Saturdays are the days where I allow myself only the briefest of newspapers reading in the late afternoon, where TV is off all day, the days where the news barely exists. I had to wait until 7 PM to learn that Aldemaro Romero had died this morning. It was a good thing as I would have been in a foul mood for the rest of the day. In fact, I should perhaps acknowledge that as I was writing this modest tribute listening to some of the music of Aldemaro made my eyes filled with tears only too often.
I am not sure what Aldemaro Romero means to Venezuelans who are less than 30 year old. For those of us who are older, and even lucky to be old enough to have been raised with his music in the radio, Aldemaro Romero was that mix of sugary pop, folk, and tropical rhythm, the stuff we loved but that we would never be caught dead listening to. It did not work out too good with the Beatles or Disco. Yet his infectious rhythms, his musical resurrections were irresistible and when he went to create his “onda nueva” movement there was no escaping him for a few years. He was everywhere, and had even a music festival sponsored for a few years.
Aldemaro’s career was well launched when I was old enough for my fist musical memories. As a child I was even somewhat afraid of him. I will always remember the cover of his first famous LP, Dinner in Caracas, that my parents must still have in some box somewhere. As a kid I was perturbed by the dark shade of the cover, sensing some mysterious ritual that I confusedly sensed dangerous as much as desirable. My prudish self then thought that the music was somewhat sinful. It took me quite a while to realize that with that simple LP Aldemaro had single handedly reclaimed our folk music heritage and that music in Venezuela would never be the same after him. The sin was of course the excessive pleasure felt when rediscovering (or discovering in my case) the beauties in a tune such as Dama Antañona.
Years went by. Last time I saw Aldemaro Romero was in 1999, before the Teresa Carreño became the hall of the revolution, recovered by the red shirts as their own Nuremberg setting. It was a Sunday AM concert which program I cannot recall. But someone pointed to me Aldemaro, attending because one of his students? pieces? was featured. He was sitting in the third row, but on the instant right side, alone, as usually the Teresa Carreño concerts rarely had more than half the seats filled. I suppose that someone in the orchestra noticed him and he received an ovation. The audience might had been scarce that day but it was not for lack of trying by Aldemaro Romero.
Our dear departed has spent his life trying to reinvigorate music in Venezuela. Perhaps he tried too much to impose his own taste with “onda nueva”. Perhaps he was too pretentious when he managed to be given a philharmonic orchestra to direct (I did attend several of his presentations in the late 70ies). But that he tried to lure the public to the concert halls, he did. Aldemaro Romero is of that generation of great musicians that was also totally dedicated to form new musicians, to sponsor new creations, to attract people to the art. He is the contemporary of the creation of that astonishing youth orchestra movement that chavismo is now trying to pretend it created (not to mention how much in bad taste is Abreu accepting to play the political game even as we all know that what he wants is to protect what he has been working at all of his life).
With the passing of Aldemaro closes a great chapter of Venezuelan art. Today there is no great musician in Venezuela, at least in the way that Aldemaro was. The youth program will yield to us eventually new great musicians but so far we only have Dudamel that is shining in the classical music, and who tries clumsily not to be too used by chavismo propaganda. Chavismo is too primitive, too uncouth to appreciate, and even less understand how people like Romero have been able to shape musically two whole generations of Venezuelans.
But perhaps Romero was too much a man of his time, a time where Venezuela was still full of illusions, where development was a given, where our streets were not clogged with buhoneros nor our hillsides crumbling under ranchos to the obscene levels the migration has reached today. Venezuela in the 60ies and 70ies was country where a cheerful musical movement like the “onda nueva” could flourish and influence all Venezuelan artists until the late 90ies. A country where going downtown to attend a performance was not a risky business at any time of day or night. Today we are a country fit for angry rock or particularly inane rap where the only escape is melodramatic vallenato from Colombia or the downright boring and vulgar reggaeton that tries to cover the city noise in public transportation. Musical elegance and lightness cannot find a niche today as it would be crushed by our everyday hardships.
Of all tunes of Aldemaro Romero my favorite one was always Quinta Anauco. Some might think it did not have the punch of Carretera, that it might have been too Hollywood like. I do not care. But during my long years of US exile Quinta Anauco was always a tune that I had a hard time listening to, the one that brought me instantly to a nostalgic home in a way that only Alma Llanera could also do.
Just for Quinta Anauco I will always remember Aldemaro Romero, perhaps the man who best understood Venezuelan music when this genre had still a meaning. But he should be remembered from much more. Only Aldemaro Romero could get away with doing to Alma Llanera what he did during his Onda Nueva period. Only when you feel and you know so well you can twist and reshape. What better way to say good bye to Aldemaro than sending him off with his Alma Llanera version?
PS: YouTube has many videos but I will recommend this one, not because it is particularly good (the sound sucks) but because you will see Aldemaro Romero directing one of his pieces. By the way, if Quinta Anauco is a fabulous tune, the lyrics are awful.