I am so happy to launch my new website today, and to introduce this special blog feature: The Venezuela Room.
My hope is that the Venezuela Room will become an online meeting place both for the Venezuelan community - so many of whom feel muted and powerless in the face of Venezuelan state censorship - and for contributors from all around the world.
I will be publishing a variety of posts on my travels, some of which will relate to my role as an artist to speak out on behalf of those who can not. This is not a role I imagined for myself when I set out on this musical journey, but it is one that I can not, in all good conscience, avoid in my public position. At a time of national despair in the country of my birth, and with regular access to the media, my duty to publicly convey the anguish of my fellow Venezuelans is only amplified.
The Venezuela Room welcomes and encourages comment and civilzed debate, in the spirit of free speach and open dialogue.
It is, then, very fitting that my first post to the Venezuela Room should coincide with the pre-release today of my orchestral recording debut, at the heart of which lies the world premiere recording of my own composition, "Ex Patria". I wrote the piece in 2011, and dedicated it to the 19,336 victims of homicide in Venezuela that year. That rate rose to a genocidal 24,980 in 2014.
I composed "Ex Patria" because I wanted to create a portrait in sound, an honest musical imprint of life in Venezuela today. For so long now, Venezuelan musicians have been sent out into the world as de facto emissaries of the Venezuelan regime, funded in large part by Venezuelan oil revenues, and adorned in Chavez's modified flag of the so-called "Bolivarian Revolution". In an era of force-multiplying social media optics, our musicians have implanted - by default at the very least - the false impression among foreign elites that life in Venezuela is one progressive "Fiesta" of inclusion and equality, symbolized by the compelling collective teamwork of orchestral synchrony.
"Ex Patria" intends to counter that narrative, to push back against the endlessly-funded Chavista propaganda machine by presenting, in the language of music itself, an honest vision of the corruption, theft, violence and societal breakdown that has left Venezuela a failed state with the highest inflation rate on the planet, one which imprisons its opposition leaders, and cultivates a climate of indiscriminate violence only found in the world's most brutal war zones.
It opens with a swelling chord, designed to awaken us from inaction and apathy. A nostalgic piano theme is heralded by a distant ominous horn. Perhaps this recollects childhood memories of a Venezuela not without its challenges or injustices, but without the violence that consumes it today. That theme is suddenly brutalized and appropriated by an orchestral onslaught, during which the solo piano voice struggles for its place in the collective conversation. A martellato section evokes the daily gunfire to which Venezuelans are subjected, until, for three minutes of ceasefire, a rhapsodic lament carries my personal cry and the cry of so many millions who do so in the censored vacuum of daily life. But even the right to cry is interrupted, the theme chromatically mangled until a final gun shot concludes the work.
Let me be clear. It is more than understandable that any young Venezuelan musician would aspire to full time employment in music and aim for a secure life, especially in a nation whose private sector has been raped by incompetence and theft. But it is also the personal duty of every citizen of Venezuela, whether musician or not, to arrive at his or her own moral position as to whether the inducement of financial security is justification enough to serve a state master that has overseen the destruction of our nation state itself, beyond the safety cordon of the concert hall.
Does the pursuit of music for the undeniable benefit of some, absolve us of our duty to exercise our fundamental conscience towards all others? Can we willingly serve a brutal paymaster while pursuing the noble virtues of high art? I can not answer those questions for everyone, but it is my personal conviction that the answers to both questions is NO.
Art is, in the words of Sir Simon Rattle, a "necessity and not a luxury", and every nation state in the civilized world must find a way to support it, for the spiritual growth of the civilized world itself. On this, all Venezuelan musicians can unite.
However, supporting and purchasing are distinguishable by the ingredient of ownership.
Artistic institutions lose their essential integrity once support becomes a controlling stake. If our music institutions are purchased by the state they inevitably become subservient to its whims and agenda.
This was never more clear than when Venezuela's young musicians were recently forced to record an absurd propaganda music video protesting against US sanctions imposed against the personal assets of Venezuelan officials implicated in high-level corruption and human rights abuses - men who revile the United States but choose to party in Miami and conceal their stolen assets within the US banking system. Sung by the daughter of Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela's deputy leader - himself the subject of an investigation by the US government into allegations of cartel leadership, and a man who once laughed from his Assembly leader's chair as a male deputy broke the nose of opposition deputy María Corina Machado - the "song" in question was a flagrant demonstration of state ownership of our young musicians, and far exceeded any noble concept of support.
I acknowledge that my position as a Venezuelan living outside of Venezuela permits me the freedom to indulge in creative dissent in the form of "Ex Patria". But isn't this the point? Isn't the essential problem with state control that it kills independence of thought and action, creating instead a fearful dependance and servitude that stifle scrutiny, opposition and auto-determination?
"Ex Patria", then, is my independent, autonomous protest on behalf of every last Venezuelan whose life and livelihood has been decimated behind a state-controlled media firewall of deceit and manipulation. I offer it in the spirit of freedom and unity. With it I exercise the fundamental human right to protest against the abject failure of a perverted ideology, one which the twentieth century unequivocally demonstrated does not belong in the twenty-first.