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Victor Jara presente – across the world

Songs of hope of the 1970s are anthems for today's young protesters



Immediately following the military coup in Chile on September 11 1973, the Pinochet dictatorship set about destroying as much as they could lay their hands on of the hugely popular wave of commited art and culture which had supported and given a voice to Popular Unity, its supporters and to millions of ordinary Chileans.

That is why the generals ordered books to be burned in massive bonfires in the streets of Santiago; they blanked out beautiful wall paintings; they took over radio and TV stations and banned much of the most popular music and song.

They may have murdered, and certainly hastened the death of Chile’s most famous writer, the Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda. And they arrested, tortured and brutally murdered the singer, song-writer and theatre director Victor Jara.

Throughout the dictatorship people risked their lives to play and sing Jara’s songs and these spread around the world as Chilean exiles played them at solidarity meetings and marches. Even then, they reached into the homes of some of the poorest and most oppressed, thousands of miles from Santiago. I remember in 1983, at the height of death-squad terror in El Salvador, going to the house of a young catholic couple in a poor neighbourhood of San Salvador. They brought me coffee and said, “Stay a minute. We’ve got something we think you will enjoy,” and they played a recording of a Victor Jara song.

The right to live in peace

Of all Victor Jara’s songs, two have become anthems of the ongoing protests in Chile: El Derecho de Vivir en Paz (The right to live in peace) and Manifiesto. El Derecho was played at one of the early mass protests in October 2019, in front of the National Library in Santiago:

Another version:

In early November 2019, Chilean musicians around the world used the internet to play a multi-instrument, multi-city arrangement of the song, in solidarity with the protests against inequality and austerity breaking out across the lenght of Chile:

A recording of Victor Jara singing the original song, composed in 1971 at the height of the Vietnam War

The words of the song are:

El derecho de vivir en paz! (Letra/Lyrics)

El derecho de vivir
poeta Ho Chi Minh,
que golpea de Vietnam
a toda la humanidad.
Ningun cañon borrara
el surco de tu arrozal.
El derecho de vivir en paz.
Indochina es el lugar
mas alla del ancho mar,
donde revientan la flor
con genocidio y napalm;
la luna es una explosion
que funde todo el clamor.
El derecho de vivir en paz.
Tio Ho, nuestra cancion
es fuego de puro amor,
es palomo palomar
olivo de olivar
es el canto universal
cadena que hara triunfar,
el derecho de vivir en paz.

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On Isla de Pascua (Easter Island) another version was recorded in December 2019:

Meanwhile, across the Andes, Argentine-Mapuche singler Beatriz Pichi Malén recorded her own version, in solidarity with the protesters in Chile against the Piñera government:


And, more recently, another Argentine-Chilean collaboration produced an internet-concerted version of a different Victor Jara song, Manifiesto:

Manifiesto (Letra/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 ha sido valiente
siempre será canción nueva.

There is nothing nostalgic about Chile’s protests and there are plenty of new songs and raps to back the protests such as this one ‘Uno a Uno se hacen miles’ recorded by a group called Fletcher in Valparaiso:

As the Victor Jara Foundation says in its New Year message for 2020: ‘Here we are, in a situation which is painful, full of uncertainties but also charged with hope. As Victor said, “This is the beginning of a story… we don’t yet know the ending”.
‘This popular rebellion, at the cost of much suffering, the loss of lives, thousands injured and tortured, has laid the basis for the birth of a new Chile. The coming year promises to be hard and difficult… but it is so inspiring to see how, in the popular protests, the streets are filled with life. In these spaces of freedom, with our spirits ‘full of banners’, Victor Jara has been in the hearts of the people, with his songs, his image painted on banners, posters and walls, conveying a powerful message of rebellion and of hope.’