To The Venezuelan Maracas

The maraca in Venezuela has been present mainly among our native people. It is used to go along with the dance, as a toy among children, and to invoke, heal and clean in the hands of the shaman. This small and powerful instrument, which is shared culturally with Colombia through the Colombian-Venezuelan plains, is made of three major natural components: the handle or stick, extracted from woods of wild trees; the bell or gourd, fruit of a climbing plant with the same name and originally African; and nally, seeds of ̈capacho ̈ (Canna Indica, commonly known as Indian shot or African arrowroot) or seeds of espuma e’sapo (“frog foam” – wild plant) that go inside the bell and are commonly found in Latin America.

Because it is an idiophone instrument, the maraca produces sound through the vibration of its own body, by the impact of the seeds in its interior against the walls of the bell when it is shaken, generating a dry and forceful sound. In addition to resonating when shaken, when we hold the maraca and make repeated circular movements with the wrist, we get the seeds to generate friction against the walls of the bell, producing a sound with greater sustain, similar to the sweep of a broom, for this reason is called escobilla’o by several people.

Over the years, the maraca in Venezuela has been incorporated in musical expres- sions from different regions, becoming an instrument of almost indispensable accompaniment, varying its technique of execution according to the regions and genres that have adopted it. That is why in the region of the Venezuelan plains, the execution of the maraca is similar to the galloping of the horse, ergo, the impact of the seeds against the bell when shaking it are mostly dry or staccato, with a possible use of the technique escobilla’o (sweep of a broom sound) which we will explain in detail in this method.

Unlike the execution in the plains, in the east of Venezuela the maraca emulates the sound of the sea with the prominent use of the escobilla’o; while in the center of the country, the use of this technique is scarce and the shaking of the seeds is less staccato or blunt than in the plains, making its rhythm function as the main guide of dancers. The maraca can also be seen in the various ensembles of Afro- descendant drums of the country, and is usually played by the singers, who to take the beat, use only one instead of two as in the regions mentioned above.

The Venezuelan maraca is fundamentally a popular instrument. Perhaps for that reason, until now it had not set a speci c academic musical writing that allows knowing in depth all its language. The most direct way to learn to play this instru- ment is mainly by oral tradition, as well as observing, listening and deciphering great cultists’ maraqueros who, thanks to the cultural heritage and family tradition of their people, play it very genuinely and masterly. Distinguished Venezuelan maraqueros experts as: Máximo Teppa, Pedro Aquilino Díaz “Mandarina”, José Pérez, Coromoto Martínez, Ernesto Laya, Jorge Linares “Masamorra”, Lorenzo Alvarado, Manuel García, and from the Colombian region the experts Gilberto Castaño, Diego Mosquera, William León, Emanuel Contreras, among others anonymous heroes from different regions of Venezuela and Colombia, have been and will continue to be the most important guide in the teaching and evolution of maraca in the world, giving the new generations a cultural connection with its deepest roots.

Thanks to the legacy sown by each of these cultists maraqueros, a vital source of inspiration for many performers for decades, the commitment to continue the important educational contributions that allow the expansion of knowledge and evolution of our Venezuelan popular instruments at academic level is born, and that these instruments in themselves, require a rigorous study in terms of vocabu- lary, technique, and history.

In this method 5 Movements are the key, I want to share the experience that helped me understand the traditional techniques of interpretation of the Venezuelan maraca and that led me to the design of a musical script that shows with clarity and discernment the execution of the same for each Venezuelan gender according to the vocabulary and the variations that have been standardized over time.

And when I talk about variations, I emphasize ve basic movements which I consider to be the key to the interpretation of the maraca. Five movements that will become later the own musical discourse of those who dominate them.

Five movements that will show the student why and how the main traditional Venenezuelan rhythms are born. Five movements that I have not invented, but are the vocabulary of tradition, and that the student will observe in the execution of Venezuelan and Colombian maraqueros who have dedicated their lives to this instrument.

Personally, I make a special mention of the expert Juan Ernesto Laya “Layita”, who taught me a lot of the basic knowledge of maracas in workshops taught by the Ensamble Gurru o: Aprende y toca con Gurru o in the year 2000. Years later, after graduating from classical guitarist of the music conservatory Vicente Emilio Sojo in the year 2004, I began to devise exercises that pedagogically allowed me to teach my students the learned language with my teacher Laya and with several of the cultists mentioned in this writing.
An important step if we take into account that at that time no music school in Venezuela had a pedagogical program for teaching or applying theory to this instrument.

It is noteworthy that I’ve put into practice these exercises in various clinics, lectures, courses, and seminars that I have had the opportunity to teach around the world, and where the development and learning of the participants has been satisfactory in a large percentage. Especially at the Simón Bolívar Conservatory (Ccs-Vzla) where I teach from 2014, at the Venezuelan Music seminar organized by Venezuelan percussionist Fran Vielma at the Berklee College of Music (Boston-USA) in 2014, and at the ” Venezuelan Creole Music “(Mirecourt-France) produced by maestro Cristobal Soto, in which I participate since 2015, among others.

Regarding the writing of the Venezuelan maraca, in the course of the years I came across Venezuelan works for orchestra where there are speci c parts to the maracas as the guitar concerts of Antonio Lauro, the works of Evencio Castellanos, La Cantata Criolla by Antonio Estévez, La Fuga con Pajarillo by Aldemaro Romero, and the Concert for Maracas and Pataruco Orchestra by Ricardo Lorenz, to name a few. When I read them, I realized that its writing was not entirely idiomatic, so I had to inter- pret and adapt to the technique and idiosyncrasy of the Venezuelan maracas what the composer wanted to say and that writing could not convey me.

That is why in 5 Movements are the key, I propose musical writing for the Venezuelan maracas in a bigram, since, within the large family
of percussion instru- ments, maraca is one of the few that produces sound with the movement of the arm both up and down. Thus, the movement that rises is part of the rhythmic phrase.

In the bigram I suggest, the upper line represents the right hand, and the bottom line the left hand, very similar to the writing of the piano in two keys: G-clef, right hand key, and C-clef left hand. In this way, you visually separate the polyrhythmic from the two maracas at the time of execution
their movements. In addition to the bigram, I assigned a symbol to each movement
which defines which of the five I describe will be used in each figure.

Finally, I’d like to mention that one of the main objectives of this method is that these ve movements and their combinations, show how traditional Venezuelan basic rhythms are accompanied, and in addition, how they link or make connections that allow the performer to go from an accompaniment pattern to a variation, and then return without interrupting in any moment the rhythmic stability, sound, or movement of the arm or wrist. I would also like to add that this method applies not only to the genres of the Venezuelan music, but it can also be used to incorporate this sublime and powerful instrument to any musical culture of the world.

Hands on the maracas!

Manuel Alejandro Rangel

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