An artist, not silenced.

It was with a bitter-sweet emotion that I saw the news that nine ex-soldiers in Chile, the killers of Victor Jara, at last were sentenced.

Victor Jara, with his gentle folk guitar music with those clear Latin rhythms, still remains one of the most popular musician artists in the Latin Americas to today.  It was in 1973 that he was rounded up with thousands of other political prisoners in the Santiago stadium in Chile, interrogated, tortured, machine gunned to death, hands cut off and thrown out into the street to complete the disrespect, during a coup that overthrew the Popular Unity President of Chile, Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.  It is generally accepted that the Coup in Chile was a CIA-backed coup and General Augusto Pinochet was installed as the subsequent brutal dictator.

Now, almost 45 years later, a Chilean judge has convicted nine former soldiers for the murder of Victor Jara.

I’ve known Victor Jara’s gentle folk music for many years and frequently find myself to this day humming Victor Jara songs.

Years ago, holidaying at a beach in a LatAm country, we were accompanied by a family member, at that time an octogenarian, and we all knew that it would be the last family vacation – a time to build beautiful memories while starting the process of parting from our family member.  He of course was a hard conservative but we loved him anyway.  Having a meal at a beach restaurant one balmy tropical evening, a group of strolling musicians came closer, playing some beats popular in the dance halls and clubs, but too loud, too fast and too alive for our older family member.  I asked the musicians for something gentle, for a serenade.  They smiled (evil grins were more like it) and played and sang a beautiful and haunting rendition of Manifiesto.   The restaurant fell into silence with the non-Spanish vacationers not knowing why silence descended, but each one of the Latin American visitors and staff, became very quiet and paid respects.  At the end of the song, a few quiet “Viva Victor!” and “Siempre” (always) was heard.

I never explained to our older conservative family member which exact song he was serenaded with, on that special and last evening on the beach.  I did not let him know that he was serenaded with the most meaningful protest song of the Latin American world, a song that sparked a movement while expressing the deepest of resistance against the human brutalities of the ages – without saying it, and one can sing it to a baby as a lullaby.   The story goes about that CIA coup in Chile that the coup would be complete and immediately successful once Victor Jara is killed.  That is why they threw him out dead in the street – as a symbol of coup success.  But 45 years later, there is not one person in Latin America that does not know Victor Jara – and there is not one musician in Latin American that cannot play Victor Jara.

Yes, it is bitter-sweet.  Incarceration of others is not a thing of joy, but to see Victor Jara avenged after so many years, does carry some sense of sweetness in my inner worlds

I think of that night on a beach, when this one song charmed an old man, and brought a restaurant to a silence that spoke louder than speech in the hearts and minds of those present.  This artist was not silenced.

Spanish Lyrics

Yo no canto por cantar
ni por tener buena voz,
canto porque la guitarra
tiene sentido y razón.
Tiene corazón de tierra
y alas de palomita.
Es como el agua bendita,
santigua glorias y penas.
Aquí se encajó mi canto
como dijera Violeta;
guitarra trabajadora
con olor a primavera,
Que no es guitarra de ricos,
ni cosa que se parezca,
mi canto es de los andamios
para alcanzar las estrellas.

Que el canto tiene sentido
cuando palpita en las venas
del que morirá cantando
las verdades verdaderas.
No las lisonjas fugaces
ni las famas extranjeras,
sino el canto de una lonja
hasta el fondo de la tierra.
Ahí donde llega todo
y donde todo comienza,
canto que a sido valiente
siempre será canción nueva.

English lyrics

I don’t sing for love of singing
or to show off my voice
but for the statements
made by my honest guitar
for its heart is of the earth
and like the dove it goes flying….
endlessly as holy water
blessing the brave and the dying
so my song has found a purpose
as Violet Parra would say.

Yes, my guitar is a worker
shining and smelling of spring
my guitar is not for killers
greedy for money and power
but for the people who labour
so that the future may flower.
For a song takes on a meaning
when its own heart beat is strong
sung by a man who will die singing
truthfully singing his song.

I don’t care for adulation
or so that strangers may weep.
I sing for a far strip of country
narrow but endlessly deep.

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  1. wilnav96

    Thank you for the history of your family that you shared. Thank you so much for An artist, not silenced, Victor Jara.

    The date of the coup of President of Chile, Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, is haunting (I understood he was assassinated). While I didn’t at the time really understand the nature of the coup and of Dr. Allende, I was traumatized by it similar as when JFK was assassinated.

    The date 9/11/1973 especially 9/11 seems to echo into our current time. A time of another coup when the USA lost its’ way and its’ Bill of Rights.

    I appreciate your sharing this and the links.

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