Sometimes day-to-day life for a foreigner in Santiago feels like walking around in a mink coat at a PETA rally. Hostile shouts, awkward stares, and the almost unshakable feeling that you’ve got a "ROB ME” sign taped to your back are all subtle reminders that you’re an outsider. Other times, they're not so subtle.
(itemId=6781 Photo by Christopher Valdes)
At Juana Fe concerts, for example, you often find yourself submerged in a rowdy pack of dancing Chileans, gasping for air as the country’s hottest band leads chants of “Gringos afuera! (Get out, gringos!)” You debate whether to run or hide from the teeming horde, but for some reason you do neither.
Instead, you find yourself jumping, smiling and singing with the rest of the sweaty mob members. The guitars, drums, keyboard and vocals make you want to turn up the volume and listen all night long, while the affable, gritty street-born sounds and bright, hilarious stage antics pacify your panic--and make you feel oddly at home.
"What the people are looking for now is a party. So they call us."
“We’re not attacking you,” bassist Jaime Concha, usually seen shirtless on stage with a wide brimmed hat and bright zooba pants, said with a comforting smile. “Yes, the message is a bit strong, but it’s still music for people to enjoy.”
And enjoy they do. Though several songs are laced with stringent political themes against the involvement of transnational “gringo” corporations in Chile and Latin America, the danceable, aggressive carnival remains a fun, addictive and charming portrait of Chilean culture.
(itemId=7081 Photo courtesy Christopher Valdes)
“The music reaches more people that way,” Juan Ayala, the nimble, loud and animated lead singer, said. “The only way to start a social change is to capture everyone, from children to grandparents, and the only music that allows that to happen is carnival music.”
The eight musicians from the barrios of Chile reflect that feel-good sensation offstage as well. They constantly laugh, smile, goof around, smoke herb, break into song at the drop of a hat and emit a vivid, Chilean buena onda that makes you forget about trivial things like social, cultural and economic barriers.
Because the band’s distinctive Chilean party sound is so addictive, there's a huge demand for Juana Fe concerts these days that often has the band playing multiple shows a night. “What the people are looking for now is a party. So they call us,” Concha said.
Despite the phenomenal success of “Callejero” (a single from Afrorumba Chilenera that you can’t go a full day without hearing somewhere in Santiago) and star-studded, big-time performances at events like Chile's Teleton fundraiser and the Viña del Mar Festival, they haven’t forgotten their roots.
“We started out uniting the barrio, in the pueblo,” Ayala said. “We try very hard to stay in contact, but also understand the moment that we are in. The people that have been with us from the beginning know what we are going through – maybe even more than we do.”
(itemId=7080 Photo courtesy Christopher Valdes)
The band passed a huge milestone in November 2008 as it finished its first European tour with stops in Spain, Belgium and Sweden, a stellar boost for the emerging Chilean art scene. Next up for Juana Fe is a third album to be released in 2009.
“On our new disc, more than singing to our enemies, we are singing to our friends,” Ayala says. The yet-to-be-named album follows the 2007 award-winning Afrorumba Chilenera and the 2004 debut album Con los Pies en el Barrio (With Feet in the Neighborhood), and, according to Ayala, will speak on "how the whole world has the same spirit."
So if you find yourself being tossed around at a crazy Chilean concert, where words blast from the amplifiers instructing you to get out, fear not. Let the surging musical wave break down the barriers.
“We want the gringos to share a concert with us,” Ayala said after a performance at Santiago’s Día de la Música. “Enjoy our music and pass it on to the people. Buena onda, weon!”
Smile, dance, and soak up the sweet carnival, because you’ve got a friend in Juana Fe. And these days, there’s not a better Chilean band to have on your side.