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When Wuilly Arteaga was younger, he used to frequent his local internet cafe to learn how to play music. The cafe owner made a deal with him; he’d give Arteaga some cash if he helped around the business. Arteaga then used that money to purchase a cheap violin, and the cafe owner helped pay half. His parents, however, forbade him from playing the violin and impressed upon him the importance of religion. At age 15, Arteaga decided to leave home and practice his music on the streets. “From then on, my music school has always been outside,” he said.
Arteaga continued to perform through the toughest times in Venezuela. In 2017, he armed himself with just his instruments and his nation’s colors and played on the front lines of anti-government protests. The national guard shot him with rubber bullets, threw tear gas at him, and destroyed his violin. Arteaga was forced into a military prison and tortured, with only the hope of playing once again to keep him going. Once he got out, he left the country for New York City.
Moving to Manhattan was intimidating at first. Arteaga was “scared of being insignificant in a city of so much talent and so many cultures,” but he became comfortable thanks to the subway, other musicians, and having his violin by his side. One of his favorite places to perform in the city is Times Square. “There, it’s as if I’m playing Madison Square Garden. People scream and applaud and dance like they’re at a concert. They make me feel like a star,” he explained.
The energy and joy from his performances as an NYC busker were immortalized in 2018 by a social media influencer who goes by the name Junebug. As Arteaga performed a hip-hop song in Time Square, Junebug and others joined in the fun with practically every dance possible—from fast-paced footwork to the Carlton. The video was tweeted with the caption, “When New Yorkers hear a violin,” and it received over 320K likes and 120K retweets.
Now, the video is recirculating on Reddit with high praise—and some raised eyebrows. The video’s serendipity seems clearly staged; the group of passersby act as though they just discovered Arteaga on the street, even though they walked into the frame a couple of seconds after the video started. Reddit users quickly pointed this out, and some are even questioning if Arteaga is playing the violin.
While there were some who doubted, others have come to Arteaga’s defense, crediting him as the violinist in the video and saying, “I don't know if he's faking here but he sure knows how to play.” One person responded to the criticism by expressing, “It’s ok to just have fun and enjoy something once in a while.”
Whether Arteaga is playing in the video or not, his talent is indisputable. Others have captured his prowess with the stringed instrument, like this video of his rendition of Dua Lipa’s “New Rules.” The infectious energy from Arteaga being able to “play in freedom” is undeniable as well. Because of his work in both Venezuela and the U.S., Arteaga has gone on to speak at events like the Foundation for Economic Education’s FEEcon and Human Rights Foundation’s Oslo Freedom Forum.
“Just as the streets of Venezuela were my music school, the streets of New York have been my freedom school,” he shared. “Here, day by day, I am learning its true meaning.”
Self-taught violinist and Venezuelan Wuilly Arteaga has been playing on the streets since he was 15 and peacefully played on the front lines of the 2017 Venezuelan anti-government protests.
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Arteaga went to prison for playing at the protests. Once out, he moved to NYC and quickly became a popular violin busker at tourist spots like Times Square. In 2018, social media influencer Junebug posted a video immortalizing the energy and happiness that comes from Arteaga's music.
When New Yorkers hear a violin 🤣🔥🎻 pic.twitter.com/HEjW3D3pge
— Junebug (@juneelite) August 4, 2018
Years after it went viral on Twitter, the video has resurfaced on Reddit with a lot of praise.
His talent is undeniable.
“Just as the streets of Venezuela were my music school, the streets of New York have been my freedom school. Here, day by day, I am learning its true meaning,” he says.
h/t: [Washington Post]