From Pandemic to Protests: Culture in Concepción Is Down

CONCEPCIÓN – The pandemic has hit musicians hard in Concepción. Nevertheless, they are used to facing challenges in a place where earthquakes and rainy weather are central inspirations. Mauricio Melo hopes that the Apruebo for a new constitution will lead to a new cultural uprising.

Apruebo can change everything. People have the right to culture and with a new constitution this can be real. Culture and music are part of a decent life, but also lifesavers when the situation is difficult. To accomplish the process we just have started, we’ll need more culture and music,” says Mauricio Melo, producer, TV/radio host, and guitarist from legendary penquista bands like Emociones Clandestinas and Santos Dumont

Melo grew up in Concepción, and in the ’80s his band Emociones Clandestinas became a central part of the Chilean new wave movement together with groups like Los Prisioneros, Electrodomesticos and Aparato Raro. Eight years ago, he returned to his native city after 15 in Mexico City and Santiago. 

As in other places, the pandemic has hit the local music scene hard. “I am lucky to have been able to go online with my music show, Hotel Overlook – desde la mansarda del Gnomo. I could also continue my job as a music teacher with virtual bands workshops for teenagers,” he explained to Chile Today.

Rain And Earthquakes Lead To Creativity

Concepción, or Conce, is an important coastal industry and university town in the Biobío region. It’s not the first time the penquistas (citizens in Conce) have suffered disaster. Somehow, this has led to something quite genuine. “In Conce, we’ve had a lot of earthquakes, and actually these crises have led to an explosion of creativity. After an earthquake, Chileans wake up and start to do extraordinary things,” Melo said. “It also rains a lot here, and when it rains you must stay at home. And there is not much else to do [except] play music.”

Bad weather is definitely a source of inspiration to pop music. Indie pop capitals like Manchester, Seattle, Liverpool, and Glasgow are famous for their cloudy and grey skies. The rainy sky of Concepción is well-documented in songs like Ayer by Santos Dumont with the strophe “por fin ha vuelto a llover” (at last it’s started to rain) and Llueve sobre la ciudad (It rains in the city) by Los Bunkers

“A lot of factors, like the climate, make us different,” agreed singer Charly Benavente, about being a musician in Concepción. “Some even say that Conce was the cradle of Chilean rock, but actually it all started in Valparaiso,” Melo added. And he should know.  

British Influence

British migrants came to Conce between the world wars to work in the industry and the education system. The British had an influence on life in the city and the architecture. “In some parts of town, it seems like you are in Manchester. And in the glass factory where my mother worked the executives listened to names like Gibson and Watson Smith,” Melo said. 

During the ’80s, Chile was almost disconnected from the outside world. Nevertheless, this confinement didn’t stop the interchange of music. Cassettes were sent from the UK to Concepción with the latest punk and new wave music, like The Smiths, The Clash, and The Cure

Wednesday Shows Continue Online

These days we are hit by a global pandemic, which has led to a new confinement. Even so, it’s possible that something good will come of it.  “We had to close our Wednesday show La Hora del Gnomo at Casa de Salud,” Melo explained. 

The music club Casa de Salud, is a hub of cultural life in Concepción, together with the record label La Sangre and its owner Germán Estrada. The Wednesday shows had been going on for years without interruption and about 1,000 local and national bands had entered the stage.

The idea is simple, an interview mixed up with acoustic online tributes to different penquista classics. This week’s guest was the singer and composer Cecilia Gutierrez. The concept Hotel Overlook is inspired from the horror movie The Shining (El Resplandor in Spanish).

Melo: “Only one Wednesday, at the beginning of the social protests last year, we had to cancel due to curfew. Instead, we decided to go online in pandemic mode and started to broadcast Hotel Overlook from a mansard house with a view over the Pacific Ocean. We invited artists to take a guitar and improvise together with us.” 

The Soundtrack to Chile’s Social Protests

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