Huascar Barradas: The Magical Flautist

José Orozco By

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Huascar Barradas believes that one makes one's destiny. Doors open and you walk through them.

"Things happen that make you think God put you here to be a musician," said Barradas. "A lot of people go to your concerts, you do well and so on."

Barradas has been playing the flute since the age of nine. Now 39, he estimates that he has spent 25% of his waking life playing the flute and another 25% working in music-related matters like arranging, teaching and promoting Huascar Barradas y Maracaibo, his Venezuelan music group.

This might seem exaggerated, but Barradas is dead serious. Consider that beginning at age 9 he would arrive at his native Maracaibo's José Luis Paz Music Conservatory at 2 p.m., practicing until evening. At 17, Barradas left Venezuela to study at the Brooklyn Conservatory. He came back briefly before taking off for Frankfurt's Superior Music School to study the flute some more. Since finishing his flute studies, Barradas has played professionally for orchestras and bands and released six albums.

"I practice for 4 or 5 hours everyday, not counting the band's rehearsals," said Barradas. "I had a nine year span when I didn't fail to play the flute a single day."

Such discipline inspires dread even in adults, let alone children. But as Barradas tells it, he fell so hard for the flute that even as a child he gladly devoted hours and hours to practicing. He remembers his first flute "that shined like the sun and from which I desperately tried to pull up a sound." At 13, music was his "greatest entertainment."

Although discipline and dedication seem like adult qualities, Barradas' experience demonstrates that they are built on the foundation of a child's love and enthusiasm. That explains why he works so hard and why he loves what he does.

A hybrid in every sense

Barradas considers himself a spiritual and artistic hybrid. It began with the flute as he immersed himself in the world of classical music at a young age. At 13, he began to play Venezuelan music with the State Youth Orchestra at the same time that he played classical music with the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, which he co-founded. He claims to have been very much at ease then about these diverse influences.

"Performing Beethoven and Rafael Rincón González was all the same for us, just good music," said Barradas. "Two different worlds and at the same time so similar!"

Living and studying in New York, he absorbed American life to the bone as well as the diverse musical happenings, including the early stages of hip hop. In Frankfurt, he developed his "methodical" German side, no doubt the reason for his passionate emphasis on punctuality.

As an adult, Barradas continues to enjoy these diverse pleasures, but betrays a slight unease about this hybrid condition.

"I feel like a typical Maracucho," said Barradas. "But on the other hand, there are things that make me feel as if I don't belong to this world because I think my life is much more complex."

Society's clowns, marginal and rarely taken seriously, artists commonly feel this sense of alienation, but for a Venezuelan flutist the feeling must be stronger yet. The tension would tear Barradas apart, if it weren't for his extensive travelling. Although based out of Caracas, he gets away often, allowing him to make Venezuelan music and live his love for Europe at the same time.

"In Europe, there is a deep love for art and a wider vision of the human being," said Barradas. "I think I am atypical and this way of being is reflected in the music I compose," he added.

Candela, his next to last album, shows just what he means. Barradas' flute playing takes off in Esmollejatus Joropus, a fast joropo; Simon Diaz joins "El Goyo" Reyna for a flamenco version of the former's Tonada de Luna Llena; Candela also features Guaco playing with Barradas and his band.

"What I am gets reflected there. There's hip hop, electronica, jazz," said Baradas.

He embraces the world music category, adding that Huascar Barradas y Maracaibo is firmly grounded in Venezuelan music.

"There's an openness to world music, but it continues to be Venezuelan music. It's the same woman, just that we dress her up with different clothes," said Barradas.

The band's music has been called Venezuelan jazz, a label that Barradas appreciates. Jazz has an important place in his music, aptly so because jazz uniquely represents that hybrid point between the classical and the popular.

Indeed, Barradas enjoys a wide spectrum of music from Miles Davis to Vos Veis to Serenata Guayanesa. He disagrees with the idea that "popular music is inferior in comparison with academic music." For Barradas, while it's critical to study classical music—"it's more complex and intellectual"-all music can make you feel joy and sadness.

That's how he describes his mission as an artist. "When I play, I always try to say something. Emotion is the magical part of the human being," said Barradas.

Reaching for the skies

Barradas believes in the human spirit and art's spiritual values. As he closes his eyes in concert, he tries to transcend his place in order to meet his artistic duty to transmit emotion. Though flute playing might seem apolitical, it's really no more so than all art. If as Octavio Paz said, "every system. . . is the enemy of life," art inherently affirms life in that it is the enemy of systems.

"Society is economic, not spiritual," said Barradas. "Values center on having money, a house, a car. Yet music can teach children spiritual values."

For many reasons, Barradas' considerable confidence needs no justification. He thinks of himself as a prophet in his own land and says "I want to be the world's best flutist."

Barradas' successful band allows him to develop his career within the tradition of Venezuelan music, while spicing it up. Ultimately, he seeks "the Venezuela that believes in what I believe." That's as tricky a challenge as you can imagine, but Barradas doesn't seem to care.

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