On Sunday, voters in Venezuela will head to the polls, and in Caracas, the noise level is as high as voters' emotions. There is a background noise that accompanies everyday life in Latin America, a constant soundtrack: music blaring from food stands and cars, loud automobiles that are so run-down they defy the laws of physics, street vendors yelling product names. I've spoken to many immigrants to the U.S. who, like me, first arrived to live in the suburbs and found the absence of bochinche, or ruckus, maddening.
During election season in most Latin countries, things get especially raucous. Cars drive by waving party flags and honking. Rallies pop up throughout the city. Political music blasts everywhere, often from booths set up on sidewalks. While musicians in the U.S. endorse candidates, and politicians seize on particular songs as their campaign themes, campaigns in Latin America often develop entire soundtracks.
The coming election in Venezuela will decide whether or not the country continues the socialist policies of late President Hugo Chavez, embodied by the nominee from his party, Nicolas Maduro, or embarks on a new course under opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. Rallies for both candidates occur every day, and the mood can switch from celebratory to tense in a matter of seconds. The music is an extension of that constant presence. Campaign cars and trucks drive through the capital of Caracas, honking and playing their respective party's soundtrack, which you can buy from street vendors who weave in and out of traffic or at one of the many stands staked out throughout the city.
The offerings range from incredibly cheesy jingles to infectious dance tunes and powerful folk ballads. At one of the red points — what Venezuelans call the red-roofed socialist stands that adorn the city like polka dots — a young man named Alvaro Perez manned a DJ booth, where he spun records praising Chavez and urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro.
The music can edge from patriotism to vitriol. In the staunchly pro-Chavez 23 de Enero neighborhood this week, a party truck drove by playing an ominous jingle that includes the lyrics, "He who doesn't vote for Maduro doesn't have a heart / like a dead man."
Meanwhile, the opposition scored a musical coup when Puerto Rican salsa legend Willie Colón penned a song called "Mentira Fresca" or "New Lie." The lyrics take aim at Maduro and the policies of his predecessor: "Fresh lies spoke again on television. He said there wouldn't be another devaluation. He's just the substitute, in charge of making a disaster worse." It's become an anthem among conservatives.
As with every musical beef, there was a witty response. Last week, candidate Maduro responded directly to Willie Colón: He suggested Colón listen to Eddie Palmieri's "Sujetate La Lengua," or "Bite Your Tongue." That's something nobody involved in this election is doing.
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On Sunday, Venezuelans head to the polls to choose their next president. They'll be deciding between Socialist candidate Nicolas Maduro, who promises to continue the policies of the late president Hugo Chavez, and their other choice, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
In American politics, musicians often endorse candidates, and politicians seize on particular songs as their campaign sound. But in Venezuela, campaigns seem to have their own soundtracks. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports from the capital Caracas.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: This is the music of the United Socialist Party. It's blaring from a punto rojo, or red spot. That's what Venezuelans call the red-roofed Socialist Party stands that are like polka dots across the country. Twelve-year-old Juan Antonio Gutierrez and his friends are manning it. Gutierrez explains that this song by Venezuelan singer Lilia Vera commemorates the failed coup against the Chavez government on April 11, 2002.
JUAN ANTONIO GUTIERREZ: (Foreign language spoken)
GARSD: He says April 11th was such a difficult time. We never want something like that to happen again. Gutierrez, standing in downtown Caracas, says he reminds passerbys that in his last speech, Chavez instructed followers to pick Maduro. Among the songs blaring from his socialist stand is one by popular Venezuelan musician Hany Kauam, who put Chavez's speech to music.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: (Foreign language spoken)
GARSD: In the song, Chavez says his decision to leave power to Maduro is as clear as the moon. The singer then praises Chavez's revolution. In another more posh part of Caracas, street vendors weave in and out of the endless traffic, selling the soundtrack of the opposition.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GARSD: The center-right Justice First Party, led by crew-cut Capriles, is not much for blaring music on the street. But several tracks on the opposition's CDs sound like they could be playing at a club. They urge people to mobilize for job opportunities and freedom of speech. And the opposition scored a musical coup when Puerto Rican salsa legend Willie Colon penned a song called "Mentira Fresca," or "Fresh Lie."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MENTIRA FRESCA")
WILLIE COLON: (Singing in foreign language)
GARSD: The lyrics take aim at Maduro: Fresh lies spoke again on television. He said there wouldn't be another devaluation. He's just the substitute, in charge of making a disaster worse. This has become the anthem of the opposition. And, as with every musical beef, there's a comeback. Last week, candidate Maduro responded directly to Willie Colon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Foreign language spoken)
GARSD: He suggested Colon listen to Eddie Palmieri's "Sujetate La Lengua" or "Bite Your Tongue," something no one in this election is doing.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUJETATE LA LENGUA")
EDDIE PALMIERI: (Singing in foreign language)
GARSD: For NPR News, I'm Jasmine Garsd in Caracas, Venezuela. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.