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Rogelio Ortiz with Eduardo Betancourt

música llanera Laurel, Maryland
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Photo Credit: Eduardo Fermin (Rogelio Ortiz); photo courtesy of artist (Eduardo Betancourt)
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Known in Venezuela as el caballero del canto nacional (“the gentleman of the national song”), Rogelio Ortiz is a leading practitioner of música llanera, the distinctive style of the inland plains of western Venezuela and eastern Colombia. Living in the United States since 2016, Ortiz’s music sustains a Venezuelan American community rapidly expanding in the wake of their homeland’s recent sociopolitical crises.

Música llanera was born in Los Llanos, “the plains” of the Orinoco River basin, and in the cowboy culture of its hardworking llaneros. A mix of Indigenous, Spanish, and African melodies and rhythms, música llanera encompasses the work songs of ranchers and cattle drivers, dance songs for community festivities, and ballads that lyrically illustrate themes of love and life on the wide-open plains. The arpa (harp), with its lyricism and rhythmic precision, is another central and defining element of música llanera. Rogelio Ortiz’s repertoire includes the aggressive, hard-driving golpes and dynamic dances of the faster joropo style that has enchanted global audiences in recent years. Ortiz’s specialty, however, is his heartbreaking skill with the slower and more lyrical pasajes, particularly the pasajes romanticos.

Rogelio Ortiz grew up “in the campo,” the rural area, in the state of Guárico, and fell in love with the local music as a child. Hearing the legendary cantante Simón Díaz on the radio, the aspiring singer Ortiz told himself, “One day I’ll be like him, famous.” When Ortiz was 20, Díaz invited him to Caracas to work on the national broadcast of Radio Rumbos and perform in the capital city. It was Díaz who gave the younger singer the stage name by which he is now known, forever identifying him with his picturesque hometown of Ortiz, itself a national touchstone as the setting of one of the country’s most famous novels. Ortiz quickly lived up to this symbolic sobriquet, winning top honors at the first International Festival of Llanera in 1991, and representing his country in 1995 at the global singing festival OTI. Now living in Laurel, Maryland, Ortiz works as a driver for ride-sharing services and often performs at Latin restaurants and other community spaces, re-establishing a musical career that spans over 40 years, 37 albums, and, most importantly, the adulation of his countrymen; Ortiz continues his mission to be “un defensor,” a champion of música llanera, around the world. 

At the National, Rogelio Ortiz is accompanied by a traditional conjunto (band) including cuatro (a four-string guitar), bajo (bass), maracas, and harp. This ensemble is led by the incomparable harpist Eduardo Betancourt. Now known as a master of Latin jazz as well as traditional Venezuelan music, the Grammy-winning, Boston-based Betancourt similarly found his musical inspiration growing up in rural Venezuela. The festive culture that surrounds the traditional rodeo sport of coleo inspired his musical studies, and by age 16 this “fanatic of the harp” was performing with stars of música llanera across Venezuela. With Betancourt’s ensemble behind him, Rogelio Ortiz brings audiences the finest expression of this lively, often fiery, and always heartfelt Venezuelan tradition.

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