CHILE: Alturas De Machu Pichu - Los Jaivas
Updated: Feb 13
Andean prog rock fusion with an interesting sound and an important message
Having not experienced an immediate visceral and emotional connection with this album when I had first listened to it, I was nevertheless intrigued by a style that I had never previously heard. Despite having listened to the album several times I cannot pretend that Andean prog-rock fusion is exactly my jam, yet it is undeniably interesting albeit not exactly to my taste. After the first few listens I had a sixth sense that the album had hidden depths to it that would make themselves apparent, but I promised myself to wait until writing the review to find out what they were. Sure enough, I have discovered that this was indeed the case and I look forward to sharing my revelation with you now.
“ In bringing to life Neruda’s poetry, Los Jaivas manage to succeed in bringing mass attention to his valuable message and powerful words decades after its publication in 1950.”
Los Jaivas’ album puts to music the work of legendary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who in the 1940s composed a seminal series of poems in his book Canto General. One of the sections of his book, entitled Alturas de Macchu Picchu, has great resonance even to this day, as not only does it tackle important themes, honouring the legacy of the indigenous cultures that are still often subjugated, but it also addresses the struggles that the slaves suffered in their construction of the Inca ruins. This bears much relevance nowadays as it serves to remind us of the value of the work that the exploited working classes provide. By writing the poems which give credence to the labour of the anonymous slaves, rather than the rulers, Neruda commendably tried to rewrite history from the perspective of the oppressed rather than the oppressors.
Yet, poetry and literature are, of course, not as popular mediums of communication as music is. In bringing to life Neruda’s poetry, Los Jaivas manage to succeed in bringing mass attention to his valuable message and powerful words decades after its publication in 1950. Potent lyrics are on display throughout. I was particularly struck by the song Sube A Nacer Conmigo Hermano. The line that particularly cut through for me with its graphic imagery was ‘Aguador de las lagrimas andinas, joyero de los dedos machacados’ (which translates as ‘Bearer of Andean tears, jeweler of crushed fingers’). Poignant descriptions like this are used throughout the record and my interest in the album dramatically increased once I started to pay closer attention to them.
However, after all, this is a music site and although the themes addressed in Neruda’s poetry are striking, they are not the only aspect of Los Jaivas’ record that is worthy of analysis. Whilst I am certain that the second track La Poderosa Muerte is the most famed and critically-acclaimed by prog fans, as it is so inherently of that genre, I personally found it overwhelming. Running at over 11 minutes long, I cannot say that I enjoyed much of it and whilst it was almost certainly intended to sound eerie and ominous it is just not really my bag. For me, I was much more drawn to the Andean aspects of the album.
The symphonic prog tracks La Poderosa Muerte, Aguila Sideral and Antingua América were divided up by shorter Andean folk tracks. Whilst the record contains some exclusively folk songs like the opener Del Aire al Aire¸ an Andean instrumental extravaganza featuring cuatro, ocarina, tarka, palmas, quena and zampoña, I did find Antigua América particularly interesting for its merging of various styles. It begins with a pan flute, lulling the listener into a false sense of security as one would expect on an ordinary folk track, before emotions erupt in true prog-like fashion as an intense piano takes centre-stage before a full rhythm section kicks into play. Whilst I did not love this album, I cannot fault it for its variety both between songs and within songs. There is some immense instrumentation and its beautiful chamber music culmination in the finale, Final, perfectly wraps up an album that delights on an intellectual level.