CULTURE

Javiera Mena to Compose the Soundtrack of the Santiago Commute

SANTIAGO – The winners of the short story competition Santiago en 100 Palabras will soon be announced. This year the best stories will be converted to songs by the composer and electropop artist Javiera Mena. It will be the soundtrack of Santiago’s commuters.

Metro Santiago is reopening stations but commuting in the capital, at least in the short term, will be different after months of confinement and pandemic. Nevertheless, the short story compilation Santiago en 100 Palabras (“Santiago in 100 words”) will still be there, as it always has been for the past two decades. 

As books are fairly expensive in Chile this initiative to everyday reading is brilliant. The hundred-word-stories also form a storytelling about a city with millions of voices, this year accompanied by music. 

The organizers behind the annual short story competition announced that the coming edition will be extended with musical interpretations by Javiera Mena. The result will be a soundtrack of commuting Santiago.  This is an exciting but logical development of the festival which since 2001 has invited everyone who feels a connection to the capital to contribute a short story of up to 100 words. 

Music and literature hand in hand 

The choice of Mena is a confirmation that pop music and literature go hand in hand. Mena has been mentioned in literary contexts before. In the chronicle Piensa en Mí Como Soy (“Think about me like I am”) her music is the soundtrack of the life of the author, Álvaro Bisama. 

Bisama was touched and impressed by Mena’s lyrics that affected him like “reading someone’s diary, and all of a sudden appears a mirror or an enigma.” He was also fascinated by the music that “exists between the past and the future. Some songs are classic pop and others are already two years ahead of us.” He compared Mena’s development with Jorge Gonzalez’s and Los Prisioneros’ musical journey from guitar-based pop and rock to electronic music on Corazones

When the chronicle was released the world didn’t know a lot about Mena. She was an alternative composer of electronic pop music, respected inside a quite small but dedicated audience. One of the first international artists that found her music was the Norwegian Erlend Oye, former part of Kings of Convenience, who made a cover of Esquemas juveniles from her debut album with the same title. 

Composer and role model

After the Latin Grammy-nominated album Otra Era and being contracted by Sony Music the situation has changed. Mena released the album Espejo which also received great reviews abroad. Then she played at the Coachella festival and her music was spread all over the Americas and parts of Europe. In recent years, Mena has also been more explicit about her support for the LGBT community, for example in her cover of Mecano´s Mujer contra Mujer (“Woman against Woman”).

Nevertheless, being a female composer is somewhat struggling against the current. “I have never had the perfect voice. It’s soft and feminine. I’ve been criticized for my way of singing, but that’s something you have to overcome,” Mena explained last year at a SCD forum about female musicians. 

Still there are people who think that women primarily are singers, not composers. Today Mena is a respected composer and role model for a new generation of artists, and her melodies will certainly add a new dimension to the Santiago en 100 palabras short stories. 

Esquemas Juveniles was Mena´s debut in 2006. It’s a classic electropop album with songs like the title track, Al Siguiente Nivel, Sol de Invierno (duet with Gepe) and a cover of the mexican evergreen Yo No Te Pido la Luna. 

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