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Nano Stern sings Víctor Jara at the Jazz Café 

Marking 50 years since the start of Chile's dictatorship, Jara's life is celebrated in London



This year marks 50 years since the civic military dictatorship in Chile which brutally put an end to Víctor Jara’s voice and Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular government. The horrific facts of Jara’s death are well known but tonight we are not here to speak about this, Nano Stern tells us. We are here to celebrate Jara’s life and I can’t think of anyone better to do this with than Nano Stern. Stern is a Chilean singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist channeling many musical traditions such as folk, rock, trova, and jazz. He has been touring Europe and is in London for the first time in a decade at the intimate Jazz Café ‘haciendo memoria’ –making memory– and it seems that most of the Chilean community in London are here for this gig, as are many others who have been touched by Víctor Jara’s music in the half-century since his death. 

Nano Stern has proved himself to be the heir to the Nueva canción (New Chilean Song) tradition instigated by another of Chile’s canonical musicians, Violeta Parra, and taken on by Jara and other groups such as Quilapayún and Inti-illimani in the era of Salvador Allende’s socialist government (1970-1973). The artists, poets, and musicians who formed the sonic landscape of the period were forced to flee Chile following the coup whilst the country was radically transformed into a repressive state where neoliberal policies forced thousands into poverty and individuals were tortured and killed in clandestine detention centres. Many might wonder whether any energy, creativity and hope were left after 18 years of brutal dictatorship but Nano Stern is here to affirm it. 

Nano Stern plays at London’s Jazz Café. Sebastian Bustamante

A generation of young Chileans took to the streets in 2019 during the popular uprising known asel estallido social(social uprising) demanding an end to the Augusto Pinochet and Jaime Guzmán constitution. Stern was one of those using his voice to denounce the state’s repression and wrote ‘Regalé mis ojos’ (I Gave My Eyes) dedicated to Gustavo Gatica, a protester who lost his sight after being shot by the Chilean police. The proposal by the first constituent assembly that drafted a constitution for the country was decisively rejected following an all-out campaign by the political right using the same fake news cycle that came to characterize Brexit in the UK and Trumpism in the US during a referendum to accept this document. Chile’s future in the 50 years since the coup hangs in the balance with its new constitution still an open question. 

Nano Stern starts his concert with two of his own songs including ‘Necisito una canción’ from his 2007 album Voy y Vuelvo, before starting to explore some of Jara’s back catalogue where it all began with Jara’s first song ‘Paloma quiero contarte’ (I Want to Tell you Something, Dove), a song written for Joan Turner, the woman that Jara would go on to marry. This encounter forever connected Chile and the UK as Joan was originally from London and was exiled with hers and Víctor’s children after his assassination. It is thanks to Joan Jara and her children that Víctor’s legacy lives on. 

Master tapes of Jara’s final songs left Chile with the help of a Swedish television station and new masters were made in Abbey Road Studios at the same time that the Chilean military were confiscating and destroying copies of his music, including many original master tapes. Nano Stern has just returned from a concert in Liverpool and tells his audience that of all the songs in the world there are songs like ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Yesterday’ and in between is where the interesting things happen, thus paying homage to the fab four alongside Víctor Jara, who is another stalwart of the counterculture generation and whose political commitment matched his brilliance as a songwriter. 

Nano Stern plays London’s Jazz Café. Sebastian Bustamante

The virtuosity of Stern’s guitar does these songs the justice they deserve. The Chileans in the crowd, many of whom Stern claims are made up of doctoral students studying in the UK (which I am inclined to believe) know these songs by heart as do they Stern’s compositions, showing the legacy of Jara’s song in the collective consciousness of Chile, as well as the way that Stern has become, to some extent, the voice of a new generation of Chileans who have been stuck with large-scale inequalities and huge student debt following the Chicago School economic experiment which privatized nearly everything in Chile. Stern published his décimas poems of the recent estallido and songs responding to the repression of protesters, many of whom suffered ocular injuries at the hands of the carabineros (Chile’s police). 

He continues his set with a peppering of his songs and some more of Jara’s such as El Arado, inspired by a social realism of workers’ conditions in Chile. After an intermission, Stern treats his audience to the tender lyrics of songs such as ‘Luchín’ and the song that Jara is best known for, ‘Te recuerdo Amanda’ (I Remember You, Amanda) which Stern declares is definitively the best love song ever written in Chile and perhaps the world. Much of London’s Jazz Cafe sings along to this one. 

We are then told more about Jara’s biography including his work in theatre and his decision to choose song over theatre in order to reach more people with his message. Stern then plays ‘La partida’, an instrumental song composed on the Andean instrument the charango which he has transposed for guitar. Here Stern’s virtuosity on guitar excels and he creates a rich sound which fills the Jazz Café with just his acoustic guitar. 

Nano Stern plays London’s Jazz Café. Sebastian Bustamante

The night proves itself to be a perfect encapsulation of the Chile that lives on from Jara’s generation to the new generation of Chileans and which still hopes to have some protagonism in the country’s future. Like in the United Kingdom, the Chilean right wing feels itself the natural holders of power and will do anything to maintain this power, including promoting hate and committing human rights abuses. 

Stern insists that politics and song are inseparable, even at one point suggesting that Britain’s Ed Sheeran could and should do more with his huge platform. He commends his songwriting but expresses his disappointment with a lack of engagement with the politics that surrounds us all in a period where so many are struggling globally and the climate crisis threatens all life on this planet. 

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The young Chilean troubadour jokes throughout his performance but also shows his commitment and conviction by channeling Jara’s legacy and singing these songs with an urgency and need for future generations to learn from Jara. I was left wondering whether Britain has its own voice like Stern’s with such an astute recognition of the problems facing us all. I am not sure there is. Stern name-checks the Scottish septuagenarian Dick Gaughan as one of his favourites, whose powerful folk songs spoke of workers and the landscape. There are artists today such as Chris Wood but they don’t have the reach that Stern has in Chile where he is adored by the youth and the generation who lived the Allende years and exile alike. Perhaps Kae Tempest comes close to speaking to a social consciousness here in Britain. Let’s hope we see more of Stern and that artists in the UK take the challenge to speak up against the injustices so many face here. Gracias, Nano. 

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‘Nueva Canción: The Lost Recordings’ podcast from audio producer and LAB Trustee, Louise Morris.

The story of a lost record collection, a legacy of protest music in a time of oppression and a family bound together through crackling vinyl and tape.

Santiago Rising documentary by Nick MacWilliam.

This Alborada documentary by Nick MacWilliam offers a fresh perspective on Chile’s recent social insurrection. Read the review by Carole Concha Bell and watch her interview with the director.


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