Henry D’Arthenay, the leader of Venezuelan rock group La Vida Boheme, has spent most of the past week inside his home in Caracas, communicating with band mates who live on neighboring streets through Skype, and Tweeting videos of street violence, blockade alerts and lists of names of student protesters detained by police.
“This is a civil war,” D’Arthenay declared when reached by phone on Thursday (Feb. 20). “…It’s going to Hell.”
On Feb. 12, after the deaths of three demonstrators led to an explosion of social outcry and responding violence in Venezuela, D’Arthenay posted a video for La Vida Boheme’s song “Cementerio del Este/Cementerio del Sud” (Eastern Cemetery/Southern Cemetery), dedicated “to our dead.” The video shows the Caracas landscape at night covered with neon crosses. The sober image changes as the crosses appear to dance along to the music and then rise as if in resurrection.
The members of the band have also seen the words of the songs on their 2013 Latin Grammy winning album “Será” -- released in the U.S. On Nacional Records -- take on urgent new life in the context of the uprising in their country, where people have adopted the songs to express their feelings about current events.
“I have never heard so many truths at once about the moment that we live in [as] with the album Será,” one fan Tweeted this week. Another expressed her longing to go outside and sing one of the songs from the album out loud.
Jamás había escuchado tantas verdades juntas sobre la actualidad que vivimos, con el álbum de @vidaboheme "Será"
— Manuel alejc. (@manualejandroc) February 21, 2014
Of the fifteen songs on the album, “Aún” is the track whose lyrics are most often being used as a rallying call on social media: “My knees are trembling but I can’t stop. I want my children to have what they wanted to take away from me.”
Although the record’s powerful and often disturbing lyrics transcend a specific context, “Será” is fundamentally a concept album about Venezuela. It was rooted in dark times for the country and the band members, whose personal experience with Venezuela’s spiraling crime came tragically close when the band’s booking agent was abducted and murdered. In an interview with Billboard when the album was released, D’Arthenay described it as the soundtrack to an apocalypse, and “the last cry before everything burns to Hell.” The album ended on a positive note, with tracks that alluded to the coming of better times.
“I think the most spooky part about “Será is that I wrote it in order for this not to happen,” D’Arthenay said Thursday, referring to the uprising. “It is what we can now see as our failed attempt to avoid this. We were not seeing the future, we were seeing what was around us at the time. We were not the only ones to see it, [but] things just got fucked up.”
La Vida Boheme was set to play shows in cities around Venezuela in March, a tour that included several free shows. That tour has been postponed and will likely be cancelled, says César Elster, the band’s manager and head of label Discos Caracas.
“In these times bringing together 10,000 people, most of them students is not a good idea.” Elster told Billboard, adding that almost all of the activity of the label’s artists has come to a standstill. “Nobody feels like partying now,” he added. La Vida Boheme is still scheduled to travel next month to perform at the Vive Latino festival in Mexico City.
“We tried to avoid what is happening here through art,” D’Arthenay reflects, referring to the message of Será. “Now we have to create a new reality. The way to denounce injustice is to create a world where it is not unjust, and music and art is a place where we can do that. Music now has a bigger responsibility than ever.”