Nuestra Tierra: A Revolutionary Song

Crowd by Travis Ott Conn

My guitar is not for the rich no,

nothing like that.

My song is of the ladder

we are building to reach the stars.

For a song has meaning

when it beats in the veins

of a man who will die singing,

truthfully singing his song.

– excerpt from “Manifesto” a song Victor Jara would write shortly before his death, never to be recorded[1]

Vientos Del Pueblo. Winds of the village, is the literal translation, but it should be seen more as the assertion of the people, the direction of the people, a declaration by the stifled. Victor Jara was murdered in 1973 by a military-led coup d’état that overthrew the world’s first democratically elected Socialist president, Salvador Allende[2]. The military coalition assumed power and eventually appointed power to General Augusto Pinochet, a dictator who proceeded to exert control until 1990. On September 12th 1973 Jara, along with other “extremists” were captured and imprisoned when the military attacked the Technical University where Jara worked[3]. According to the 2004 Valech Report, the Pinochet government killed or disappeared about 3000 people, and tortured and imprisoned another 28,000[4].

As legend has it, Jara was taken to the Estadio Nacional (now Estadio Victor Jara) along with a few thousand other prisoners. Guards smashed his hands[5], and mockingly requested songs for him to play. When Jara defiantly began to sing a song in support of Allende’s Popular Unity party, the guards beat him until he could sing no more. A game of Russian roulette began as Victor stood in front of 15 prisoners with a loaded gun to his head[6]. Military leader, “El Loco,” antagonized Jara, tormenting him as the revolver clicked and clicked until at last the hammer and bullet connected.  Later, guards fired 44 rounds into Jara’s body[7].

Like many other Latin Americans who had only just obtained independence, the exploitation of the masses and resources by foreigners became a determining factor in pushing Victor Jara towards Marxism. He found hope in Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity party and gave his full support by campaigning and playing free concerts. In the 1973 parliamentary elections Jara campaigned for the party by performing “in factories… in the street… in schools and markets,”[8] anywhere the singer felt he could best communicate the message that “the rapid rise of fascism in Chile had to be halted.”[9]

The interest Jara had in the folklore and folk songs of his region established him as a crucial part of the Nueva Canción movement; which took traditional elements and implemented them in a politicized format in order to support  “the struggle against social injustices and [calls] for equality through the gift of music”[10]. Artists across Latin America rose up to unite populations, but as right-wing regimes came in to power, artistic expression was stifled and singers such as Mercedes Sosa and Gilberto Gil, were forced into exile when they refused to compromise their message. Unfortunately for Victor Jara, he refused to be silenced, and until his last breath he never backed down from his belief. Jara was not afforded the luxury of exile.

When Jara sings “A Desalambrar” he calls out the unjust US involvement across Latin America (Chile[11], Cuba[12], Haiti[13] [14], Nicaragua[15] [16], El Salvador[17], Dominican Republic[18], Guatemala[19], Panama[20]) that toppled governments and popular leftist movements and instead planted dictatorships or left the country in turmoil. Uruguayan Nueva Canción proponent, Daniel Viglietti, originally composed the song and Jara’s choice in recording it furthers proof that US intervention was a Latin American concern and not country specific. Of course, some of the US interventions in Latin America occurred after the song was written, but it is timeless as it calls for a Pan-American unity against outside interference of a land that is “ours, yours and his, for Pedro, Maria, Juan and Jose.” Viglietti makes a concession that there are those who may not be in favor of his philosophy: “Si molesto con mi canto alguien que no quere oir, es seguro que es un gringo – un dueño de nuestro pais” (if I’m offensive with my song to someone who doesn’t want to hear, then it’s surely a gringo – an owner of our country). Jara spits each line like acid, his voice consumed in anger and defiance. Beyond the powerful words, his guitar playing steadily builds and one can imagine Latin America rising up out of the earth and tearing down the foreign fences and borders that cage them in as the song explodes into the chorus. Undoubtedly this is a song that could lead a revolution. As Jara comments, he does not write protest songs: “The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused.  I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song’.”[21]

In addition to Viglietti, Jara pays his respects to other Latin American heroes of folk music and folk poetry by retelling the works of Chilean Pablo Neruda, Mexican Juan Saldana, Argentine Atahuaipa Yapunqui, and Puerto Rican Rafael Hernandez. His range of focus stresses a sense of unified struggle to the cause of a working class America. Each of these songs takes a strong and positive view of the lifestyle of the masses, of the strife of the common man against a wealthier opponent. In his adaptation of Pablo Neruda’s poem “Aqui Me Quedo,” Jara utilizes the fame and respect of the newly awarded Nobel Laureate making the poet’s simple wish for a unified fatherland even more accessible by carrying the message in a musical format and singing the poem to “los obreros” (working class).

His steadfast allegiance to the working class is exemplified in “Vientos Del Pueblo,” a strong message of defiance, a declaration that there is a group who is guilty of staining the “earth with the blood of the peasants,” of dividing “madres y sus hijos,” and of constructing a betrayal and persecution similar to that which Christ suffered. According to Jara’s wife Joan in the biography she wrote of him, the song is a message against the looming threat of fascism in early 1973[22]. Musically, the track exudes the calm and hopeful air that Jara is known for, he is not urgent nor is he brash. The guitar is steady and strong, merely laying a backdrop to his soothing voice, and when he takes a break from singing and the guitar stands alone it only draws the listener more towards Jara’s commandment. He declares that his voice, and the voice of the people will be heard as long as his soul remains a part of him.

As the bastion of the people, he draws again from folklore in “A La Molina No Voy Mas” which is taken from the Peruvian tradition, a song of defiance that pays respects to the Afro-Latin slaves who worked themselves to death, but also speaking out against subjugation and unjust labor practices. By paying respect to those Latin Americans of African descent he is creating a powerful message, boldly asserting a historic precedent of common struggle against colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. The song begins with simple drum rhythms, a slapping upon drums meant to awaken the gods, harking back to a time when man felt unity with the earth. Jara is taking the listener back to a more uniquely human moment; the ritualistic drum rhythms become the backdrop of his declaration of universal autonomy. His voice is strong and playful, it is apparent he must having fun in the studio and this is precisely the importance of the track – to return the listener to a moment where music was more than words and more than a message but a true extension of humanity.

Victor Jara saw the decimating effects upon human life brought by globalization, foreign intervention, of military powers, of a populace unwilling to consider the well-being of his working class brother and sister. His is a voice that will never spread any other message than the love and hope he held for his fellow man unified in constant struggle. In an interview just weeks before his death he describes himself: “I am a man happy to exist at this moment. Happy to feel the fatigue of work. Happy because when one puts one’s heart, reason and will to work at the service of the people, one feels the happiness of being reborn.”[23]

– Eric Cornejo March, 2010. Questions, arguments, record trade lists to ericcornejo@gmail.com

Link to album in comments. Check out more amazing unique world finds from Eric at his ethnomusic blog.


[1] Jara, Joan. Victor: An Unfinished Song, 1984. History is a Weapon, 2010. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/jaraunfinsong.html>

[2] Gott, Richard. “Allende ‘dead’ as Generals Seize Power.” The Guardian, 1973. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1973/sep/12/chile.fromthearchive1&gt;

[3] Jara, Joan. Ibid.

[4] Burgis, Tom. “Chile’s torture victims to get life pensions.” The Guardian, 2004. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/nov/30/chile&gt;

[5] Carrol, Rory. “Ex-Pinochet army conscript charged with folk singer Victor Jara’s murder.” The Guardian 2009. < http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/28/chile-regime-murder-charge-victor-jara&gt;

[6] Narvaéz, Luis. “A oficial que ajustició a Víctor Jara, le decían ‘El Loco.’” La Nacion, 2009. <http://www.lanacion.cl/prontus_noticias_v2/site/artic/20090601/pags/20090601020443.html&gt;

[7]Rory Carrol, ibid.

[8] Jara, Joan. Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “What is Nueva Canción?,” Accion Latina, 2010. <http://www.accionlatina.org/encuentro/nueva_cancion.html&gt;

[11] “Pinochet: A Declassified Documentary Obit.” National Security Archive, 2006.

<http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB212/index.htm&gt;

[12] “Operation Zapata.” Global Security, 2010. <http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/ops/bay-of-pigs.htm&gt;

[13] Chomsky, Noam. “The Tragedy of Haiti,” Year 501: The Conquest Continues, 1992. <http://cyberspacei.com/jesusi/authors/chomsky/year/y501_008.htm&gt;

[14] Danner, Mark. “Haiti on the Verge,” New York Times Review of Books, 1993. <http://www.markdanner.com/articles/show/74&gt;

[15] Chamorro, Edgar and Jefferson Morley. “Confessions of a ‘Contra,’” The New Republic, 1985. <http://www.tnr.com/article/confessions-contra&gt;

[16] “The Contras, Cocaine, and the Covert Operations,” National Security Archives, 1996. <http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/nsaebb2.htm&gt;

[17] Gibb, Tom. “US role in Brutal Salvador Role,” BBC, 2002. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1891145.stm&gt;

[18] Rabe, Stephen G. “Johnson Doctrine,” 2010. <http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Johnson+Doctrine.-a0147615272&gt;

[19] Johnson, Kathleen and Daniel L. Gordon. “Guatemala 1954,” Cold War Museum, 2010. http://www.coldwar.org/articles/50s/guatemala.html

[20] Wilson, Brian. “The Case of Panama: The US Continues Its Bully Ways,” 1991. <http://www.brianwillson.com/the-case-of-panama-u-s-continues-its-bully-ways-as-international-outlaw/:

[21] Billet, Alexander. “The Poet and the Tyrant,” Dissidentvoice.com, 2006. <http://dissidentvoice.org/Dec06/Billet18.htm>

[22] Jara, Joan. Ibid.

[23] Jara, Joan. Ibid.

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2 Responses to Nuestra Tierra: A Revolutionary Song

  1. Pingback: Vientos Del Pueblo « Cornejo

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