There Is No Revolution Without Songs: La Nueva Canción Chilena

Emotion ran through the women at the edge of the grass, all dressed in colorful and unique clothing. A Mapuche woman gave a heartfelt thanks to Margot Loyola and her music for representing and speaking to the souls and culture of her people. FEMCINE’s concert “Gracias Margot” was a stunning tribute to Margot Loyola, a famous Chilean singer and a precursor of La Nueva Canción (The New Song) movement in Chile. It is still very much alive and influencing identities, cultures, and social aspects of various groups throughout Chile.

 Victor Jara Mural in Barrio Brasil
Victor Jara Mural in Barrio Brasil

La Nueva Canción (LNC) is a musical, revolutionary movement which originated in Chile in the 1950s. Since then, many Latin American countries adapted and transformed the style to suit their own specific social, cultural, and political experiences. It gained prevalence in the 50s and 60s as a cultural backlash towards the time period’s dictatorships. The lyrics convey a counterculture and an opposition to capitalism, consumerism and social injustice.

In the 1940s, Margot Loyola started a pattern of political messages and symbolic themes significant to LNC. In the beginnings of her career she represented diversity within the rural and remote outskirts of Chile. She included representations of indigenous music throughout Chile. She sought to redefine chilenidad (chilean identity) with different dialogues and empower marginalized sectors of the country.

Margot Loyola: Photo courtesy of Michelle Bachelet
Margot Loyola: Photo courtesy of Michelle Bachelet

Following suit came Violeta Parra who died before the height of LNC. Parra was a key figure and precursor to the movement's defining characteristics, such as pride in authentic Chilean identity, rejecting European styles and influences, focusing on political struggles, and utilizing traditional folkloric sound to express social and political strife in her country.

Increasingly dismal conditions in rural sectors forced more people into cities such as Santiago and Valparaíso. This created a space for marginalized populations and their unique musical roots to come together and create a new, collaborative sound. Icons of the movement migrated out of impoverished campos into Santiago such as Violeta Parra and Victor Jara (another famous Chilean LNC artist and political activist assassinated after the golpe de Estado).

Cities molded different styles of popular music with traditional and folklore music, such as current artists Inti-Illimani and Quilapayún. Common instruments used in songs throughout the movement include the quena and charango. Both are traditional folkloric Andean instruments. Charangos are small 10-stringed guitars typically made of wood and quenas are flute-like instruments with notched ends.

Photo by James N. Wallace
Photo by James N. Wallace

After a dark period of political and social turmoil during the 50s and 60s that prompted a period of revolution, rebellion, and upheaval among the younger generation, Allende took power in 1970 with a historical victory. The movement grew increasingly strong with poetical protests and lyrical rejection of intense political oppression and social marginalization, and continued to gain prevalence throughout Allende's presidency. “No Hay Revolución Sin Canciones” (There Is No Revolution Without Songs) ran across the banner above him, referring to the movement’s empowering influence over political and social activism. Songs had become an outlet of support including “Canto al Programa” by Luis Rojas, Sergio Ortega, and Luis Advis, “Unidad Popular” by Angel Parra, and “Venceremos”, a song for the Unidad Popular by Sergio Ortega and Claudio Iturra.

Venceremos (We Shall Triumph) became a beacon of hope throughout the Unidad Popular campaign: "Desde el hondo crisol de la patria/se levanta el clamor popular,/ya se anuncia la nueva alborada,/todo Chile comienza a cantar"(Deep from the homeland's melting pot/the popular clamor rises,/the new dawn is announced/all of Chile begins to sing".

September 11, 1973, the military junta came in with a new mission of eliminating Marxism and instilling a military dictatorship which restructured governmental and political institutions, censored media, eliminated unions, and banned all types of gathering or “protest” including artists of and creation of political music. Quenas and charangos were prohibited and musicians were arrested, exiled, and even killed.

Inti Illimani: Photo by Razi Sol
Inti Illimani: Photo by Razi Sol

In 1975 a music group, “Andean Baroque”, sidestepped the prohibition by beginning to play in the protective realm of the church, starting opportunities for rebirth of traditional folklore and LNC. This lead to an “Andean Boom” of 1975-1976. Reappearance of the genre was coined Canto Nuevo to represent LNC and change in Chile’s political state. Artists proceeded to reinstate and defend concepts of LNC through authenticity and opposition to the military dictatorship and cultural imperialism and it was revived and flourishes in the cultural scene today.

Iconic Chilean figures such as Violeta Parra, Victor Jara, Margot Loyola, Luis Advis, Patricio Manns, and Sergio Ortega remain legacies throughout Latin America and the world. La Nueva Canción has left a profound impact on social and political identities across Latin America which transcends the musical realm. It continues to thrive throughout Chile, tributes to LNC artists and contemporary LNC artists perform all throughout Santiago.

A couple of upcoming shows in Santiago:

Inti-Illimani: a tribute to Patricio Manns and music of Andean communities. May 15. El Nescafé de las Artes.
http://www.ticketek.cl/tktfunciones.aspx?evento=INTI%20ILLIMANI%20HISTOR...

Silvio Rodríguez (Cuban LNC artist). May 20, 22, and 23. Movistar Arena.
http://www.lanacion.cl/noticias/site/artic/20150313/pags/20150313103129....

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