Chileans to know: Los Jaivas

If there's anything more Chilean than pisco, empanadas, carabineros and the use of the word "po," the band Los Jaivas take the torta de manjar. Formed in 1963 and continuing to create musical mixes of progressive rock and traditional Chilean folk, Los Jaivas are embedded in Chilean musical culture along with the names of Violeta Parra, Victor Jara, Quilapayún, and more modern artists like Ana Tijoux.

Photo courtesy Los Jaivas
Photo courtesy Los Jaivas

Originally coming together under the name "The High & Bass," brothers Eduardo, Claudio and Gabriel Parra (no relation to the Parras Violeta and Nicanor), along with friends Eduardo "Gato" Alquinta and Mario Mutis began their musical journey with bossa nova and chá chá chá, before adopting the name Los Jaivas in 1969 and swiftly falling under the influence of blues rock like Jimmy Hendrix and the Nueva Canción folk-rock movement in Latin America.

Continuing the job started by Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, the group worked to recover the roots of Chilean folklore while presenting it to a younger, rock-and-roll-loving audience. The result was a mix of rock and folkloric Andean music exemplified in their self-titled album, Los Jaivas, and the song "Pregón Para Iluminarse."

Unlike the lyrical-leftism found in songs such as Victor Jara's Plegaria a un labrador, Los Jaivas has maintained a distance from the political nature of many of the major artists in the Nueva Canción movement. While the band was exiled by the Pinochet regime in 1973, the band was spared a far worse fate- Jara was detained, tortured and killed in the immediate aftermath of the coup.

Photo courtesy Los Javias
Photo courtesy Los Javias

In a recent 2011 statement made by the band in La Nación after receiving criticism for playing at a dinner for United States President Barack Obama, the band reiterated their non-political stance:

"Our language has always been musical and it's in our work where our thoughts and our worldview are clearly reflected, which is nothing more than solidarity, humanism, peace, brotherhood, tolerance, love for nature, respect to our original people and the unity of being human in every part of the planet."

The band's return to Latin America in 1981, in conjunction with their album Alturas de Machu Picchu, generated a tremendous following throughout South America. The album, musicalized poems by Pablo Neruda, created a Chilean cultural explosion that would cement the band's legacy and set a definitive milestone in the history of Chilean music.

The combination of two distinct musical movements— traditional Andean folklore and progressive rock — culminated at the top of Machu Picchu where the band played the entire album from the Incan ruins for a television special that accompanied the record.

Tragically, in January 2003, founding member and lead vocalist Eduardo "Gato" Alquinta died suddenly of a heart attack while vacationing in a seaside town near Coquimbo. The death shocked the Chilean public which manifested its strong affinity and affection towards the band by attending his funeral in Santiago by the hundreds of thousands.

Photo courtesy Los Javias
Photo courtesy Los Javias

This was the second sudden death to hit the group, after another founding member, Gabriel Parra, died in a car accident in Lima, Peru, in April 1988. His daughter, Juanita, took his place.

Finding a singer and musician to replace Alquinta has not been an easy task for the group. At first, three of his children stepped in: Ankatu, playing guitar; Eloy, on sax and wind instruments; and Aurora, on voice.

Aurora left the band a short period afterwards and in 2004, a year after his father's death, Eloy also died suddenly of a heart attack. Ankatu left the band in 2013.

Following Ankatu's departure in 2013, Alan Reale was invited to become a permanent member of Los Jaivas with the mission of interpreting Alquinta's guitar solos and essence. Carlos Cabezas, who plays the charango and wind instruments and Mario Mutis, basist and founding member, share the lead vocals.

Although the band hasn't released an album in years, they play live concerts on a regular basis around the country. The best way to find out about their upcoming shows is to keep an eye on their Facebook page or just keep your ears open- if they're playing around town, you'll probably hear about it.

Photo courtesy Los Jaivas
Photo courtesy Los Jaivas

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