Victor Jara was known as the Bob Dylan of Chile... a rather unfair comparison as Jara's music was deeply rooted in the experience of Latin America. He sang about the poor, the indigenous, the toiling workers and their exploitation. His poetic songs and soaring melodies swept the nation of Chile back in the late 1960's. The style of music Jara created was known as "La Nueva Cancion" (The New Song). The music was based on indigenous rhythms and musical instruments and rejected the form and content of European pop music. Nueva Concion was a "music for the people" and it's lyrical content was based on social realities. Victor Jara was a supporter of the Popular Unity government of socialist President Salvador Allende. When the Fascists staged their bloody coup on September 11th 1973, they rounded up thousands (including Jara) and put them in the national stadium... which in the opening days of the coup served as a detention center.
Victor Jara was recognized amongst the detainees by some of the Fascist troops. He was beaten and kicked. His hands were broken with rifle butts. The Fascists mocked him by giving him a guitar and saying, "now play your songs." Jara was never seen alive again. His tormentors murdered him and left his broken body in a field... like so many others. The following story from Reuters picks up the story in the modern context. The people of Chile never forgot Victor Jara, and his music lives again in that country and throughout Latin America.(Photo-Victor Jara Foundation via Reuters)
Chile Pays Tribute to Slain Musician 30 Years Later
Mon Sep 8, 2003
SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - Though the music of Chile's Victor Jara for decades has been an international symbol of the repression suffered under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, and though Chile has been a democracy for 13 years, the government is only now paying homage to the man.
Three decades after the musician with a social conscience was tortured and murdered by Pinochet's military government, the covered concert stadium in downtown Santiago where he was slain will finally be named after Jara. Jara's widow Joan, an English-born dancer, welcomed the government's decision as a miracle. "We've been requesting that the stadium be named after Victor for years but we never received an answer either way. Now, miraculously, it's going to happen," said Joan Jara, who has lived in Chile for most of her life.
"Many people have never wanted to return to the stadium because they know people were tortured there, which is the case with a lot of places in Chile," Jara told Reuters in an interview.
Chile's left-leaning President Ricardo Lagos will officially rename the stadium on Sept. 12, a day after the 30th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende. According to an official report, Victor Jara was held, tortured and killed in the Estadio Chile along with other political prisoners rounded up right after the coup. Others were held in another notorious detention center, the open-air sports facility called the National Stadium.
The broken body of the guitarist was found a few days after the coup near a Santiago cemetery with 44 bullet wounds, signs of beating, fractures and injuries to his wrists. He was among some 3,000 people who died or disappeared during the dictatorship.
"I was happy with Victor that September, giving dance classes to young people. He would wait for me outside and we would go home together. This was what our life was like when the coup happened and split it in two," said Jara. Her husband was 40 when he died and a teacher at a state university that implemented the Allende government's education programs from the beginning of his term, which started in 1970. He was a well-known supporter of Allende's leftist coalition "Popular Unity" party and was part of the election campaign for Allende, who was killed by Fascist troops during the coup in 1973.
"When Victor died, we already knew it was dangerous to stay in Chile. I had visited the morgues and felt it was necessary to tell the rest of the world what was happening. I returned to my native London, which was followed by a long period of grief," said Jara.
During the first years after the coup, Joan and her two daughters, one of whom is also Victor's daughter, traveled to many countries giving talks about the human rights abuses going on in Chile and visited thousands of Chilean exiles in Europe and Latin America. "Those were terrible years when thinking of Victor gave me nightmares," Jara said, her blue eyes welling with tears. Victor Jara's dramatic ballads and social anthems "The Right to Live in Peace" and "I Remember you Amanda" are especially popular in Spain and elsewhere in Europe.
His final song, written while he was a prisoner in the Estadio Chile, describes his horror at witnessing the torture of prisoners, some of whom tried to commit suicide. "A death, a human being beaten like I never thought possible. Four wished to put an end to their fears, one leaping into the void another hitting his head against a wall ... There are at least 10,000 of us," goes Jara's poem that was copied on bits of paper, distributed among the prisoners and discovered several years later.
Jara's music was banned from stores in Chile and could only be obtained on the black market for most of the dictatorship, which ended after a national plebiscite in 1988.
This year some remasters of his work, included in compilations along with other music of the era, have become hot sellers as Chileans plunge themselves into painful soul searching ahead of the 30th anniversary of the coup. Joan Jara has also written a book published in several languages about the life of her husband entitled "Victor, an unfinished song."
"I tried to capture the symbolism of Victor for all victims ... If Victor was alive today, I think he would be out there in the streets protesting with the human rights groups and families of the disappeared of the dictatorship," she said.
A good webpage for information about Victor Jara can be found at: http://www.msu.edu/~chapmanb/jara/eindex.html