Hugo Chávez, Alí Primera and Venezuela: The Politics of Music in Latin America, Hazel Marsh

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In February 1992, a Venezuelan colonel called Hugo Chávez, together with other officers from a movement that had formed within the military, led an unsuccessful coup attempt against the country’s deeply unpopular government. Two years later, on the day he was released from prison having served time for his role in the failed coup, Colonel Chávez was asked by a journalist if he had a message for the people of Venezuela. ‘Yes’, he announced, ‘Let them listen to Alí Primera’s songs!’ Within 5 years, having formed a new political organization and mounted a campaign rooted in these very songs, Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela with 56% of the vote. He thus became the first head of state without links to the country’s establishment parties in over 40 years.

But who was Alí Primera, and why did Chávez link his political movement with his songs?

Born in 1942, Alí Primera became Venezuela’s best-known ‘protest’ singer. In his songs, Alí denounced the economic, cultural, political,...

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