The sun was blazing, the sky was clear and the people were loud, hot and ready to party. Men, women and children packed Santiago's Quinta Normal Park on Saturday, November 22 to celebrate Chile’s Día de la Música (Day of Music), marking the climactic end to a four-day citywide celebration of Chilean music.
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Though the day started at 11 a.m., attendees piled into the park well before the first act to get in position for the 22-band extravaganza. From the stage on the soccer field, amplifiers blasted songs across grass lawns, over lakes, down dirt paths and into every corner of the sprawling park. A boisterous, quickly growing crowd of Chileans (and a few gringos) grooved to the first half of performances by musicians Mito y Fusión Rapa Nui, Manuel Sánchez, Los Trukeros, Jiminelson, Matahari, Perrosky, Daniel Drexler, Joe Vasconcellos, Manuel Garcia, Mauricio Redoles and Quique Neira.
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The crowds danced, drank, smoked and sang to the diverse songs of Chile's musical reawakening, as Salvador Allende flags waved and chants of "Victor Jara presente¨errupted throughout the park.
Shoes went flying and bodies were tossed around as Weichafe, one of Chile’s most popular metal bands, pounded out a crowd-stirring, hard-hitting performance.
I asked a particularly enthusiastic girl in the front row--whose upper torso and extremities were hanging over the front railing, pressed by the hordes of people behind her--what she thought of the show.
“Yo soy Weichafe, concha tu madre! La raja hoy dia! (I am Weichafe, motherf****r! Today is the s**t!)” she screamed with skin burned, hair soaked and sweat (or tear?) streaks lining her face. She was 17 years old.
Water hoses were unleashed throughout the day, letting hordes of attendees rush for relief from the scorching heat. But Juana Fe, arguably the hottest band in Chile and fresh off its first-ever European tour, kept the crowd cool while heating up the stage.
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As a blatantly gringo gringo, I got a few unsettling looks as the band led some very “anti-gringo” chants during the performance. I’ll admit, it’s strange dancing and singing to music with lyrics commanding me to leave, but I remembered what Juanito (the lead singer of Juana Fe) told me a few minutes before he went on stage:
“We want you to understand that we are not referring to the people,” he said. “We are referring to the corporations. We do not have any problems with the people. We want the gringos to share a concert with us and enjoy our music and pass it on to the people. Buena onda, weon!”
Denisse Malebran followed Juana Fe, Tronic and Sinergia, kicking off a brief set of bands that let the crowd catch its breath. (Well, almost.) Malebran, a beautiful performer and one of the salient leaders of the Chilean music movement, sang powerful songs about the injustices faced by women and the Chilean people with an acoustic guitar, a sparkling smile and a butterfly (tattooed) on her shoulder.
Despite this emanating sensation of brotherhood and good-will towards all, it wasn’t so cheery for everyone. Sergio Lagos--the Ryan Seacrest of Chile--played with his rock band to the chagrin of the majority of attendees. The crowd launched water bottles and beer cans, littering the stage and splashing the equipment. Middle fingers were thrown in the air along with whistles and shouts to get off the stage.
At the end of his performance, Lagos thanked the crowd, pounded his chest and yelled, “You never hit me!”
Normally, I would have run for the hills after witnessing that kind of prodding in such a setting. Fortunately the barricades were sufficiently fortified, and the boisterous mob let the remark slide.
“I’m not afraid of them,” Lagos told the press after his performance. “This is my language, this is what I have to say, and if they don’t like it, it’s ok. But I’m not going to be quiet and I’m not going to apologize to anybody.”
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Javiera Mena, Teleradio Donoso and Chico Trujillo then took the stage and picked up the slack that Lagos left behind; soon everyone was back in good spirits, dancing and smiling. La Mano Ajena and El Cruce followed suit, closing out the concert with performances that served as the proverbial cherry on top of an unforgettable day.
The sun was setting as I sifted through the debris of beer cans and passed-out people on my exit. My ears buzzed, my eyes watered and as I looked around, I realized the music of Chile had blurred the line between foreigner and local more than ever. The strange looks, startling whistles and awkward feelings of exposure that gringos usually experience among large, loud, drunk groups of Chileans were dampened and replaced by wide smiles, firm handshakes and warm hugs.
“In Chile, the music industry is rising,” singer Denisse Malebran commented after her performance, saying that days like this were important for helping the country's musical culture grow.
“Every day there is more diversity, more creativity and more support for music, and especially live music. I think people can see what kind of force we have here in Chile."