Joropo is the music, but in Venezuela it is more than that – it’s also the name of the couples dance, as well as, at least for a time, the event itself where the music is played. First and foremost it is now an expression of regional pride. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of joropo music is that it features the harp.
It’s likely that the European harp was introduced to Venezuela in the 18th century by Spanish missionairies, but over time it was modified and adapted to play local music. There are two types of Venezuelan harp: the arpa llanera (harp of the plains) and the arpa aragueña. The latter is played in the central states of Aragua and Miranda. The music featured on this track, by vocalist Quintin Duarte (1890-1955) and harpist Salvador Rodriguez (1920-1992), precisely features this kind of harp and is known as joropo tuyero, from the central states of the country. Joropo tuyero (sometimes called joropo central, though there is a difference) has a more stripped-down style with the vocalist playing maracas and accompanied only by the harp (as opposed to other types of joropo, which can be accompanied by a larger band). The piece featured here, “La Resbalosa,” is a rapid style, a golpe. Both Rodriguez and Duarte were highly regarded at the time. They recorded this piece, along with five additional songs, in 1952.
The Turpial label, named after the national bird which is akin to the Baltimore oriole, was one of Venezuela’s first independent record labels (perhaps the first). It was founded in 1948 and began 78 rpm production in 1951. It was owned and run by the Sefaty Benazar brothers, Rafael and Nemias (or Nehemías), who also launched a production and distribution company called Comercial Serfaty. My most recent release contains another example from Turpial featuring the seductive, languid Venezuelan waltz with cuatro in the style of the older waltzes by Lionel Belasco and the music from Trinidad as well as Curaçao. This disc, issued around the same time, proves that Turpial had a wide-ranging repertoire. They appear to have issued several hundred 78s and ceased production of 78s in 1959. Rafael Serfaty eventually became a politician after imprisonment by the subsequent Jimenez dictatorship.
Prior to the emergence of Turpial, recordings of Venezuelan music can be divided into two camps: 1) the pre-World War II 78s recorded in Caracas, and 2) the pre-World War II recordings featuring Venezuelan songs by Venezuelan performers and recorded in the United States. Both are rare, but especially the former, which are nearly absent from archives, collections, and compilations. Furthermore, many of the recordings made in the US by Venezuelan performers such as Lorenzo Herrera are quite different.
It appears the only label that gave Caracas attention in the first few decades of the 20th century was Victor, who had significant control in South and Central America as far as recording and distribution was concerned. Their first session in Caracas was in January-February of 1917, where Victor recorded the equivalent of 23 discs (although they waited at least three years to issue many of them). At the session were larger bands like the Estudiantina Venezolana and the Orquesta Carabeña, some guitar troubadours and duets, a military band…and one joropo group with maracas, harp, and cuatro. They were billed as “Cuerpo de Francisco López y Salvador Florez” and they recorded six sides.
There are some surviving notes about this group by the recording engineer: “Caracas. […] this AM: T. went to the country for harp player to acc. singers of yesterdays date – for this. Could not get Harp player, because player wanted a job himself to put in this particular style. Engagement made.” Three cheers to the harpist for insisting on bringing his own band to play his own music. One of these sides can be heard here.
These 1917 discs appeared to sell respectably, with existing statistics listing sales of 1,800-3,000 copies sold. However, Victor did not return to Caracas for eleven years. Perhaps to make up for this drawn-out lapse, in the interim bandleader Nat Shilkret recorded a number of Venezuelan arrangements in New York, for export to dealers in the country. When the company finally returned to Caracas in July of 1928, their modus operandi was more or less the same, though they managed to record only a few more discs than last time, a skimpy total of 28 1/2 discs’ worth of material. In this batch were, once again, orquestas and estudiantinas performing waltzes, paso dobles, and even an orchestrated joropo or two, or a tumba; there were more guitar trios and duos; there were some comic monologues and another military band. And, once again, there was one harp duo: Augusto Motta and Nerio Pacheco, who recorded a grand total of just four joropo sides spread across four discs (Victor was really fond of issuing “split sides” in South America – a different artist on each side).
In 1930, history repeated itself. Victor re-appeared in Caracas in March of 1930 and recorded the equivalent of 30 discs, and gamely captured another harp and maracas duo. But this time, artists José Tremaría and Pablo Hernández only recorded two songs. One was even a golpe aragueño, just like this piece. That was the end of recording in Caracas for Victor.
America-based Lorenzo Herrera and the “Grupo Venezolano” recorded a number of sides in New York in 1935, but it seems that it wasn’t until the Serfaty brothers and the Turpial label appeared almost twenty years later that more local Venezuelan music, and specifically the exciting joropo, would once again become pressed into shellac.
Issue Number: 049
Matrix Number: 113 SER
Many thanks to Víctor Márquez for information. Much additional info gleaned from the abiding and ever-expanding DAHR.