Gabriel San Roman Remembers Víctor Jara, the Man and the Movement
[Editor's Note: This week's edition of Locals Only is the preface of Venceremos: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement, a new booklet available from PM Press; pmpress.org. It is republished with the permission of the author and publisher, veteran Weekling Gabriel San Roman]
J2 Gabriel San Roman with Victor Jara painting
Víctor Jara's "Manifiesto," the definitive song of La Nueva Canción Chilena, served as background music during the episode of CNN's Cold War series titled "Backyard," in which his widow, Joan Jara, was interviewed about her folk singer husband's murder at the hands of General Augusto Pinochet's forces. As a youthful teenager learning about the world, this segment on Chile and U.S. intervention during the latter half of the 20th century piqued my already-budding interest in politics and history. The basic history of the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that toppled the democratically elected socialist presidency of Salvador Allende in Chile had already been known to me, but it was the series, oddly enough, that first introduced me to the music of Víctor Jara.
The sonorous melodies were as captivating as the lyrics were pensive. Who was this Chilean folk singer? What was it about his idealism, life and music that had him meet the tragic fate of a political martyr? As I sought out those answers as both a lover of good music and radical politics, I also eventually discovered Violeta Parra, Quilapayún, Inti-Illimani and all the superb musicians who formed the foundation of the historic cultural movement known as La Nueva Canción Chilena. Later, academic research and my life in journalism allowed me to delve deeper into this profound musical world.
This brief history of Chile's New Song movement examines its rise as a distinct cultural phenomenon that became a concurrent component of a political revolution, with a particular emphasis on the lyrical content, themes and musical forms of the era's songs as they morphed through their own particular history, as well as the politically tumultuous times in Chile that helped to shape them.