CHILE: Manifiesto - Victor Jara
Updated: Apr 10
True musical revolutionaries are few and far between, put your headphones in shut your eyes and marvel in the beauty of this legend’s struggle
In the 21st century, the 11th of September has great significance as a date across the Western world. In Chile however, whilst it must bear some resonance due to the 9/11 attacks that took place in 2001 in the United States, amongst many Chileans 11th September will be far more significant for what occurred in 1973. Latin America’s first democratically elected Marxist leader, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and died that day - it is unknown whether he was killed or committed suicide - leading to the start of the Chilean junta’s oppressive regime. We have reviewed many monoliths of music from across the world on this site; however, arguably none, not even Fela Kuti or Peter Tosh, have a story or a legacy quite as powerful as the man behind the 1974 album Manifiesto, released posthumously after his brutal torture and murder the previous year. Seen by many as the Che Guevara of music, his lips that once sung beautiful protest songs were eventually to be cut by Pinochet’s thugs. His legacy, both political and musical, lives on to this day; I am of course referring to Victor Jara, the musical mouthpiece of Allende.
“Though Jara’s prowess as a musician and singer cannot be ignored, his work as lyricist is what really sets him apart....‘the song makes sense when it throbs in the veins of the one who will die singing the truthful truths’”
Taking the album at face value, without an understanding of the lyrics, Jara’s music is simply a collection of beautiful traditional melodies that hark back to country life in Chile. These type of folk tunes would often be associated with pride for the land and a rather antiquated interpretation of patriotism. One just has to listen to the track Parando los Tijerales as a perfect example of Jara’s capacity to replicate the kind of music one might imagine being played in Chile years before his birth. Were this to be where Jara left it, recreating the melodies of a Chile gone by, with superb skill on the guitar and a beautiful vocals, this album would still be very enjoyable. However, it was Jara’s move to shine a light on the plight of Chile’s working classes that afford him such a legendary status, and tragically led to his brutal death.
The following day after Allende’s leadership came to an end, Jara was arrested by armed forces and taken prisoner at the Chile Stadium alongside thousands of others. There he was detained and brutalised for four days, reportedly having his fingers smashed before being mockingly asked to play the guitar, and was murdered just hours after penning the words to the poem Estadio Chile, which were smuggled out. Though Jara’s prowess as a musician and singer cannot be ignored, his work as lyricist is what really sets him apart. As discussed previously in a review of Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna’s Me Saco El Sombrero, Chile is a country with an incredible literary tradition. Though musicians are often dismissed and not thought of in the same territory as the likes of Isabel Allende or Pablo Neruda, Jara’s lyrical work is often sublime. One of the final songs he penned was the title-track Manifiesto, the lyrics of which are deeply poignant in which he expresses that he does not sing for the sake of it, but rather a sense of duty he is compelled by. Perhaps the most haunting lyric of them all from this track is ‘el canto tiene sentido cuando palpita en las venas del que morirá cantando las verdades verdaderas’ which translates to ‘the song makes sense when it throbs in the veins of the one who will die singing the truthful truths’.
With this album in mind, it is no surprise that Jara is considered to be one of the forefathers of the glorious Nueva Canción Chilena movement that inspired other artists to incorporate political themes into their folk songs. For me, though the album is mostly stripped back with an acoustic focus, there are some compositional choices that I adore. For example, the progression of Vientos del Pueblo is magnificent, second only to the instrumental opener of Cai Cai Vilú. In fact, Marcha de los trabajadores de la construcción even takes on a rather unique style in that it is clearly a marching tune that is separate from the naked simplicity of Jara’s vocals and guitar. That said, for me, Jara’s use of his voice as a powerful instrument shines through best on my two favourite tracks Que Lindo Es Ser Voluntario and El Arado. Overall, this album is a masterpiece, and though it was not finished as Jara intended, with his songs written for the uncompleted album Tiempos que cambian instead used as a base for it, Manifiesto gives an interesting insight into the type of songs Jara was planning to release as the political climate was starting to heat up and reminds us that Chile’s cherished son was taken far too soon.