Larry & Joe
|Shows at the Purple Fiddle|
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Larry & Joe were destined to make music together.
Larry Bellorín hails from Monagas, Venezuela and is a legend of Llanera music. Joe Troop is from North Carolina and is a GRAMMY-nominated bluegrass and oldtime musician. Larry was forced into exile and is an asylum seeker in North Carolina. Joe, after a decade in South America, got stranded back in his stomping grounds in the pandemic. Larry works construction to make ends meet. Joe’s acclaimed “latingrass” band Che Apalache was forced into hiatus, and he shifted into action working with asylum seeking migrants.
Currently based in the Triangle of North Carolina, both men are versatile multi-instrumentalists and singer-songwriters on a mission to show that music has no borders. As a duo they perform a fusion of Venezuelan and Appalachian folk music on harp, banjo, cuatro, fiddle, guitar, maracas and whatever else they decide to throw in the van. The program they offer features a distinct blend of their musical inheritances and traditions as well as storytelling about the ways that music and social movements coalesce.
Larry Bellorín grew up in Punta de Mata in the state of Monagas, Venezuela. His mother, a poor farmworker, raised him. By age 6, he became a shoe shiner and built a faithful clientele by singing as he polished, taking requests for the popular Vallenatos of the day. He eventually caught the attention of a local music educator who invited him to study at the city’s premiere music school.
Larry’s first instrument was the cuatro, a 4-string guitar with Spanish roots central to the Venezuelan identity and typically the first instrument a folk musician is taught there. Cuatristas strum out complex polyrhythms at dizzying speeds as accompaniment for vocalists and harpists. Larry quickly excelled and by age 11 was supporting himself through music alone. He soon became proficient on guitar, electric bass, mandolin and maracas as well. By age 13, he was well-versed in the folk music of his region (valse, pasaje, joropo, música oriental) and was honored as first cuatrista for the local Casa de Cultura.
After filling in on cuatro for a friend on a gig at a local pizzeria, Larry met an authentic llanera harpist named Urbino Ruiz, who immediately took him under his wing as an apprentice. After only a month of tutelage, Larry had a repertoire of 40 songs. “I played so much, I would wake up hunched over my harp,” he recalls.
In 1999, Urbano invited Larry to perform with him alongside Venezuelan cultural treasure Renaldo Armas at the Punta de Mata’s Parque Ferial. After playing, Armas, a GRAMMY winner and the country’s most well known champion of Llanera music, introduced him to the crowd of more than 8,000 people as “el maestro Larry Bellorín.” From that point forward, Larry was respected as such.
Larry went on to accompany countless Venezuelan musical luminaries including Cristina Maica, Teo Galindez, and Rumi Olivo. While touring the country as a performer, he and his wife opened Casa Vieja, a school dedicated to teaching Música Llanera. In three years, he taught nearly five hundred students and launched Monagas’ first Musicá Llanera festival.
In 2012 Venezuela began to collapse, and it became impossible to maintain a music school. Poverty and violence reached unprecedented extremes, and new political realities threatened Larry and his family’s lives. He decided to go to the United States in search of work and asylum for his family. He arrived with only thirty dollars and slept on the floor of an unfurnished room while doing construction day labor. His wife and young daughter eventually joined him. Having faced political persecution, they were able to open a case for asylum. Larry has endured wage theft and several work site injuries but continues to look to the future with hope.
Prior to the pandemic, Larry was beginning to find work as a musician in North Carolina, playing bass in Salsa bands and booking his own Venezuelan folk group across the state. But the pandemic’s restrictions on social gatherings ended those opportunities, and Larry returned to full time construction work.
Joe Troop is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter hailing originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The founder of GRAMMY-nominated stringband Che Apalache, Joe’s music is deeply inspired by his decade living in Buenos Aires and traveling throughout Latin America. When the pandemic unexpectedly landed him back in North Carolina, he spent 2020 learning direct action from stalwart organizers. In 2021 he channeled that energy into his homecoming album Borrowed Time. The record was co-produced with Jason Richmond (The Avett Brothers, Branford Marsalis) and features luminaries like Béla Fleck (who produced Che Apalache’s GRAMMY-nominated album), Abigail Washburn, Tim O’Brien, and Charlie Hunter, but the visceral songwriting and fine-crafted instrumentals speak for themselves. Joe’s music reflects both his time spent living abroad as well as his upbringing in the North Carolina Piedmont. Now based in Durham, he leads various ensembles which play his original music.