Best of 2020: Marcel Marquéz’s Venezuela Picks

By Marcel Marquéz 17 December, 2020

In the spirit of highlighting a few different albums in our end of year feast we decided to ask a few journalists, DJs and music researchers to select a few of their favourite albums of the year, from their respective countries. First up is Marcel Marquéz, aka Trópico 70, whose Diggin’ Lab is an essential online source for information and research into Venezuelan music, as well as being a record shop in Caracas.

These are his five favourite Venezuelan albums of the year:

Raul Monsalve y los Forajidos – Bichos

An album inspired by ancestral Afro-Venezuelan rhythms fused with afrobeat, latin jazz and electronic sounds on Olindo Records. The musical concept of this album by Raul Monsalve y los Forajidos [pictured top] is composed of a variety of traditional Venezuelan rhythms like sangueo, the polyrhythmic quitiplás, and those played on the mina drum; alongside more contemporary global sounds. There’s a few top notch collaborations too, including Luzmira Zerpa from Family Atlantica, Betsayda Machado from Barlovento, Afrocódigos and Rafa Pino.

Gabriel Chakarji – New Beginning

New Beginning is the debut album by young Venezuelan pianist Gabriel Chakarji who lives in New York. The album takes root in a dialogue between his knowledge of Afro-Venezuelan, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Latin rhythms and contemporary jazz. Conceptually, the music on the record touches upon the pianist’s experience as an immigrant in the North American metropolis and features an incredible cast of Venezuelan musicians who also reside there, such as Carmela Ramirez on Vocals, Daniel Prim and Jeickov Vital on percussion; alongside Edward Pérez on Bass, Adam O’Farrill on Trumpet, Morgan Guerin on Sax and Jongkuk Kim on Drums.

Conjunto Papa Upa – Libre Para Amar

Libre Para Amar by Conjunto Papa Upa is one of the many projects of restless frontman Alex Figuera; it was recorded, produced and mixed by himself at his Barracão Sound studio in Amsterdam and released by New York label Names You Can Trust. The album showcases a peculiar and unique fusion of styles and rhythms that give Alex his signature and by now recognisable sound. The music takes you on a psychedelic trip through tropical sounds with heavy percussion provided by Venezuelan master Gerardo Rosales. Do check out his other releases on his own Music With Soul label.

Caribombo – Camaleón

This record by Carlos Guillén came out at the beginning of the first global lockdown, on Galletas Calientes. Camaleón brings together artists from many regions of the world, such as Togo, Congo, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Mauritius and France, where Carlos is based. In the making for three years, this album is full of contemporary electronic textures with a marked presence of Afro-descendent rhythms.

Cheo – Sorpresa

Sorpresa is the debut solo album by Jose Luis Pardo aka Cheo, co-founder and ex-guitarist of the now legendary Los Amigos Invisibles. This record is an exploration of a musical career that spans almost 30 years and displays a melting pot of references and musical genres ranging from tropical and Afro-Caribbean music, transversely crossing rock and electronica. Here, Cheo employs his talent as a guitarist, bassist, singer and producer; he is also joined by a host of talented Venezuelan musicians, including Gabriel Chakarji on keys.

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