Visit Venezuela Right Here in Alameda

Courtesy photo  Jackeline Rago will bring her Venezuelan Music Project to Alameda on March 18.

Visit Venezuela Right Here in Alameda

You can get to Venezuela on the northern end of South America in 10 or 15 hours from Oakland International Airport. Or you can get to Rhythmix Cultural Works the northern end of Alameda for an authentic Venezuelan experience engaging all the senses.

Arrayed across the stage at Rhythmix for an 8 p.m. show on Thursday, March 18, will be the 10 master players and singers of Jackeline Rago & Venezuelan Music Project. The group will offer the infectiously exuberant, syncopated rhythms of calypso music from Venezuela and around the Caribbean. 

Rounding out this micro-festival will be  a mobile stand purveying fresh arepas, Venezuela’s crisped and savory stuffed corn-meal pockets. 

Bring your dancing shoes and the event will become ideal practice for the spectacle of Carnaval San Francisco, May 28-29. Not a moment too soon, Rago says: In Latin America, Carnaval demands several months of hard preparation every year. “Calypso, because it’s a marching beat, is very dancing-friendly,” she says. “It’s contagious.”

Calypso, Venezuelan-style, has a flavor all its own. It grew  from the country’s Caribbean coast where it landed along with laborers imported to mine gold, Rago says. The lyrics are a creole of indigenous Venezuelan languages and Spanish. 

The trademark steel drums of the islands make way for a national instrument called the cuatro for its four strings. It arrived in Venezuela in the 1800s from Spain’s Andalucia region as the Guitarilla Renacentista, little Renaissance guitar. 

Like the cuatro, other Indispensable instruments for the Venezuelan Music Project are homemade, from the homeland: a drum called the bumbac, a scraper, a bell that started as the top of an oxygen tank. “We want people to hear the real sounds,” Rago says, “the texture, the culture.”

In the Venezuelan Music Project, formed in 1997, percussionists from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland have retrained to perform her country’s stylings with native Venezuelan colleagues. They join a Peruvian bassist, and trombone and woodwinds players from the U.S. mainland.

Rago grew up in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas. She came to the Bay Area in the mid-1980s to study English and attend Oakland’s Holy Names College before graduating in 1992 from the Music and Arts Institute of San Francisco. 

She also organized the VNote Ensemble, a “chamber popular music” group that plays a fusion of jazz and Venezuelan folk. And she makes time for day jobs at Oakland’s Escuela Bilingüe Internacional and Berkeley’s California Jazz Conservatory.

Tickets to the show are $20 in advance, $25 the day of the show. They are online at and in person at Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Ave. Call 865-5060.