In One Venezuelan City, People Have Found Low-Cost Entertainment — In A Barbershop

Jul 9, 2019
Originally published on July 9, 2019 6:08 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The economic collapse of Venezuela means a lot of people are struggling with basic necessities and can't afford entertainment - a night out at the bar or the movies. In one Venezuelan city, people have found a low-cost alternative in a barbershop. Reporter John Otis takes us there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEARS MOVING)

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Jhonny Carrasco has been cutting hair for 44 years in the western city of Barquisimeto. He's deft with the electric trimmer, quick with the scissors. But his most powerful instrument is his voice.

JHONNY CARRASCO: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: As he clips bangs and shaves faces, Carrasco often breaks into song. He comes from a family of singers and composers but became a barber for the stable income. That income has proven a lifeline as Venezuela's economy collapses due to government mismanagement and political turmoil. To pursue his passion for Venezuelan folk music and ballads, he often invites musicians to his downtown barbershop to jam.

CARRASCO: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: Barquisimeto is fertile ground for these hootenannies. The city is a crossroads for musicians from all over the country. It's also famous for its craftsmen, who produce the four-stringed Venezuelan cuatro, similar to the ukulele.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Playing music).

OTIS: Here at the barbershop, musicians nearly always play the cuatro, the harp and maracas. The songs attract music lovers and more clients for Carrasco.

CARRASCO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: He averages 30 haircuts per day, charging the equivalent of 15 cents per head.

CARRASCO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: With living conditions in Venezuela getting worse by the day, Carrasco says people come here for an affordable haircut and to relieve their stress.

CARRASCO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "People tell you their problems," he says. "You become a psychologist."

CARRASCO: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: It's an older crowd at the barbershop, and the vintage songs evoke pre-crisis Venezuela, when life seemed full of possibilities. Carrasco likes to sing this ballad about a teenager's crush on an older woman. Another extols the beauty of Barquisimeto.

CARRASCO: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: Still, there are constant reminders of the hyperinflation, unemployment and food shortages that have left most Venezuelans in poverty. Musicians sometimes show up empty-handed because they've sold their instruments to buy food.

CARRASCO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Because shampoo is so expensive, Carrasco says many of his clients request crew cuts so they don't have to wash their hair so often.

CARRASCO: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: For the most part, things are buoyant. And the barber responsible for creating this community has become a revered figure.

RUBEN PERDOMO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "Carrasco is going to live more than 100 years because he has the best vitamin," says shoe repairman Ruben Perdomo. "Music is the best vitamin of the soul."

CARRASCO: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Playing music).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.