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What role does music play in Chile’s social revolution ?

On 18 Octo­ber 2019, the social revo­lu­tion explo­ded onto Chile’s streets. Inequa­li­ty, a high cost of living, tui­tion fees, pen­sions, the mana­ge­ment of resources… Demands across the board cal­led into ques­tion the neo­li­be­ral model and the consti­tu­tion inhe­ri­ted from the Pino­chet dic­ta­tor­ship (1973–1990). On 25 Octo­ber 2020, Chi­leans will vote on changes to this consti­tu­tion in a refe­ren­dum. The poli­ti­cal bat­tle has been laun­ched, in a context in which Coro­na­vi­rus has slo­wed mobi­li­sa­tion and exa­cer­ba­ted social inequalities. 

A few weeks before the deci­sive vote, what role has music played in this move­ment that has sei­zed upon the arts to bring about its revolution ?


The expres­sion of a “col­lec­tive musi­cal memory”

The social move­ment has connec­ted gene­ra­tions of artists, from the 1960s to the present day, crea­ting a “col­lec­tive musi­cal memo­ry”, accor­ding to David Ponce, a Chi­lean jour­na­list spe­cia­li­sing in popu­lar music. All genres are present, from punk to cum­bia, via cue­ca, rock and pop. 

The demons­tra­tors have revi­ved great anthems such as “El dere­cho de vivir en paz” (1971) by Víc­tor Jara, a mar­tyr under the dic­ta­tor­ship, picked up on by a col­lec­tive of gui­ta­rists during the demons­tra­tion that brought toge­ther more than a mil­lion people in San­tia­go on 25 Octo­ber 2019. 


Mil gui­tar­ras para Víc­tor Jara convo­co a can­tar en Biblio­te­ca Nacional!!

Geplaatst door Pato Zura op Zater­dag 26 okto­ber 2019


Simi­lar­ly, the line “the uni­ted people will never be defea­ted” has been chan­ted spon­ta­neous­ly here and there. “El pue­blo uni­do jamás será ven­ci­do” (1970, Qui­la­payún, Inti-Illi­ma­ni) retains all its power of action, as evi­den­ced by this memo­rable per­for­mance by Inti-Illi­ma­ni and the masses gathe­red on 13 Decem­ber in the capital.



Groups oppo­sed to the dic­ta­tor­ship also ins­pi­red the gathe­ring, such as Los Pri­sio­ne­ros, with the Chi­lean rock stan­dard “El baile de los que sobran“ (1986) or Sol y Llu­via, with a live update to the ico­nic “Adiós Gene­ral” writ­ten in 1990 when the dic­ta­tor­ship was at an end. The crowd took up the cho­rus “Adiós Car­na­val / Adiós Gene­ral”, but this time to say good­bye to “Sebas­tián”, the cur­rent president.

The sound­track is also rich in contem­po­ra­ry titles, which, with their cri­ti­cal tone, hel­ped to anti­ci­pate the cri­sis, like “Mil­lones” (2009) by Cami­la More­no, a com­mit­ted Nue­va tro­va femi­nist. She lashed out at the power held by big com­pa­nies with a cry of “They want (…) mil­lions of souls in their huge account”. Ana Tijoux, the lea­ding light of poli­ti­cal rap, com­po­sed Shock in sup­port of the 2011 student move­ment with these words against neo­li­be­ra­lism : “We won’t allow your doc­trine of shock any­more!” In 2012, the rap­per Por­ta­voz told the eve­ry­day sto­ry of “ano­ther Chile” struck by pover­ty and inequa­li­ty in his “El otro Chile”.



Musi­cal crea­tion rises up 

The social explo­sion has ins­pi­red count­less crea­tions that show­case the strength of the popu­lar move­ment and speak out against the violent repres­sion of law enfor­ce­ment agencies.

 “Social explo­sions are always a form of ins­pi­ra­tion (…) When you see a people rising up to demand jus­tice, there’s nothing more beau­ti­ful and ins­pi­ring for those of us who are crea­tive”, says Ana Tijoux. The rap­per says her role in the move­ment is to be sen­si­tive to what’s going on (…) fol­lo­wing the rhythm by kee­ping my eyes open and per­haps being mind­ful of the tones of the social tem­pe­ra­ture”. A com­mit­ment illus­tra­ted by her explo­sive “Cace­ro­la­zo”, which pays tri­bute to the noise made by people ban­ging pots and pans in pro­test and pro­vides a glimpse of the vio­lence in words and images.



In Novem­ber, the indie-pop musi­cian Álex Anwand­ter relea­sed the eloquent “Paco Vam­pi­ro” (“vam­pire cop”) with the sca­thing lyrics “Vam­pire cop, you’re thirs­ty for blood”, while Nano Stern pays an inti­mate tri­bute to 22-year-old Gus­ta­vo Gati­ca, who lost his eye­sight after being inju­red by police during a demons­tra­tion. He echoes Gustavo’s words “I gave away my eyes so people would wake up”. 



The elec­tro­nic com­mu­ni­ty has also mobi­li­sed. The net­la­bel Modis­mo has relea­sed a com­pi­la­tion on the Band­camp plat­form  in aid of the hun­dreds of eye inju­ries. These songs sample the noise of the street, allo­wing us to expe­rience the dif­ferent sounds and emo­tio­nal states of the cri­sis, the atmos­phere hea­vy but also combative.


The street, a pri­vi­le­ged stage for artis­tic creation

In poli­tics and the arts, the “people”, as an enti­ty uni­ted in revo­lu­tion, have played the lea­ding role. In a move­ment mar­ked by a “bot­tom up” poli­tics, the public space has wel­co­med col­lec­tive and mul­ti­fa­ce­ted artis­tic crea­tion : concerts, spon­ta­neous songs, graf­fi­ti, pos­ters, signs, dance, installations…


The pop sin­ger Mon Laferte at the Latin Gram­my Awards : “In Chile, they tor­ture, rape and kill”
Pos­ter pas­ted on a wall in San­tia­go - © pho­to : Agathe Petit


Nei­ther poli­tics nor culture have mani­fes­ted in a for­mal way : they have played a part, of course, and were expres­sed loud­ly during the demons­tra­tions, but by the voices of indi­vi­duals, without par­ties, without lea­ders, without repre­sen­ta­tives, without spo­kes­people”, explains David Ponce. There are plen­ty of examples of concerts for­ma­li­sed by a stage, such as the one per­for­med by Inti-Illi­ma­ni men­tio­ned above, but they did not result in an offi­cial poli­ti­cal inter­ven­tion. As far as Ponce is concer­ned, music is expres­sed first and fore­most as a medium, put­ting the “people” and their free use of this “sha­red and col­lec­tive lan­guage” at the forefront.

While the streets may have been the pri­vi­le­ged are­na of poli­ti­cal and musi­cal expres­sion, one of the most salient examples is the Las Tesis femi­nist col­lec­tive and their per­for­mance of “A Rapist in Your Path”. Stri­king lyrics, a hea­dy elec­tro beat, simple cho­reo­gra­phy and blind­folds… In Novem­ber, Las Tesis offe­red a power­ful tool to incite female anger against gen­der vio­lence. In the streets of Chile and inter­na­tio­nal­ly, women have taken pos­ses­sion of the song, trans­la­ted it and adap­ted it to their own needs. This is a power­ful example of how the use of music can create a col­lec­tive, uni­fied in its demands, and extend its reach. A per­for­mance that mar­ked the Chi­lean social awa­ke­ning of 2019 and is sure to ins­pire future move­ments in Chile and beyond.



Tank you to Ana Tijoux and David Ponce for their enligh­te­ning sta­te­ments, to MiNi­MuM ans Gré­goire Bou­quet for their pre­cious help, and to Jea­rim Contre­ras for his proo­frea­ding and advice about translation.


Agathe Petit

Formée en sciences politiques, Agathe Petit a vécu en Argentine et au Chili, où elle travaillait dans la communication culturelle. Passionnée par l’Amérique latine et ses multiples sonorités musicales, elle suit de près l’actualité de cette région, en particulier les mouvements sociaux et féministes. De retour en France, elle se consacre notamment à l’écriture et à la traduction et s’intéresse à l’articulation entre art et politique.

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