By Jim Fischer, communications manager for CAPA
Columbus-based Venezuelan singer, songwriter and musician Víctor Zancudo is a longtime local performer with a variety of bands, including the band that bears his name, Zancudo, which captivates audiences with a unique take on Latin Pop. They’ll be performing during Festival Latino, which takes place Aug. 12-13.
Jim: What is your earliest recollection of making music?
Víctor: As early as kindergarten. There was an end-of-school-year play that my mom put me in where I serenaded a girl in my classroom with a guitar that was bigger than me! I didn’t really play it, just strummed it (which sounded like nonsense, I’m sure), but sang this song called “Madrigal” to her as I “played” my dad’s guitar. I’m sure with today’s standards, that’s definitely not be PC, but you gotta remember this was 35+ years ago in a country where societal customs were cool with it. Anyway, you can say that was the birth of my music career. I took a few classes on the cuatro (a four-string Venezuelan instrument that’s between the size of a guitar and a ukelele), guitar, percussion and singing. I sang with the choir at school and participated in national singing competitions, even winning the one in my state in 1991.
Jim: You’re from Venezuela. How did you come to live in Columbus?
Víctor: I was in my third year of studying chemistry in college in Caracas when the opportunity opened up for my sister and I to come to the USA and study English for a couple of semesters. I was still pretty young, so with a tremendous amount of effort from my parents, we were able to come and complete our ESL courses at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio. The political and economic situation in Venezuela started worsening during that time so both my sister and I were blessed to be able to stay here and continue college in the States with the help of our parents. Once I graduated, I lined up a job in Columbus for an engineering company, worked out my permanent residency and here I am! It’s been 23 years total since I’ve been in Ohio and 20 in Columbus — this is home now! My wife and kids are from here; we started a business here in 2008 as well, so this is definitely home.
Jim: How did you get started making music for audiences?
Víctor: From that time I mentioned earlier when I was a kid, I was always playing with friends, as well as in more formal groups in my hometown (Carayaca, Vargas, Vezla) and loved it! I played in my high school’s gaita group (a traditional type of Venezuelan music from the northwestern region of the country that’s almost exclusively played at Christmas time), and even went to compete against other schools at a regional level. Then in college I met a ton of people who were waaay better than me and I latched onto them! I learned a ton from playing with all these musicians who were much better than me and was even able to play in a couple (informal) bands during that time. But the best part was just bringing my guitar to school, sitting in a huge circle with all our friends and jamming to the cheesy tunes we listened to in college, as well as the classics. You can say it was a captive audience (they were our friends, so they had no option), but that was super fun and I loved performing with/for/in front of people.
Jim: What instruments do you play? Do you have a favorite and, if so, why?
Víctor: As far as stringed instruments, I play guitar, cuatro and ukelele. I’m gonna give an honorable mention to the banjo because I volunteered to play it for a church function (not having a clue of how to do it); looked up a couple videos on YouTube, ended up learning the basics, and loved it. I also play most of the Latin percussion instruments (timbales, bongos, congas), timbales being my favorite and congas being the ones I can’t really claim I play that well… Also, add all the (Latin) minor percussion stuff like cowbells, maracas, guiro, guira, etc. But these are not really that impressive; it seems like every Latin person I know can play those. I’ve gone through phases with my favorite instrument; currently, I have to say it’s playing guitar and singing. In the last year I’ve been leading worship at our church, and that’s been an incredibly fulfilling experience and opportunity to use my talents for that purpose.
Jim: How would you describe the kind of music you play? How about the kind of music you write?
Víctor: When I play covers, I literally can play anything from country/Americana to salsa and reggae… so yeah, that’s a wide range, to put it lightly. For my original stuff, it also ranges from cheesy ballads to pop/rock/cumbia/reggae tunes. Again, a wide range of styles! Let me give you some context on that: I grew up with my mom listening to heartbreaking ballads and traditional Latin music from the 60s to the 90s (José José, Rocío Durcal, Fania, Oscar D’ Leon, Juán Luís Guerra, among others). My dad listening to British rock, Kenny Rogers, Santana, Eric Clapton and American pop/rock. My cousins listening to Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden and Pantera). Having grown up near the beach, my friends and I listened to tons of reggae (Bob Marley, UB40, Alpha Blondy, Los Pericos, Steel Pulse, Peter Tosh). My college friends listened to anything from trova Cubana to Slipknot. And lately my Ohio-grown wife has (finally) won me over to (some) country. My Spotify/Pandora history is either impressive or laughable!
Jim: What do enjoy about playing Festival Latino?
Víctor: First off, CAPA is an incredible organization to work with, and I’m not just saying that. I’ve worked with hundreds of organizations, and the level of respect and professionalism CAPA treats the talents with is something others should imitate. Secondly, the audience has always been amazing! I’ve played Festival Latino for over 10 years in some capacity, and it’s been a great way to be introduced to new audiences, as well as continue showcasing our talents to people who already know us. The headliners are world-renowned artists that most people would not normally have a chance to ever see, much less for free. So that’s super cool. The food, the vendors, location, everything. I’m a fan.
Jim: Who inspires you?
Víctor: My family. My wife and children are the biggest inspiration in my life. I learn something from them every single day and everything I do, I do for them. I didn’t know I would have the ability to not only feel different kinds of love for these humans, but to increase my capacity to love others in general. It’s crazy. On the other hand, I’m massively inspired by people who have the discipline to overcome adversity. People who believe in their dreams so much that no matter what life throws at them, they get through it and accomplish what they set to do. My parents and grandparents are a huge example of that, which I aspire to emulate daily.
Jim: What are you streaming on TV right now and what’s in your queue?
Víctor: I don’t really watch a bunch of TV; we literally don’t have cable. But I have a crazy full plate with the family, our business and church, so entertainment is last on that list. However, I’m a big fan of documentaries (especially ones about sports and high achievers, cults and real-life crimes), stand-up comedy specials, car shows and action movies. I’m now (carefully) introducing my boys to the classics I watched when I was a kid (and constantly find myself surprised by how much got lost in translation when I watched this stuff dubbed to Spanish.). I have pretty long daily commutes, so I listen to tons of audiobooks and podcasts. The last audiobook that made a HUGE impact on me was “Unreasonable Hospitality.” I can’t recommend it enough. Big fan of the JRE, Jocko and Real Ones podcasts. Oh, and reruns of “The Office.” Re-runs of “The Office” over everything. I said everything.
Jim: What is the best thing about the Columbus arts scene right now?
Víctor: I love the fact that we can actually go see live music and festivals again. The pandemic obviously put a dent in that, and everything feels back to normal now, which is super cool. Most of my musician friends are back to being just as busy as they were before that whole mess and we’re grateful that’s the case.
Catch Victor with his band, Zancudo, performing at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12 at Festival Latino. The festival takes place Aug. 12-13 at Genoa Park in downtown Columbus.
This article is part of a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Art Makes Columbus campaign. Explore a calendar of events, public art database and artist stories at columbusmakesart.com. To learn more about GCAC grants visit gcac.org.