The Chilean Music Struggle

An Introductory Lesson by Rock Engine Angelo Pierattini

With strained, intense eyes, shaking knees and fidgeting feet, 31-year-old Angelo Pierattini is perched in front of the computer screen.  Skeletons dance on his walls and crosses melt in wooden frames as the maestro grinds through songs for his new album.  He broods, like a musical chimera, over each tweak of every track, with Kerouac, Burroughs and Nietszche huddling on the shelves next to The White Stripes, Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

“People ask me:
‘What do you do?’
‘I’m a musician.’
‘Yeah, but what’s your job?’
‘The fucking music is a job man.’”

Class is in session.

Currently a member of three local bands – Weichafe, Jaco Sanchez and Angelo Pierattini – our instructor plays the guitar like it is the only thing he has ever known how to do.  When he is plugged in on stage, the amplifiers emit a gravelly, pulpy, blues rock that has been dragged through the Mapocho River and beaten dry with wobbly metal slates.  His solos are like shots of whiskey: flammable and unavoidably enticing.  They hit you hard in the mouth and leave you drooling for more.

When he goes acoustic he explores a modern Chilean folk genre that is deep, delayed and drawn out.  The flashing strobe of previous performances is killed and the spotlight is pointed directly on Pierattini, with dramatic emphasis on the vocals and lyrics spouting from the gargoyle’s mouth.

Angelo has been working on his solo album, which will be released in September through Oveja Negra Records, for a year.  He has written, produced and assembled every part of the record and the strains of his efforts show when he explains how much more difficult it is to create a solo disc than one with a band.

“With Weichafe (his longest running and most popular band) it is easy to record an album because we are all together, going in the same direction,” Pierattini says.  “But the musicians that play parts on the solo disc are usually in other bands and have their own schedules and priorities.  I have to coordinate it all.”

In addition to his solo project, Angelo is currently working on discs for two other bands, and playing live gigs for all three of the groups.   “I don’t sleep much,” he says.  “I have little time with my girlfriend and no other hobbies. That’s why I have time (for all of the musical projects), because that’s all I do.”

Weichafe, a three-piece-band with five records in 10 years, plays a sophisticated death-metal that is well known among Chileans.  Jaco Sanchez, his other band, pounds out a stripped esoteric rock that centers around Pierattini’s guitar skills.  On his solo project, Angelo Pierattini explores both acoustic and electric avenues, with sprawling songs that dip into seemingly every musical fantasy strumming around in his head.  Sometimes he sounds like the White Stripes, other times he resonates a Scottish-Chilean version of the Foo Fighters with oriental overtones.  You never know what to expect from the next track.

Not surprisingly, music has always been Angelo’s main function.  He has never had to make a choice between working a “real job” and being a musician.  When he was 13 he injured his foot and had to stay in bed while it healed.  He picked up the guitar for the first time while recuperating and has only been a musician ever since.

Unfortunately, Angelo’s passion for music is not echoed loudly by his countrymen.

“They don’t have much respect for music or culture.  Art is often viewed as communist,” Pierattini said.  He believes that Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship had a dramatic effect on Chilean music.  “There was great music being made in Chile by artists like Victor Jara.  But when Pinochet came to power, they destroyed almost all of it, sending the Chilean music and art scene underground.  Foreign groups were popularized in efforts to boost the economy, which created the image that everything outside of Chile is good and everything from Chile is bad."

“In the 80’s a new-wave music culture emerged, but it was still mainly comprised of foreign artists.  Since Chile’s economy was still struggling, none of the popular foreign bands came to Chile because there was no money to be made.  People got into the habit of not going to concerts or local shows.”

Angelo says the lack of respect for Chilean music can be heard on the radio stations that rarely play Chilean artists, but are filled with moneymaking gringo bands like Metallica and System of a Down.

This kind of musical anti-patriotism is unique to Chile in comparison to its Latin American brethren.  “In Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Brazil – they have a great history of music and culture and they respect their artists, while in Chile, there is still very little respect,” Pierattini said.

But, things are changing.

“We’re forming groups from our own country and producing new Chilean music.  We’re not dead.  More people are coming to shows and it’s spreading.”

His advice to young musicians is to be persistent: “Don’t make hits just for the moment.  Make music that will last.”

“I want to continue playing music and to never be content with where I am,” Pierattini concludes.  “I always want to have the drive to create something new.”

The screeching engine of Chilean rock rubs his eyes with the palms of his hands, coming up for air from the fight for the music his country is missing, or has forgotten, or needs to get back to.  As he smiles a warm, contrasting smile, you can see the struggle veiling his poignant, ebbing eyes, and you can only hope that there are many more Angelo Pierattini’s out there.

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