Resounding cheers vibrated from Santiago's Estadio Victor Jara last Saturday night as admirers, friends, and family celebrated what would have been famed Chilean folk singer Victor Jara’s 76th birthday.
As a tribute to the life of the Chilean folk singer, theater director, teacher and political activist, the Victor Jara Foundation invited over one hundred Chilean musicians, actors and dancers to perform, reviving the revolutionary and social memory of his song.
“I guess it just goes to show the truth of the saying that you can kill the singer, but not the song. Victor and his songs are there in the history of Chile, so in rediscovering him, Chileans are recovering their own past,” said Joan Jara, Victor’s widow.
In the eerie, worn down Victor Jara stadium, the powerful folk music of Victor Jara bellowed of love, peace and social justice, vibrating the walls of the former military detention center where Jara was assassinated just days following the September 11, 1973 military coup.
Hundreds of Chileans both young and old huddled together on wooden benches, chanting, "Revolution, we want a revolution!" The face of Victor Jara waved on flags, disappearing and reappearing through the heavy fog of cigarette smoke. Two screens on either side of the stage played old black-and-white footage of Victor Jara in concert.
The acts, heavily influenced by Victor Jara's music, performed one song or dance each, which allowed for much diversity yet lack of fluidity. The Spiral Dance Company performed the cueca, Chile’s national dance. Mauricio Redoles combined vibrant funk and rock as a tribute to Victor. Singer Chinoy blended his uniquely high voice with mellow folk roots sounds. Francesca Ancarola, one of Chile’s most well-known female artists, merged Latino folk with the colors and structures of jazz.
Arica-born Chilean folk musician Manuel García captivated the audience with his acoustic guitar, powerful vocals and songs of social justice. Noticeable influences in his folk music are Bob Dylan, Silvio Rodriguez and Victor Jara.
Contrasting Manuel García’s solemn tone, a rowdy surprise came onstage in the form of Chilean comedy actor Daniel Alcaíno, dressed in a leopard skin suit, playing the character of Yerko Puchento, an eccentric Chilean TV presenter. His ten-minute standup involved political satire with visual aids of the Chilean politicians he was mocking, sending the audience into tears of laughter.
The Urban Singers Syndicate of Chile (SICUCH) performed a cover of one of Victor Jara’s most famous songs, "El Derecho de Viver en Paz" (The Right to Live in Peace). Everyone in the stadium stood swaying their hands in the air, and joined in singing with some 20 singers onstage. At the same time, footage criticizing the State's treatment of Chile's indigenous Mapuche community was shown on the screens.
The following act came from Chilean social and political hip-hop group Legua York, who created a fantastic visual and audible spectacle to capture the crowd. Chilean youth began swinging gigantic red flags with the crowd clapping in unison to the three-member group's lyrics. Mixing rap beats with samba Latino melodies, Legua York evoked Victor's social importance and delivered a clear-cut crowd-pleasing performance.
Finally the crowd was crazed by Chilean gypsy band La Mano Ajena, who performed a synergy of frantic ska beats, rock, punk and folk, fusioned with eastern European rhythms and Russian, French and Venezuelan eurhythmics--creating anarchy not only on stage but in the audience as well.
Throughout this cultural and musical evening, the stage backdrop was cleverly manipulated by artists painting it under the direction of Chilean artist Mano González, who is renowned for his street art and murials. In the beginning the backdrop was only a blank canvas. By the end of the evening, it had turned into a beautiful, regal-sized painting with a giant hand freeing a dove and faces of Mapuche full of electrifying color--a bold symbol of peace.