Victor Jara was not, unlike thousands of other Chileans, one of General Pinochet’s ‘disappeared’. Indeed, Jara’s body — once the dictator’s secret police had finished with him — actually turned up, dumped outside Santiago’s Metropolitan Cemetery. He had been killed a few days after the assassination of President Allende by the Pinochet-led junta; Jara’s ‘crime’ had been one of visibility.
The son of peasants from southern Chile, Jara was a multi-talented man who had worked in theatre before fully turning his attentions to songwriting. Taking as his theme an earthy socialism, his career strove to put music at the heart of political change. ‘My guitar is a worker/Singing and smelling of spring,’ he sings in ‘Manifiesto’, written and recorded in 1973, the year of his death. ‘It is not for killers.’
Compiled from several recording sessions held between 1968 and 1973, *Manifiesto* is a re-release of an album originally brought out in 1974. Its timing could not have been more felicitous: released to coincide with a concert to raise funds for the Jara Foundation in Chile, the record hit the racks just weeks before Pinochet himself was arrested in Britain.
Jara’s songs have aged well. With minimal ornamentation (some percussion here, some panpipes there), his voice conceals in its light tenor a conviction and humanity that is undiminished through time or language. While his songs are very much of their time and place, they are unlike much politically orientated music in their vivacity and emotion. Jara may place an overt faith and optimism in the people, but there is nothing formulaic or hectoring here. Rather, there is an intimacy that characterizes songs for both individuals and crowd. Their potency can be summed up in the fact that, until recently, it was forbidden to mention Jara’s name in Chile. That’s some legacy.
This article is from
the April 1999 issue
of New Internationalist.
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