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Indigenous Children Choir and Orchestra Kanaima, icon of the Pemons

Indigenous Children Choir and Orchestra Kanaima, icon of the Pemons

Posted by Dubraswka Aguilar on May 12, 2014

''The Pemon culture is our flag, wherever we are, there we are Pemons, we represent our ancestors and let people know who we are. The identity of the choir is not the place, but where we come from''. With these words, Raquel Acevedo, Director of the Indigenous Children Choir and Orchestra Kanaima, Gran Sabana, defines this Venezuelan ethnicity and manifests respect for their roots.

Pemon people can be found in the province of Bolivar, at the South of Venezuela, near the frontiers with Brazil and Guyana, in a land rich in mineral resources. They are divided in three big groups that share the majestic Parque Nacional Canaima, and these are named Taurepan, Arekuna and Kamarakoto.

Medium built, and with fine features, the Pemons depend on agriculture, fishing, hunting and more recently, tourism and small scale mining. According to the last census, in 2011, 725.148 people declared being indigenous in Venezuela, and Pemons represented 4% of that amount.

Taking advantage of the great musical skills the children of this ethnicity have, Raquel Acevedo founded, in 1999, the Children Choir Kanaima, in the indigenous community of Kaunwaripa, with the assitance of her sisters Nidia and Erika Acevedo. At the time of its founding, the chorus was composed by 15 Pemon children, and the Civil Foundation for the Children Choir Kanaima was constituted.

Four years later, a school where music was the core was constituted, they made their first production titled ''Por amor'' (For Love) and they toured, for the very first time, around their country.

Who are, currently, in the choir?

Currently, the war is conformed by 32 girls and boys, children and teenagers, aged between 5 and 18, while the Foundation has more than 900 students. All singers are elementary or High School students who found in music a way to be recognised and valued. Other than music, children are also in touch with agriculture, that is the root of their own identity. They also participate in football competitions and other have created independent music groups in order to be commercial and make profits with it.

Does the Choir have the participation of the Pemon community?

Absolutely. The communities support our activities in every single thing; even in the musical encounters there are Pemon camp owners who give free accommodation and food during rehearses.

How did you encourage children and teenagers to get involved in a Choir that implies presentations and activities that are distant from their culture?

Music is part of the indigenous culture. Church activities are very respected so the first aim was to sing in the Church. When we went from the Church's Choir to our own, we had the benefit of our children as a priority. Today, that it's a cultural Pemon icon, the importance of the grouping in the community has been understood, to the point that it is a project of the Indigenous Institute, made by the indigenous authorities of the zone.

How was the musical teaching process for these kids?

The Pemon child has a natural musical potential, to the point that I have sometimes said ''when a Pemon baby is born, it cries finely tuned'', then you just have to guide and develop this natural talent. which is exactly the job of the Foundation.

Which are the main topics in the performances?

All songs are inspired in god and nature; because we believe that these results are not the work of men but they are strictly divine, since god is very close, he is felt close when you are in the lands of Canaima and Gran Sabana. We thank god for being the maker of everything that has ever been made.

The initial compositions were by Raquel Acevedo herself, but the other members of the choir followed the steps of their teacher and started writing. Their songs were then postulated for recordings.

How many shows have you given since your foundation?

Our trajectory is long, we started with a concert in San Félix and another one in Acarigua. We then made three national tours, we participated in a congress in Puebla, Mexico, we sang in different national theatres, in the Teatro Teresa Carreño and the Caracas Pop Festival, 2005, among many others. Now, communities of all the municipality participate, and it is because of this that our last shows have been the Indigenous Musical Encounters of the Gran Sabana.

These tours go hand in hand with musical productions.

Indeed. We have recorded "Por Amor", "Ikupudase", "Enkosemune", "Volverás por mí" and "Mi andar por tierras infinitas". We also have two compilations and one translation to Spanish.

To carry out these projects, the Foundation depends on donations that come basically from private or government companies, while the choir is helped with uniforms and musical instruments.

What has music meant for these children and teenagers? How has this changed their lives?

Music has become, for them, a new lifestyle that puts them in a higher level in social terms. It has given tools that they can use to improve their life quality. It teaches them values, responsibilities, team work and above all, the art of harmony... not only in musical terms but with their partners. In perfect harmony, perfect music arises.

What are the next projects of the Choir and the Foundation?

We are working very hard in the formation of the Indigenous Orchestra of Venezuela, integrated by children and adolescents from indigenous families all over the country. We want to perform our own music style and incorporate our instruments, which will allow us to make Pemon music immortal.

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