Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Victor Jara

Today is the birthday of Víctor Jara, the Chilean teacher, theater director, poet, singer-songwriter, and political activist.

Jara was born in the town of Lonquén, near the city of Santiago. His family was poor and his parents were illiterate. By the age of 6, Jara's father had left the family, leaving his wife to raise the children. Amanda Jara insisted that her children receive an education and taught them to play piano and sing as well as read and write.

Jara's mother died when he was 15. He moved into a seminary, studying to become a priest, but after a couple of years he became disillusioned with the Church and joined the army before returning to his home town to pursue interests in music and theater. Jara was deeply influenced by the folklore of Chile and Latin America and was particularly inspired by the work of Violeta Parra, Atahualpa Yupanqui, and the poet Pablo Neruda.

He became greatly involved in the Nueva Canción movement of Latin American folk music, releasing his first recording in 1966, and by 1970 had become an important musical figure, his songs drawing on a combination of traditional folk music and left-wing political activism. He supported the Unidad Popular coalition candidate Salvador Allende for the presidency of Chile, taking part in the campaign through volunteer political work and playing free concerts. Jara composed "Venceremos," the theme song of the Unidad Popular. He was a key participant in the cultural renaissance that swept Chile after the election of Allende, organizing cultural events that supported the country's new socialist government.

On September 11 1973, Chilean troops under the command of General Augusto Pinochet mounted a coup against the Allende government. Jara was seized and taken to a large sports stadium. He was held for four days, deprived of food and sleep. He was tortured, and his hands were broken by soldiers who ordered him to keep playing the guitar. At some point, probably on September 15, Jara was taken to a deserted area and shot, his body dumped in a road on the outskirts of Santiago. His wife Joan was allowed to retrieve the body and bury it on the condition that she not publicize the event.

Although the military regime destroyed the vast majority of master recordings of Jara's music, Joan Jara managed to sneak recordings out of Chile, which were later copied and distributed worldwide. In June 2008, Chilean judge Juan Eduardo Fuentes re-opened the investigation into Jara's death. José Adolfo Paredes Márquez, a 54-year-old former soldier was formally charged with Jara's murder. On December 3 2009, a massive funeral took place in which thousands of Chilenos filled the streets. His remains were re-buried in the same place he was buried in 1973.

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