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Music stars return to Venezuela after years of skipping

CARACAS – The ground shook as Mexican music star Alejandro Fernandez’s voice clashed with the deafening cheers of fans gathered for his first concert in Venezuela in over a decade.

After an initial shocked pause, when the artist finally took the stage, the crowd, cell phones in hand, chanted “Sin Tantita Pena” – “Without Too Much Pity”.

“It’s nice to be in Venezuela,” he said to shouts and whistles from a sold-out audience, some of whom had borrowed to see him play at a 5,000-seat theater in the capital Caracas this month. “Beautiful, my darling, Venezuela, which I will always carry in my heart.”

Prominent artists are returning to the South American country’s stages this year after years of banning it from touring. Multilingual vocal group Il Divo and Latin Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Kany Garcia are among those with scheduled concerts.

But with admission prices ranging from $55 to $600, the events are a symbol of rising inequality in a now-impoverished nation.

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Superstars like the Backstreet Boys once lured fans to sleep outside an arena in Caracas for days while queuing for tickets. Guns N’ Roses and Shakira came to town. So did Juanes, whose 2008 tour included several cities in Venezuela.

However, major concerts became more sporadic from around 2010 onwards. They almost entirely disappeared a few years later when the country plunged into a political, social and economic crisis that wiped out jobs even as inflation eroded the purchasing power of millions.

Today, about three quarters of Venezuela’s population still lives on less than $1.90 a day, which is considered the international standard for extreme poverty. But for those who have found good jobs in the private sector, entered the gig economy, or have a business, particularly in Caracas, things are looking up.

The change is partly due to the government’s decision to abandon its long and complicated effort to limit transactions in US dollars in favor of the local bolivar, whose value has been wiped out by inflation.

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That means the organizers feel again that people can spend money on music – and the changed rules make it possible to finance the events again.

“They will book cities and venues based on venues that they could sell,” said Jeffrey Dorenfeld, a music industry professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “Artists will not want to play half houses. They don’t like empty chairs. The goal is to fill the space with paid attendance.”

Business economist Edgar Villanueva attended the Fernandez concert with his wife, two daughters and a son-in-law. One of his daughters found out about the concert via Instagram and immediately bought the tickets.

While waiting to enter the theater, Villanueva acknowledged his country’s challenges but said he was not a politician and just wanted to have a good time with his family. They were hoping Fernandez would sing “A Qué Sabe El Olvido” – “What is The Taste of Being Forgotten”.

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“Well, we’ve decided to address our own issues, and from time to time we get together as a family and say, let’s enjoy this concert,” Villanueva said. “We have always been fans of Alejandro. We are enthusiastic about his songs.”

An equally adoring fan, Mileydi Villamizar, arrived with friends who all smiled while waiting in line. She loves live music and, before the crisis, attended concerts about every two months.

It wasn’t that easy to make it to this one.

“Yes, it’s expensive. There’s a part of the population that can still afford it, and another that has to scrape together like us and even had to take out a loan,” said Villamizar, who paid about $75 for her ticket. “For many years they haven’t considered us for concerts or anything like that, so if you can treat yourself, you will.”

She hopes the Backstreet Boys will one day return to Venezuela. Mexican rock band Mana is also on their list.

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Today, more than 60% of transactions in Venezuela are in US dollars. So public sector workers paid in local bolivars are struggling. Her monthly minimum wage was raised from about $2 to about $30 this month, but that’s still not enough to buy groceries and inflation — while slower — is still steadily eroding it.

Changing monetary policy has also helped make concerts a reality by allowing promoters to regain dollars needed to pay artists.

The government used to subsidize official exchange rates with oil revenues, but it became increasingly difficult for concert promoters to get dollars at a preferential rate when government revenues began to collapse with the economic crisis of around 2012-2013, said Asdrubal Oliveros, managing partner of the Caracas-based firm Ecoanalitica.

“So it’s a process that started before hyperinflation and has more to do with the gradual disappearance of foreign exchange subsidies,” he added.

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Now at least some Venezuelans seem to have money left to spend.

At Fernandez’s concert, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label whiskey cost $500, while bargain hunters could spend $180 on a Buchanan’s Special Reserve. A burger is $10 and water is $2.

Fernandez performed for more than two hours while the crowd sang along song after song. Those at the front sat at tables, while behind them—in a mall parking lot—there was standing room only. People also watched from the windows of nearby office buildings.

During the concert, a fan handed Fernandez a rosary — perhaps a symbol of the joy many felt at the musicians’ return.

“They let us down,” said Villamizar.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.ksat.com/entertainment/2022/04/04/music-stars-return-to-venezuela-after-skipping-it-for-years/ Music stars return to Venezuela after years of skipping

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