CULTURE Social Crisis

Chilean Folk Music Comes Back To Life During Crisis

SANTIAGO – Music has been a powerful force in Chile’s recent protests and push for change. Chilean icons like Violeta Parra, Víctor Jara, and others were broadcast in the streets during marches, projected onto buildings after curfew, or their songs were simply sung by the people—a great many or even just one, an ambient echo above the crowd. The work of these artists call to mind Chile’s history and social struggles decades old, unify its people, and fuel the hope for a better future.

After more than two weeks of protests that started with localized, grumbling complaints about metro fare hikes and ultimately blossomed into countrywide demands for a systemic overhaul of Chile’s socio-economic and socio-political systems, it is evident that music is among the tonics that has strengthened the growth and spread of the recent social movement.

The music not only brings messages of resistance, but also hope for change, as it awakes the historic memory of a nation under long-lasting injustice and social inequalities, unhealed scars from the dictatorship era.

Since the protests really got underway on Oct. 18, Chilean music has played a special role in giving strength and dignity to Chileans. Songs from artists like Los Prisioneros, Víctor Jara, Illapu, Ana Tijoux, and Portavoz, have achieved higher rankings on Spotify and many have been played or covered several times on the streets of Chile during protests.

The Protesting Artists

The most iconic of all is singer/songwriter Víctor Jara’s “El derecho de vivir en paz” (“The right to live in peace”), a song dedicated to the Vietnam conflict and the search for peace and dignity, composed in 1971.  

Jara was a very political artist, who was killed in the first days that dictator Augusto Pinochet took power. Jara’s death was felt at a national level. 

The melody of the song, today taken as a symbol of civil resilience and strength, has been interpreted all over Chile and the rest of the world, from home-recorded voices and single instruments, to record studios and astounding public orchestras. On Oct. 27, 30 Chilean artists came together, adapted the lyrics and covered the song—a piece made to encourage those who fight for peace, and repudiate government acts of violence against the civil society.

In a more rebellious line, Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux released on Oct. 20 her one-minute piece, “Cacerolazo,” a song about this form of protest in which people bang pots and pans with spoons. During the Chilean social movement, cacerolazos became a signature form of massive protest, and Tijoux raps about them in defiance of police and military violence—“[w]ooden spoons against your shooting,” as the lyrics sing. Recently, Tijoux released the full three-minute version of the song, in which she calls the authorities “murderers.”

Mon Laferte, currently the most popular Chilean singer-songwriter on Spotify, stood by the Chilean people during the protests, reportedly protesting from Mexico. 

Laferte, known by her folkloric sound, published on Oct. 24 a cover of Violeta Parra’s song “La Carta.” 

Chilean singer Violeta Parra is recognized as one of Latin America’s main folklore artists up to this date. Her song “La Carta” talks about finding out about the detention of her brother and the police violence against him during a strike, lamenting his luck, and criticizing the system that overlooks the most vulnerable. 

In Laferte’s cover of the song, Laferte added her own lyrics: “The war is not of the people, please,” she ends, in a direct message to President Piñera and his now [in]famous declarations about war in the country.

History Repeats Itself in Chile

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