Art as Resistance: Victor Jara and the Nueva Cancion Movement by Raul Alonzo

As for now, this is the broadcast network of the Armed Forces – Santiago, September 11th, 1973. Considering, first: the terrible economic, social and moral crisis destroying the country; secondly the government’s failure to adopt measures to prevent the growth of chaos; the Armed Forces and Police declare that the President must immediately transfer his powers to the Armed Forces and Police of Chile.

Signed,

Augusto Pinochet Ugarte

Commander-in-Chief of the Army

On the day the Armed Forces of Chile staged a violent coup to overthrow the democratically elected president Salvador Allende, radio broadcasts across the country fell silent. Those taken over by the military were left on either a loop of martial music, military orders or broadcasts declaring the aims of the coup. By the end of the day, Allende would be dead and power would be concentrated in a military dictatorship composed of the heads of the Police, Navy and Air Force with General Augusto Pinochet, Commander of the Army, overseeing the operations.

As tanks and soldiers patrolled the streets and a curfew was imposed, folk singer Victor Jara tried to raise the hopes of those around him.

A teacher at the Technical University in the capitol, Jara sang to ease the minds of the students and faculty who had seen the tanks surrounding the campus and could hear the machine gun fire that pierced through the night.

He would sing the songs they had known when the music of Nueva Cancion (New Song) could be heard on the radios of Santiago.

Nueva Cancion

Nueva Cancion is a genre of music that emerged from Chile in the 1960s, drawing largely from the traditional music of the Andes as well as other Latin American song forms and styles, such as cueca. One of the defining characteristics of the movement were the socially-conscious lyrics, influenced greatly by working class issues, human rights, imperialism and poverty.

Many Nueva Cancion musicians, including Jara, who was a member of the Communist Party, would lend their voices to the presidential campaign of Salvador Allende – a Marxist and candidate of the Unidad Popular coalition of leftist parties. Along with Inti-Illimani, Jara composed “Venceremos,” the official song of the Allende campaign. The movement would also birth the song “El Pueblo Unido, Jamas Sera Vencido!,” a song that is still utilized by social movements internationally. It was this sort of commitment to social change that led American musicians, such as Phil Ochs, to regard artists such as Jara as “the real deal.”

Indeed, the American protest song movement had at that point become widely commercialized and stripped of its radical edge. As Jara said of the American scene:

“US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe. With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music’; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear. Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people.”

For Jara, with musical roots percolating through an indigenous foundation, Nueva Cancion provided an alternative to the commercialized “protest music” of the United States.

“The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused. I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song.'”

Apagon Cultural

“The military junta assumes the task of reconstructing the country morally, institutionally and materially. The supreme task exists of changing the mentality of Chileans.”

Allende would go on to win the 1970 presidential election, a victory that he hoped to use to alleviate the vast poverty of the country, as well as take steps to nationalize industries so that resources could be used to enrich Chile, rather than foreign business interests.

The election, however, would arouse the concern of one of the more hegemonic business interests: the United States.

As President Nixon vowed to “make the [Chilean] economy scream,” right wing military forces in Chile were in the process of determining how to undermine the new administration. While the U.S. has not been found to be directly involved in the coup, the support for the forces behind it and the subsequent engineering of the neoliberal economic model the military junta imposed hardly absolves the country. As Henry Kissinger noted after Allende’s election:

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Marxist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

As the junta consolidated its power, members of the opposition faced violent repression. Lists of suspected dissidents or subversives were summoned for trial over the military radio as death squads, such as the Caravan of Death, scoured the country – rounding up and executing suspects. In total, 3,197 citizens were murdered or “disappeared” in this period with thousands more subjected to torture, forced exile, or arbitrary incarceration. All institutions, including the universities and Congress, were taken over or suspended by the regime. Political repression was rampant and there was a genuine fear in receiving a knock at the door in the late hours of the night.

Chilean essayist and critic, Soledad Bianchi, has referred to the period of military rule under Pinochet as one of apagon cultural or cultural blackout. As in other Latin American countries that fell to dictatorships during this period, popular musicians faced persecution.

Nueva Cancion groups that were touring abroad at the time of the coup, such as Inti-Illimani and Quilapayun, were forced to remain in exile. The government referred to Andean music as “subversive” and banned traditional instruments such as the quena and charango. Nueva Cancion albums were burned along with the films and literature deemed to be a threat to the power of the new regime.

In the later years of the dictatorship, Nueva Cancion would take on a more diminished form, now known as Canto Nuevo, with socially-conscious lyrics referenced only through metaphor and performances generally taking place in the underground cafe’s of the opposition.

Estadio Chile

Fear, sensation, bombardment and powerlessness. The walls of the Technical University crumbled beneath the big guns of the military’s tanks. Soldiers entered the buildings, whipping up a herd of terrified faces before them with their rifle butts and forcing them to lie on the pavement – hands on their heads.

After an hour on the ground, the soldiers marched them to the Estadio Chile, a stadium that was serving as a massive holding area for political prisoners. The stadium had also been a venue for Nueva Cancion artists, including Jara, just months ago. It was here that Jara was recognized by one of the non-commissioned officers. The officer knocked him to the ground, proceeding to violently kick him in the stomach and ribs.

He was cordoned off to a part of the stadium reserved for high profile prisoners. Enduring further beatings at the hands of soldiers and officers over the next few days, Jara finally had an opportunity to record what he had seen when a friend was able to give him some paper and a pencil. With this he would pen his final poem, unnamed but commonly referred to “Estadio Chile.”

There are five thousand of us here

in this small part of the city.

We are five thousand.

I wonder how many we are in all

in the cities and in the whole country?

As the soldiers came for Jara, he slipped the poem to a friend who hid it in his sock. The hands of Victor Jara were smashed – his bones, broken on the soldier’s rifles, never to strum the hopeful songs that were being purged from the people’s poet. Soldiers who mocked and jeered him to play threw his guitar to him. In stark defiance, Jara began to sing a few lines from “Venceremos”:

We shall prevail, we shall prevail…

It would not be until the morning of Sunday, September the 16th, that the body of Victor Jara was found among six others – lying in an orderly row in the neighborhood of one of the working class districts. His face was beaten and bloodied beyond recognition, and a violent barrage of 44 bullets riddled his corpse, like craters.

The legacy of Victor Jara is not so much simply the tragic contrast of his message of peace and humanity with the brutal way he was murdered. His music may have died with him if it had not been for his wife, Joan, who smuggled the recordings out of the country. The stadium he was murdered in has been renamed the Estadio Victor Jara, and towards the end of last year eight retired army officers were charged with his murder.  Pedro Barrientos, one of the officers responsible for Jara’s death, lives in Florida currently evading trial.

Jara’s story also stands as an example of the role culture and the arts can play in revolutionary movements – and the threat they present to authoritarian regimes, so much so as to provoke severe repression when power is consolidated.

As with all musicians of the past who could be called truly revolutionary, Jara lives on in his music. The tender, sometimes haunting, sincerity Jara sang with was fueled by his love for people and his confidence in the future of humanity.

In many ways, his vision never died. Today, Chile has not only seen the resurgence of a popular student movement challenging neoliberalism, but South America as a whole has seen a region-wide shift to reclaim the legacies established before the dark years of colonialism, imperialism and military dictatorship gripped the land.

“I may die as one, but I will come back in millions.”

The determination of the peoples of Latin America to forge their own future is the foundation on which the words of Victor Jara will continue to be sung –  whistling on the winds blowing down from the Andes, carrying with them the spirits of the past and the visions of the future.

Strike #6 IS NOW AVAILABLE!

 Just a reminder for folks wanting to receive a copy of Strike #6 by mail: Please be sure we have your address. Each copy comes with a Strike Magazine button. PM us or send us an email to StrikeMagazineEditors@yahoo.com

Strike SixFeatures in this issue:

Steal Away: An Interview with Craig Ross, Creator of the Comic Book “Steal Away: The Visions of Nat Turner”

Blast Furnace: The Origins and Ideas of Third Cinema

Poetas De La Frontera: A Conversation with Rio Grande Valley Poets, Isaac Chavarria and Chrisopher Carmona

Sounds of Strike: What We’re Listening To

And a selection of international poetry!

Dear Mr. President

By Casey Rocheteau

for Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi

Sure, nobody’s perfect.
You inherited the cross from
the last guy who dipped it
in lead.

Nobody’s perfect, but nearly none of us
will wield your arsenal, and no one
but you makes the promises you will break.

Spit the name Guantanamo out
as if it were a loose tooth and
then tell me you were a good man once.

Your ambition belies bloodsport, big man.
You talk a good game, Overt Ops.

My street runneth over with a thousand
ornery beasts, necks angled to the dry earth.
You send them to greet anyone
who might know a word of conversation
about laying siege to the fortress.

You send them daily, firing reckless
upon children while you sit in your study,
mourning the dull glint of your peace prize.

You were not their first
master, just the first most like us
before you shovelled the money
back into the country clubs
before you alley-ooped the
Patriot Act, Air President.

Take your transparency charade
to the weeping sisters, and prove
to them your earnesty without making
a speech, without telling them, Look

You are still so far from being like us,
because you haven’t changed your mind
about who we are to you.
We, the united target demographic,
were persuaded in a process of dissolving.
You were not the slogan, nor the idol.
But we did not forget
that hope was the password,
what we want does not evaporate
so we became rain upon your parks.

Now I know not to speak for those
Who chant the name of a murderer
despite their innocence. Trust that
You and I are different because

I know
There will be another flood.
Always has been.

Casey Rocheteau began performing poetry at Hampshire College in 2003. She performs throughout the country, at venues such as the Green Mill, The Cantab Lounge, and Portland Poetry Slam. She has lead a variety of writing and performance workshops for adults and students from middle school to college age. She’s released two albums on the Whitehaus Family Record: Pump Your Concrete in 2008 and Chiaroscuro in 2011. Her most recent book, Knocked Up On Yes was released on Sargent Press in 2012. Recently her work has appeared in Amethyst Arsenic and Side B Magazine. Casey was a member of the 2012 Providence Slam Team.

The Fix: Strike Magazine’s Weekly Round Up 10/31/13

Al JolsonFollow the links to see for yourself!

 

Beatriz: I got a kick out of this, the first audio digital recording synced with a movie. It was a Warner Bros experiment that spearheaded the new, expensive movement and bumped silent movie stars into depression and drug dependencies. Its amusing to imagine people’s reaction to the deceiving introduction to the movie, setting it up as just another silent film. This movie faces controversy to this day because the main character performs in blackface regularly throughout. One of the original posters featured him wearing the blackface, even. Along with The Birth of a Nation, two of the US’ biggest contributions to the art of cinema also serve as treatments to its incredibly racist past.

SituationistsRaul:  I’ve only a vague conception of who the Situationists were and what they were about, so when libcom.org posted this anthology the other day for folks to download I immediately went for it. I’ve only made a little headway so far but already some of the ideas I’ve read range from the utterly, and effectively, subversive to almost tongue-in-cheek in their blunt surmises of how to overturn prevailing notions of culture and the status quo. With a legacy that influenced punk music, culture jamming and the May 1968 student movement in France that almost resulted in a full scale revolution, I can say that I think I will enjoy tackling this tome. Give it a download and join me.

Night-of-the-Living-DeadMike:  Ever wonder how socialists view the horror film genre? I couldn’t sum it up any better than this from www.socialistworker.org “As it so happens, there are plenty of horror movies that eschew the sexist and racist detritus that has given the genre much of its bad reputation. In fact, there are even a small number of these films that prominently feature an anti-capitalist monologue or build upon an unmistakably subversive political subtext. The fact that the decapitated head rolls left on occasion should be enough to allow socialists to bury our guilt about indulging the desire to scare ourselves silly this Halloween season–but to leave it at that would be to forget our Trotsky.”

 

alternative-movie-postersBetty:  Check out this collection of recreated movie art posters. Love the fact that they aren’t just actor screen shots. The “art” in movie poster design today has lost the ability of painting what the feeling of the film should deliver to its audience. This has triggered American writer Matthew Chojnacki to bring back the idea of how the film art posters before use to look like – breathing with pure art and creative concept.

Dia de los Muertos (or How I Learned About Life, Death and The Spanish Invasion by Building An Altar)

Graphic 2Words and Photos by Stella Becerril

As with much of Mexico’s customs, holidays, and identity, El Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a mix of pre-colonial indigenous rituals and post-colonial Catholic rites. The latter bit however, was brutally imposed on the indigenous people of Mexico by the Spanish Crown and Catholic Church. Originally an indigenous pagan holiday, El Dia de Los Muertos was a celebration of the life and death of family and friends who had embarked on their journey from this life to the next. Unlike the colonizers who viewed death as the end of life and feared it, Mezo-Americans embraced and respected death and the duality of one’s existence. This celebration the Catholic Church found distasteful and savage and moved to eradicate it, no matter the cost. So relentless were the Crown and the Church that in the first 100 years of the Spanish invasion 96 percent of Mexico’s First Peoples were murdered, leaving the indigenous population at only 1 million by 1600 from 25 million in 1491. But even genocide wasn’t enough kill a tradition that went back 3,000 years. Realizing this, the Church decided to employ a different, less genocidal strategy and make the indigenous people’s celebration more Christian by moving it from August to November and condensing what was a month long celebration down to two days so that it would coincide with the Church’s established All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days.

Altar with offering for Bertin Ventura, October 28th, 2012 (photograph of Bertin with his sisters and his mom, circa 1979; post card of “lady death”)
Altar with offering for Bertin Ventura, October 28th, 2012
(photograph of Bertin with his sisters and his mom, circa 1979; post card of “lady death”)

 

 

Altar with offering for Bertin Ventura, October 28th, 2012 (perforated paper decorations, Mexican marigolds, Virgin Mary candle, Mexican beer Victoria, chicken in green sauce tamale, sweet bread for the dead, sugar skull, assortment of Mexican candy, hot cornmeal and chocolate breakfast beverage, photograph in clay frame.)
Altar with offering for Bertin Ventura, October 28th, 2012
(perforated paper decorations, Mexican marigolds, Virgin Mary candle, Mexican beer Victoria, chicken in green sauce tamale, sweet bread for the dead, sugar skull, assortment of Mexican candy, hot cornmeal and chocolate breakfast beverage, photograph in clay frame.)

Today, El Dia de Los Muertos is still wildly celebrated in the central and southern parts of Mexico and recognized as a national holiday in all 31 states of the Union. While details and rituals vary from state to state, it is customary to build altars in memory and celebration of the deceased, set up Hanal Pixan -Nahuatl for offerings of food for the souls- and visit their loved one’s grave sites to spend the day cleaning and decorating it and sharing anecdotes to remember shared times. However, because so much of our cultural and spiritual beliefs and behaviors are a complex marriage of two different approaches to life and death, the dualities and contradictions abound. While Dia de Los Muertos is largely regarded as a celebration, it is likewise a sad and mournful time for those left behind on earth. And even though Mexico’s First People’s put up tremendous fights for centuries following Cortez’s debut in the Americas, Catholicism was largely successful in it’s take-over of Mexico, and with that came fear, guilt, and regret.

Graphic 3
Altar with offering for Bertin Ventura, October 28th, 2012
(perforated paper decorations, Mexican marigolds.)

It seems nearly every aspect of our lives as Mexicans- or Mexican-American in my case- is a great balancing act fraught with contradictions and dualities. It’s simultaneously celebrating and fearing death; longing for eternal-life in heaven but never being quite ready to leave this place. For me it is abstaining from organized religion but never failing to drop-off red roses to La Virgencita de Güadalupe on her birthday the 12th of December; being relatively successful at living bi-culturally and yet waking up somedays with an unexplainable anxiety until I realize it’s that familiar feeling of not knowing where the f*ck I belong. It’s proudly announcing my departure from the Catholic church at seventeen and then running all over town trying to find cempasúchitl (Mexican marigolds) for my uncle’s altar. It’s being that nerdy Mexican girl who never quite fit in with the other Mexican kids on her block or with the white kids in her dorm. In a word, it’s limbo.

Altar with offering for Bertin Ventura, October 28th, 2012 (Mexican beer Victoria, chicken in green sauce tamale, sugar skull, hot chocolate cornmeal breakfast beverage, photograph in clay frame.)
Altar with offering for Bertin Ventura, October 28th, 2012
(Mexican beer Victoria, chicken in green sauce tamale, sugar skull, hot chocolate cornmeal breakfast beverage, photograph in clay frame.)

But it’s also having a wealth of culture and experiencing life in a unique (albeit sometimes rather confusing) way. Whatever it is, there’s a reason why it’s still such an important and relevant holiday and why despite growing up in Chicago and not Mexico, the ties that bind are still strong and ever presenta.

* * *

 

 

 

 

Crystal Stella Becerril is a Mexican-American community organizer, activist, and photographer currently living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Red Wedge Magazine and she has contributed written work to SocialistWorker.org. Stella studied photography at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and in 2007 her photography was part of a group exhibition at Caza Aztlan Community Center in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. She is currently a student at Harold Washington College where she is majoring in History and Philosophy, as well as a community organizer with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education and the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign. She is also a member of the International Socialist Organization.