BARRANQUILLA, Colombia – Colombian serenaders, who earn their living from musical performing traditional Mexican songs on birthdays and other celebrations, have seen their income plummet during the coronavirus crisis and are asking authorities for help.
In Colombia, as in most of Hispanic America, the serenade is a tradition which has been challenged by the pandemic, and the serenaders had to “go somewhere else with their music.”
For Janner Marriaga, a member of the mariachi group Aguilas del Norte, who has been performing serenades for a decade in Barranquilla, on the Colombian Caribbean, “the situation is very difficult” because they have not been allowed to work during the lockdown in force in the country since March 25.
“We are doing very badly because since when this started, we have not been able to do anything nor can they hire us,” said Marriaga, who along with colleagues from other musical groups are asking local authorities to allow them to work at least for Mother’s Day, which will be celebrated on Sunday.
“We ask the Mayor’s Office to let us go out to work so that we can play from the street, from the sidewalks, from the curb; we can comply with all security protocols and families can enjoy from their homes,” the musician added.
According to him, in Barranquilla there are “more than thirty mariachi bands and each one has between eight and ten musicians, which means that the same number of families are living a difficult situation due to the quarantine.”
In the southwestern city of Cali, Alexander Benavides leads a group of musicians from different “mariachis” who, despite the lockdown, continue to play throughout the streets to earn a living.
“We decided to carry out this musical social campaign because we want to reach homes in one way or another with our Mexican music,” he told EFE.
Despite the situation, Benavides said that the mariachis are still alive and “here we are reaching each one of their homes with songs and this mother’s month we are doing a nice tribute to them.”
The artist said that in Cali there are more than 280 mariachis who have had to support each other in order to survive because they haven’t received help from any state entity.
In the same situation, Yorelis Naranjo and her group Papayera Venezolana, a band from neighboring Venezuela, have been walking through the streets of Barranquilla for three years performing Colombian songs, particularly from the Cordoba and Sucre regions.
“Today we are working irregularly and we will leave if the police ask us, because although we comply with the security measures with masks and keep our distance, if a man of authority arrives and tells us that we must stop playing, we have to go home,” Naranjo told EFE.
With two musicians from Caracas, one from Maracaibo and three others from eastern Venezuela, the pandemic hits these artists hard because of their status as immigrants.
“We especially play music of Papayera bands’ style… but we also play what people ask us to play, and now that the children are in the houses, they ask us to play ‘Lola the Cow’ and ‘Little Chickens,’” he added.
Wilmer Coronado, a 27-year-old man who divided his time working as a sales promoter in neighborhood stores and as a performer of vallenato music, said that since the beginning of the lockdown, his income has plummeted.
“There’s no one to hire us, and as for my work as a sales promoter, things became difficult because they sent me on vacation, and I don’t know if I’m going to get a letter of dismissal when I return next week,” he said worrying about his income with which he supports his wife and four-year-old daughter.
Meanwhile in Cali, John Jairo Sanchez heads another vallenato band asking the authorities for assistance.
Sanchez said that the government has given aid to banks and employers, so they are asking for musicians to be paid a minimum monthly wage during the crisis.
“If the government doesn’t listen to us, doesn’t give us a solution, we will have to go out on the streets no matter what the risks are because we have to work, we have to take care of our house,” he said.