An empty hall. A row of plastic chairs. A man and his band playing to a room full of absence, singing their songs of the south to people who were not there to hear them; the preoccupied people who that night, foolishly, were elsewhere.
Camilo Eque. Remember his name. For this will be the last time he plays to an empty venue.
Camilo Eque onstage at the Galpon Victor Jara (photo by Evan Lang)
It was in the living room of a small apartment building in Ñuñoa when I encountered this singer for the first time. One early autumn evening, a gently-inebriated crowd positioned themselves cross-legged on the floor, sipping budget wine and glancing towards an ensemble of musical equipment leaning expectantly in the place where a sofa used to live.
As the musicians took their places, very little attention was paid to the small bearded man sitting on a wooden box tuning his guitar. He was quite short and had dark hair. Pretty standard. Certainly not spectacular.
Until he strummed his first chord, took a deep breath, and began to sing.
The room promptly melted away. From this small apartment we traveled, myself and my fellow floor dwellers; supported by the rich vibrations of a double bass, the trill of the flute and a tribal beat, borne away upon the haunting melodies of a time long since forgotten, off we went.
This is the sound of which memories are made.
Camilo Eque the story-teller (photo by Evan Lang)
"Hang on a minute," You may well say.
"What a load of balls." You might add.
"Carried away by the music? I thought this was an article for Revolver magazine. It appears I have stumbled upon an excerpt from one of Hans Christian Andersons rather wankier fairy-tales. What next? The Dalai Lama feeding candy floss to Princess Di?"
Fair point. For it is rarely advisable to avoid blowing a musician's trumpet for them, proverbial or otherwise. In this instance, however, I ask you just this. Come back to me once you have seen him play.
Hailing from Valdivia, land of rain and rivers, Camilo is a folk musician who first started composing when he was just eleven years old. Although a soloist by blood, when he is here in the central metropolitana he is often to be found in the company of Barrio Sur, a collection of musicians from Santiago, all of whom also happen be capable of throwing out a pretty hefty ditty themselves.
Camilo Eque (photo by Evan Lang)
Even at the youthful age of twenty, it is evident that performing is part of Eque's nature, commanding the rare ability to hold an audience within the palm of his hand. "I really like intimate venues, concerts in a home or in small theaters," he tells me. "In such moments there is a dialogue with the people and I can see into each one of their faces."
For someone who seems to be by nature a fairly gentle and shy character - the sort of person you could imagine crying with rejoice at the sight of a newborn lamb - his confidence and conviction can sometimes be surprising. The lyrics to his songs, when not extolling the virtues of harvest time, are more than subtly engaged with the politics of change and resistance.
"There is a waking up, an anger, an evidence of realisation," he says when I ask him about the evolving political scene in this country. "Whatever it is will eventually be converted into a movement. The music is the mouth of what is happening." Chile is a good place to be an artist precisely because conditions are not ideal for cultivating creativity, he adds. "This makes it a challenge, making the platforms, ideas and goals that are born extremely potent."
Having arrived in Santiago a little over a year ago, he claims the city has captured him. Nevertheless, a brief perusal of his musical repertoire confirms how crucial his southern identity is to the singer, continuing to shape the musical tone and poetry of his work. Not only has he already cultivated a significant fan base down there, this a guy who seems to need a healthy quota of fresh air frolicking to maintain his aura of day-dreaming calm. It is also the place he keeps his other larger eight-piece band, La Bandada. You know, just for emergencies.
Now, if your preferred genre is heavy metal or grinding cumbia, such acoustic excitations may not immediately tickle your fancy. Go to the concert nonetheless. Be there if only to say that you were there when it all began, to be able to saw that you saw him before the rest of the world woke up to the talent that is Camilo Eque.
Camilo Eque's excellent debut album, Construcción, is available to download for free from his official website.