The Return of the “Radionovelas,” A Bright Side of the Pandemic

Radionovelas BeLatina Latinx
Photo Courtesy via Press Kit

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the resurgence of one of the most important forms of entertainment in Latin America: radionovelas. In Colombia, this phenomenon had not been seen for more than three decades when, after a nationwide drought forced the Government to impose power cuts at night, families gathered between candle lights and the stories told by the broadcasters.

Fast forward thirty years, the pandemic has caused three essential shifts:  first, people are spending a lot more time at home. Second, many cultural and artistic activities became just impossible because of the virus. Lastly, in many places in Latin America, people are returning to remote areas either running away from the virus or just looking to be closer to their loved ones. 

Here is a selection of Radionovelas you can listen to in Colombia, Peru, and Argentina:

Colombia

Las bestias invisibles

Las bestias invisibles (The invisible beasts) tells the thriller story of a high school classroom in Colombia that seems to get trapped in a school shooting. The literature teacher performed by Juan Sebastián Aragón, whom some of you might remember as Armando Navarro, in Pasión de Gavilanes askes his students to hide in the closet and wait there until things calm down. 

As students wait for the danger to pass outside the closet, their own inner monsters begin to emerge, making the inside increasingly difficult. 

The story, written by Mauricio Arévalo, began as a theatre play premiered in 2018 and brought to cinema format shortly after. As the pandemic hindered the movie production project, Arévalo reframed it through the podcast and radionovela format. 

Still, he is not entirely comfortable using the word “radionovela,” he explained through a voice message when asked for this piece. The “radionovelas,” as our abuelas knew them, are audible versions of “telenovelas,” where melodrama is a quintessential characteristic. 

Only the first two chapters have been released and can be found in every podcast platform. 

Yo confieso

Yo confieso is the first radionovela made by a newspaper in Latin America. It was created by the culture section of El Espectador and released the 28th of March, just a few days after the Colombian quarantine began. 

Written by Fernando Araújo Vélez and interpreted by the newspaper’s journalists, it tells the story of Andrés Eugenio Santacruz, a priest that confesses how he fell for the temptations of sin. We later learn his body lay among those of the victims of la Toma del Palacio de Justicia

As it’s categorized in the Colombian history books, La Toma del Palacio de Justicia is one of the most painful chapters of our historical memory. On the 6th of November, 1985, the Palace of Justice in Bogotá was kidnaped by a group member of the M-19. 

The guerrilla made at least 350 people hostages between Justices, advisers, visitors, and employees. Twenty-seven hours later, 98 people had died either by shotguns or the fire that consumed the building. Eleven people left the Palace, removed by the Colombian Army, but were never seen again. To the date, 6 of them are still missing.

Peru

Sobreviviendo con esperanza

Sobreviviendo con esperanza is a radionovela winner of the Peruvian Ministry of Production prize and yet to be released.  It tells Gladys’s story, a young woman who had migrated from Puno to Lima, but due to the COVID–19 pandemic, she was forced to return.  

This radionovela is narrated in Quechua and Aimara, two Indigenous languages widely spoken in the continent. 

When the pandemic began, hundreds of people returned to their communities of origin, as Gladys in Sobreviviendo con esperanza. However, no one cared about how they adapted. In this story, Gladys will be depicted as she meets again with the people she had left behind. 

Argentina 

Amor de cuarentena

This is the radionovela with the most innovative format, one we have all experienced, one way or another. At any given moment in our lives, we have all either sent or received a WhatsApp message saying, “I miss you.”  However, using that to do art is an entirely different story. 

Amor de cuarentena (Quarantine Love) is a radionovela or radioteatro monologue in which an actor or actress will speak to your ear about your past love story. For two weeks, every day, you will receive voice messages, songs, and pictures with clues of a long-gone affair you will have to bring together in your mind. 

The casting includes some of the best Argentinian actors of the moment: Dolores Fonzi, Jorge Marrale, Cecilia Roth, Leonardo Sbaraglia, and Camila Sosa Villada, who is also famous for being the author of Las malas, a novel ranked as one of the best books written in Spanish in the last century 

As the audience of this unusual format, you will choose from whom you would like to receive the messages.

A part of the profits will go to La Casa del Teatro (a theatre in Buenos Aires) and the Trans-memory Argentinean Archive. And tickets can be bought here.