The Music Plays On — Victor Jara

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Victor Jara

On September 12, 1973, the theater director, teacher, poet, and singer-songwriter, Victor Jara was taken prisoner at the university where he taught in Santiago, Chile, by soldiers of General Pinochet’s regime, who had staged a coup d’etat the day before by overthrowing the democratically elected government of president Salvador Allende. For the next four days, Jara was tortured in front of thousands of other prisoners in the Chile Stadium. The torture included smashing his hands with a hammer and then asking him to play the guitar. On September 16,1973, Jara was shot in the head by one of the guards and for many days his body was hung at the entrance of the stadium for other prisoners to see as they entered. This brutal murder and subsequent long road to justice has recently been shared in the excellent Netflix documentary, ReMastered: Massacre at the Stadium.

Jara’s popularity and influence cannot be overstated. His popularity while he was alive was such that, in the Latin world, he could’ve easily been compared to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie. This made his brutal murder all the more traumatic and shocking. In 2013, Springsteen sang Jara’s song Manifesto in Chile days before the 40th anniversary of the Jara’s murder.

Like most Americans, I didn’t know the gritty details of what happened in Chile until I started conducting there in 2008. Since then, Chile has become a home away from home and while I still have so much to learn, Jara’s story as well as many others have been revealed to me over time and I feel fortunate, as well as responsible, for sharing his story through sharing his music.

Most of Jara’s mastertapes were burned during the Pinochet regime, however some were smuggled out by his wife, Joan Jara, who has since returned to Chile and runs the Victor Jara Foundation. The first of his songs to touch my heart was Luchín, which is a song that describes a little boy (Luchín) who, even in abject poverty, can still play games and imagine.

Fragil como un volantin
En los techos de barrancas
Jugaba el niño Luchin
Con sus manitos moradas
Con la pelota de trapo
Con el gato y con el perro
El cabalo lo miraba

En el agua de sus ojos
Se bañana el verde claro
Gateaba a su corta edad
Con el potito embarrado
Con la pelota de trapo
Con el gato y con el perro
El caballo lo miraba

El caballo era otro juego
En aquel pequeño espacio
Y al animal parecia
Le gustaba ese trabajo
Con la pelota de trapo
Con el gato y con el perro
Y con Luchito mojado

Si hay niños como luchin
Que comen tierra y gusanos
Abramos todas las jaulas
Pa’ que vuelen como pajaros
Con la pelota de trapo
Con el gato y con el perro
Y también con el caballo

Fragile as a kite
on the roofs of Barrancas
the boy Luchín played
with his little hands bruised
with the ball of rags
with the cat and dog
the horse watched him.

In the water of his eyes
a clear green bathed
he crawled to his brief age
with his bottom muddy
with the ball of rags
with the cat and dog
the horse watched him.

The horse was another game
in that small space
and to the animal it seemed
he liked that job
with the ball of rags
with the cat and dog
and with little Luchín wet.

If there are children like Luchín
who eat dirt and worms
let us open all the cages
so that they fly like birds
with the ball of rags
with the cat and dog
and with the horse too. (
https://lyricstranslate.com/)

Just months before he was killed, on July 17, 1973, Jara recorded a recital for Panamericana Televisión in Lima, Perú.

Another beautiful song of Jara’s is Te recuerdo Amanda.

Te recuerdo Amanda
la calle mojada
corriendo a la fabrica donde trabajaba Manuel

La sonrisa ancha, la lluvia en el pelo,
no importaba nada
ibas a encontrarte con el,
con el, con el, con el, con el

Son cinco minutos
la vida es eterna,
en cinco minutos

Suena la sirena,
de vuelta al trabajo
y tu caminando lo iluminas todo
los cinco minutos
te hacen florecer

Te recuerdo Amanda
la calle mojada
corriendo a la fabrica
donde trabajaba Manuel

La sonrisa ancha
la lluvia en el pelo
no importaba nada,
ibas a encontrarte con el,
con el, con el, con el, con el

Que partió a la sierra
que nunca hizo daño,
que partió a la sierra
y en cinco minutos,
quedó destrozado

Suenan las sirenas
de vuelta al trabajo
muchos no volvieron
tampoco Manuel

Te recuerdo Amanda,
la calle mojada
corriendo a la fábrica,
donde trabajaba Manuel.

I remember you, Amanda
The wet street
running to the factory where Manuel worked

The wide smile, the rain in your hair,
nothing mattered
you were going to meet with him,
with him, with him, with him

They were five minutes
life is eternal
in five minutes

The whistle blew
to return to work
and you walking you lit up everything
those five minutes
made you blossom

I remember you, Amanda
The wet street
running to the factory where Manuel worked

The wide smile, the rain in your hair,
nothing mattered
you were going to meet with him,
with him, with him, with him

And he took to the mountains to fight
He had never hurt a fly
and in five minutes
it was all wiped out

The whistle blew
to return to work
many didn’t go back
neither did Manuel

I remember you, Amanda
The wet street
running to the factory where Manuel worked (
https://lyricstranslate.com/)

And, finally, I’d like to share his song Ni Chicha Ni Limoná.

Arrímese mas pa’ ca
aquí donde el sol calienta,
si uste’ ya está acostumbrado
a andar dando volteretas
y ningún daño le hará
estar donde las papas queman.

Usted no es na’
ni chicha ni limoná
se la pasa manoseando
caramba zamba su dignidad.

La fiesta ya ha comenzao
y la cosa está que arde
uste’ que era el más quedao
se quiere adueñar del baile
total a los olfatillos
no hay olor que se les escape.

Si queremos más fiestoca
primero hay que trabajar
y tendremos pa’ toítos
abrigo, pan y amistad
y si usted no está de acuerdo
es cuestión de uste’ nomás
la cosa va pa’ delante
y no piensa recular.

Ya déjese de patillas
venga a remediar su mal
si aquí debajito ‘el poncho
no tengo ningún puñal
y si sigue hociconeando
le vamos a expropiar
las pistolas y la lengua
y toíto lo demás.

You’re Neither Chicha Nor Lemonade (You Are Tasteless)

Huddle up, come a bit closer, mister
Here where the sun is warm
You already are used to
Going around all over the place
So it won’t hurt you
To be where it burns.

You, mister, are nothing,
Neither chicha nor lemonade
You’re always stroking,
Your dignity, gee whiz man.

The party has begun
And things are getting fiery
You were the least interested before
Now you want to take over the whole dance
Because big noses
Don’t let any smell escape them.

If we want more good ol’ raves
First we’ll have to work
And we’ll have enough for all
Shelter, bread, and friendship
And if you don’t agree
That’s your problem
This is going to go forward
And it’s not going to turn back.

Stop being so slow
Come and fix your ailment
Because I don’t have any
Daggers under my poncho
And if you insist on portruding your snout
We’re going to expropriate
Your gun, your tongue,
And everything else. (
https://lyricstranslate.com/)

Written by

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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