!

Conductors You Should Know: Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel (borrowed from

From Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel (b. 1981) is the principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden and the current music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also directs the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, a Venezuelan youth orchestra.

As a child, Dudamel was involved in El Sistema, the publicly financed method of music education in Venezuela. The system manages hundreds of youth orchestras and funds instrumental training throughout the country. Over ninety percent of the children who grow up in this system are from low socio-economic backgrounds (El Sistema website). (more…)