Last December, Joe Troop and Larry Bellorín reunited during a residency Troop was producing at The Fruit in Durham and became the duo Larry & Joe.
“When he came in and we started playing music, we both realized that was what we were going to do,” Troop said. “‘We’re going to play music together.'”
They are both multi-instrumentalists and singer-songwriters.
“Larry plays harp and cuatro,” Troop said. “He plays maracas and double bass. And I play banjo, fiddle and guitar.
Troop, originally from Winston-Salem, is a bluegrass musician and former Grammy nominee, who founded the acclaimed “lategrass” band Che Apalache which was forced to go on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bellorín hails from Monagas, Venezuela and is a legend of Llanera music. He is an asylum seeker in North Carolina who works in the construction industry to make ends meet.
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On August 18, the duo will perform at the Ramkat’s Gas Hill Drinking Room on West Ninth Street in Winston-Salem. The show is bilingual.
As a child, Troop grew up playing music in Winston-Salem and attended Community Music School. He got into string brand music at Reynolds High School.
At UNC-Chapel Hill, he studied Spanish and did two years of his undergraduate work in Spain.
But the music was what he was most serious about.
“The language was a good parallel study,” he said.
After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2005, he taught English in Japan for a few years, then returned to the United States and worked as a touring musician.
In 2010 Troop moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina and lived there for 10 years, working primarily as a musician and private music teacher. He started Che Apalache with three of his students in Argentina.
“Our band had a lot of success in the United States in the music industry,” Troop said.
The band’s second album, “Rearrange My Heart”, produced by Béla Fleck, was nominated for a Grammy in 2019.
“There was a lot of momentum and things were going really well,” Troop said. “Then the pandemic has devastated our operations because it’s just not sustainable to have an international band in the new world. We’d like to switch bands, but it’s a very slow process given the unpredictability of international travel these days.
Che Apalache calls his music “lategrass”.
“It’s a mix of Appalachian folk music and Latin American folk music,” Troop said. “It’s kind of my musical signature in the world, and I can continue with my musical brother (Bellorín) who I met – thank God – last year.”
During the first year of the pandemic, Troop found a small cabin on Piney Grove Church Road in Danbury in Stokes County.
“It was a good place to be in the pandemic, but I was supposed to go back to Buenos Aires,” he said. “The pandemic just blocked me from touring the United States”
Members of his group boarded one of the last commercial flights to South America on March 17, 2020, before the shutdown.
For a few months, before finding the cabin, Troop lived in his van.
He said he was not homeless because friends allowed him to stay in their guesthouses or camp outside their homes.
“A lot of people were so scared they fired you,” he said. “It was very enlightening to be in that position. It really showed me who has your back in tough times.
He lived in the Danbury hut from July 2020 to mid-May 2021. Then he became virtually nomadic until December 2021. His travels took him to Mexico, where he lived for a month in a migrant shelter, in California where he took care of someone’s property. He also went to Washington State and Louisiana.
He’s also done a few solo tours and was in a production of “Freedom Riders” through an Ohio company last winter.
“I was just trying to figure it out again, trying to figure out where I fit in the world,” he said.
Then he meets Bellorín in Durham and settles there in March.
Bellorín grew up in Punta de Mata in the state of Monagas, Venezuela, and was raised by his mother, a poor agricultural worker.
His biography states that at the age of 6, “He became a shoe shiner and built up a loyal following by singing while polishing, taking requests for the popular Vallenatos of the day. He eventually caught the attention of a local music teacher who invited him to study at the city’s first music school.
His first instrument was the cuatro, a 4-string guitar. At 11, he supported himself solely through music. He quickly became proficient on guitar, electric bass, mandolin and maracas.
While still a teenager, he became familiar with the folk music of his region – waltz, pasaje, joropo, música oriental – and was honored as the first cuatrista for the local Casa de Cultura.
Then he became an apprentice with an authentic llanera harpist named Urbano Ruiz and soon had a repertoire of 40 songs.
He performed at the Parque Ferial in Punta de Mata in 1999 with Urbano and Renaldo Armas, Grammy winner and Venezuela’s best-known champion of llanera music. Armas introduced Bellorín to a crowd of over 8,000 as “el maestro Larry Bellorín”. And he was respected as such from then on, his biography says.
He and his wife opened Casa Vieja, a school dedicated to teaching musica llanera, but running a music school became impossible when Venezuela began to crumble in 2012. he decided to travel to the United States in search of work and asylum for his family.
Bellorín now lives in Raleigh with his wife and two daughters, ages 9 and 1½. Her son, who is about to turn 17, still lives in Venezuela.
“He’ll go to work 12 hours a day, come home, shower and eat, then we’ll train again,” Troop said of Bellorín. “This guy is really putting a lot of effort into this project.”
Troop said Bellorín had a lot of difficulties in his life and had to leave Venezuela “because it was a dangerous place for him and his family”.
“He had to leave behind a 24-year musical career in Venezuela,” Troop said. “In North Carolina, he is very grateful to have found work, but he never imagined he would work in construction. He has to work for his family.
Troop said he was blown away the first time he heard Bellorín play.
“I’ve always loved Venezuelan music,” he said. “Joropo and musica llanera are the styles he plays.”
He said Larry was in high demand and would return to every residency gig at The Fruit.
“I would have other bands, but he would be a special guest – a special teacher,” Troop said.
He said Bellorín is brilliant at what he does.
“He got a standing ovation while playing the harp,” Troop said.
Bellorín then began teaching Troop.
“In December, I learned several songs and we were performing the ones from the show,” Troop said.
Bellorín, who is monolingual, expressed in his native language how grateful he is for folk traditions in the United States.
“First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for the folk traditions of this country, because very recently I learned that they exist and understood for the first time the real name of the genres of bluegrass and old-time music”, Bellorin said. as Troop translates. “It evoked feelings of happiness and satisfaction in me.”
Troop explained that Bellorín has been here for six years, but this is the first time he has had in-depth contact with the folk traditions of the United States.
Troop and Bellorín will hit the studio in a few weeks to record Larry & Joe’s debut album. It will be produced by legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter.
“There are all kinds of interesting fusions that we’re exploring,” Troop said. “Some of our music is respectfully rooted in our musical traditions – both Appalachian music and music from the southern United States and then music from Venezuela – but there are compositions that are beginning to merge those different things. .”
Bellorín said, translated by Troop: “Working with Joe is a unique experience, full of magic and musicality. The most important thing is that Joe’s music and Venezuelan music merge, but not by force. We can plan in the future to have our own unique style of music through which future generations can identify in this fusion of bluegrass and musica llanera.
Troop said he was grateful to have met Bellorín at a time when he was trying to figure out his next step in life.
“It’s interesting that after working with migrant asylum seekers for so long, I ended up forming a musical duo with one of them,” Troop said.
He said he believed in energy.
“If you put your energy into something, somehow as a result of this sacrifice and this journey, you are brought into communion with related people and entities,” Troop said. “It seems to be a continuation of the work I’ve been doing.”