Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Gabriela Montero's ExPatria at Tulane

March 15th, 2013

When Gabriela Montero first came to New Orleans in 2011, she stunned listeners with her innovative interpretation of New Orleans’ traditional music. A master improviser, Montero often ends a performance by inviting audiences to suggest a song for her to explore and reinterpret. Dr. Ludovico Feoli, Executive Director of the Center for Inter-American Policy & Research at Tulane, was impressed. He writes, “Gabriela is extremely talented as a performer, and she has the ability to improvise on the spot. During her initial presentation in 2011 she played an encore by improvising variations on a tune suggested by the audience—‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ and it was jaw-dropping.” Montero is one of a group of talented Latin American musicians that Carlos Miguel Prieto, the music director of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) has brought to the city. After hearing Montero and others perform, Feoli was inspired. He explains, “We wanted to start exploring ways in which the University, particularly through the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, could partner with the LPO to extend the experience of these musicians into the academic setting, also exposing students to their work.”

The work Montero presented at Tulane is titled Ex Patria. It is, as Feoli elaborates, “her first musical composition. It is a statement about the way she views political developments in her homeland, Venezuela.” He described the performance, both Montero’s and that of the orchestra, as “powerful” and noted that it “moved many of those present to state their own thoughts about the political situation in Venezuela during the Q&A period.” It reflects, as Ludovico Feoli explained, “what she believes to be a negative transformation of Venezuelan society, particularly with regard to the spread of violence and the deterioration of civic values.” Montero is not afraid of sharing her political sensibilities. In an article in The Independent, Montero explained to critic Jessica Duchen why the EMI logo on her latest album Solatino, is blue instead of red: “Venezuela is going through a very difficult period politically and socially. I feel so connected to the country that I wanted to help to raise consciousness of it. You don’t hear about 80 per cent of what’s going on there. Since red represents communism and it’s the colour of the Venezuelan government, I wanted to make a statement that said I don’t want that kind of red. I want a red that’s peaceful and that belongs to all of us. I want a red that’s representative of all the different people in Venezuela, not the kind that represses, that controls, that creates hatred. This was my way of making a stand in support of good consequences, not the realities that we have now in Venezuela. There isn’t much of a democracy left there.”

Ex Patria reflects Montero’s Venezuelan heritage in more than just its politics. During the Q&A session after the performance, Carlos Miguel Prieto explained some of the musical references Montero incorporated into Ex Patria. The piece references Latin American music forms, including Son, Tango, and traditional folkloric rhythms.

The Ex Patria performance was a incredible success. As Ludovico Feoli commented, “From a didactic point of view, this was a tremendous opportunity to learn about Latin American music as well as to discuss current political events in the region.” Indeed, Montero’s ExPatria was both a learning opportunity and a vehicle for conversation in addition to being a beautiful piece of music. The performance provided an excellent opportunity for community outreach. The event drew many members of New Orleans’ Venezuelan community, but also from other countries, including Cuba, continuing Tulane University and the Stone Center’s tradition of engaging with the community and enriching the cultural life of New Orleans.

Venezuela + People
Arachu Castro
Senior Associate Research Fellow - Samuel Z. Stone Chair of Public Health in Latin America