Larry & Joe are bringing their fusion of Venezuelan and Appalachian folk music to the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor Jan. 21. The Llanera and joropo music on their debut album, “Nuevo South Train,” will strike a chord with all of your senses. There are traditional songs that have been given new arrangements and original compositions on the CD and on their playlist for their appearance.
North Carolina native Joe Troop plays guitar, fiddle and banjo. Monagas,Venezuela native Larry Bellorín plays Llano harp – a full-size harp with 30 strings, cuatro and maracas. Between them, they make llanera and joropo music.
Llanera, Joe explained, is a subgenre of joropo – the Venezuelan and Colombian music and dance genre – drawing from European waltz and Afro-Venezuelan rhythms.
Some music fans may remember seeing Joe and his Grammy-nominated “Latingrass” band Che Appalache at the Opera House in 2019. The pandemic put an end to the band’s continued touring in 2020 and the members separated.
Bellorín and Troop met in December 2021 and by August 2022 they were in the recording studio. The original compositions developed between March and August before recording began. Troop said the original tunes “kind of magically materialized. It’s just energy and synergy that creates a sort of aura, and that energy field brings you into communion with others you wouldn’t necessarily meet.”
Bellorín began making music when he was 4! His first instrument was the four-string cuatro guitar, which has roots in Puerto Rico and is used in making folk music to accompany harps and vocalists. At 11, he was playing guitar, electric bass, mandolin, maracas – and supporting himself as a musician. By 13, he was well into the folk music of his region and was honored as first cuatrista for the local music event, Casa de Cultura.
After filling in at a gig for a friend playing cuatro, he met llanera harpist Urbino Ruiz who taught him to play the harp. As an adult, musician Bellorín toured his country and, with his wife, Athais, opened a music school dedicated to teaching llanera music and they established the first Musicá Llanera Festival.
“What people need to know is Larry is a living legend of the cuatro,” Troop said.
But, in 2016 with Venezuela in a state of collapse, Bellorín emigrated to the U.S., ending up in Raleigh, North Carolina and applying for asylum. Traveling with him to a new life were his maracas, a small harp (he will be playing a full size harp at the Opera House show) and a cuatro.
He found employment in construction, which helped him earn enough money to send for Athais and their daughter. In addition to construction, Bellorín found work as a musician in Merengue and Salsa bands. He founded a new band as well, Son Latinos.
Meanwhile, Troop had spent over a decade living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and visiting other Latin American countries. The pandemic brought Troop home to North Carolina where he began working with direct action (the use of strikes, demonstrations, or other public forms of protest rather than negotiation to achieve demands), involved with the struggles of migrant workers.
Troop wrote “Hermano Migrante” (“Brother Migrant”) in 2021. The song was written as a show of solidarity with undocumented migrant laborers who face deplorable working conditions across the U.S. Bellorín heard the song and got in touch with Troop, who invited him to play at The Fruit where Troop was in residence. They became a duo shortly afterward.
Said Bellorín, as translated by Troop, “This project with Joe, it’s a lifetime commitment. Something that is going to become our day-to-day life. Our project is one of inclusion. Watching people become entwined in our music … They have said it makes their day better.”
“Some of the songs I wrote I could only have written because I met Larry,” Troop said. “Because of him it exists – this music is made for us; 75% of the music is our unique arrangements of both of our folk traditions.”
Three of the songs being performed are off Troop’s 2021 solo album “Borrowed Time,” including “Brother Migrant” and “Love Along the Way” that Troop wrote for Native American activist Leonard Peltier, imprisoned for the past 45 years.
“There’s a bit of ‘artivism’ – art meets activism – with us,” said Troop. “A lot of the activism we project into the world is self-evident: Larry is an asylum seeker and we’re making music together. The M.O. of our group is inclusion. The first time we played together we got two standing ovations. You just have to be there; it’s an experiential experience.”
Those who have seen Troop and Bellorín making music have told them they got the feeling the musicians had known each other forever.
Said Bellorín, “It was musical love at first sight.”
Their appearance at the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor is their only Maine show in the Northeast tour.
“It’s a beautiful space,” Troop said of the Opera House. “We really liked it. We (he and his bandmates of Che Appalachia) got to walk around the town, eat lobster. It’s really beautiful scenery up there … I’m really excited to get up there with Larry.”
This will be Bellorín’s first trip to the Northeast U.S. and he is looking forward to it. Meantime, warm clothes have been packed – and lots of them. “Meeting new people, eating new foods, and seeing new landscapes ... This is fun to me.”
Advance tickets to the show on Saturday, Jan. 21 through the box office are $20. Call 633-5159 or stop by 86 Townsend Ave., Boothbay Harbor Wednesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Online tickets are $25 at https://boothbayoperahouse.com
Doors open at 7 p.m. Music starts at 7:30 p.m.
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