Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"My Guitar Is Not For The Rich" (Taffet's Title): The New Chilean Song Movement

Culture and music in Chile during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s provide us a famous illustration of challenging the elite’s cultural hegemony. This case study retraces briefly retraces the actions of the New Chilean Song Movement, also known as the NCCh. This was a move made by a group of traveling musicians and activists that oversaw the extreme oppression, marginalization, and injustices of the working class. During this time in Chile, foreign and pop music to some degree distracted Chileans from worrying about real life issues, such as poverty, indigenous marginalization, and political injustices. The administration of the time allowed large proportions of foreign cultural production to invade Chile, such as U.S. films, popular music, television programs, and popular magazines. The music was also standardized and those Chileans who had airtime allowed by the State were those who imitated these foreign bands, otherwise pop lyrics without any means of threatening content and all sung in English. This was a mechanism for control as Adorno quarrels, “The products of the culture industry are such that they can be alertly consumed even in a state of distraction. But each one is a model of the gigantic economic machinery, which from the first, keeps everyone on their toes, both at work and in the leisure time which resembles is (1969: 46).
U.S. and Latin America Researcher, Jeffrey Taffet, in his article, “My Guitar is Not for the Rich,” examines the concept of cultural hegemony during Chile’s foreign cultural invasion, it “posited the control of national culture [to] strengthen the elite’s hold on power” (1997; 92). By controlling culture, the elite manage a far more stable domination, and eliminate the subordinate ’s capacity to conjure up the conceptual tools to defy the structure of the system. Founders and members of the NCCh such as Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, challenged this cultural hegemony by redefining the establishment of popular culture and reinforcing ethnic and folkloric Chilean music. This music was not spread through mechanical means, but orally and “aurally.” They used traditional instruments instead of typical foreign rock’s electric guitars, drums, and such. NCCh’s musical lyrics were about social commentaries and protest songs, commonly called la nueva canción, or the new song movement, where it also favored certain leftist political ideas and strove for anti-imperialism, anti-monopoly and anti-Americanism.
As the NCCh gained large amounts of popularity with their radically alternative music versus the imperialist mainstream music, the movement was becoming a minor threat to the government. Consequently, lead activist of NCCh, Victor Jara was captured by the coup and executed by militaristic forces. This was to put and end to the movement when dictator and fascist ruler Augusto Pinochet arrived to power. Jara’s body was savagely thrown out on the street. His fingerers were tortured and mutilated. The myth goes that while he was captured, he was forced to play those songs that caused a threat to the governing system. Subsequently, while playing those songs, the guards cut them off. Taffet concludes, “Unfortunately for the left, that power was strong enough to threaten the elite, but not to destroy it” (100).

The song “Manifiesto” was one of Jara’s last written songs, and it was somewhat prophetic that in his lyrics he states “A man who will die singing.” Extreme cases have led to artists being tortured and as far as their being executed for publically conscientizising their listeners about governments’ dishonesty and corruption. Music has encouraged and inspired revolutions; thus governments tortured musicians like Victor Jara in hopes to destroy a song by silencing the composer and maintaining its power.

The NCCh without mass reproduction or distribution of its music, but with word of mouth, the songs were able to awake the Chilean working class without integrating into the culture industry.

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.
Victor Jara, "Manifiesto" (1973)

[English Translation]
"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 earth
and like the dove it goes flying
tenderly as holy water
blessing the brave and the dying
so my song has found a purpose
as Violetta 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 future may flower
for a song takes on a meaning
when its own heartbeat is strong
sung by a man who will die singing
truthfully singing his song

I don't sing for adulation
or so that strangers may weep
I sing for a far strip of country
narrow but endlessly deep
in the earth in which we begin
in the earth in which we end
brave songs will give birth
to a song which will always be new"

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