First they broke his fingers, and then they shot Víctor Jara as he sang Venceremos (We will win) in front of his fellow prisoners at the Chile Stadium. It’s a stirring image, and one I happen to believe in, but no matter how it happened, Víctor Jara died a hero.
Today would have been Víctor’s 78th birthday. He was forty when they shot him, in the days after September 11th 1973. That’s my ‘9/11’, when democracy in Chile disappeared, with the coup against the country’s elected president Salvador Allende. As a teenager at the time Chile was my political event, if that doesn’t sound tasteless. I did Spanish at school, and people I knew were involved with the refugees when they started coming.
Víctor had such a beautiful voice, but with many of his recordings destroyed it’s hard to properly appreciate his songs in today’s digital world. There are a surprising number of – I assume – television appearances by Víctor on YouTube. I don’t know who had these early videos, but it’s wonderful that someone actually saved them, however poor the sound quality.
I don’t play his songs nearly often enough, seeing as I only have them on LP. Back in the 1970s I played them all the time, and I can recite surprisingly many of the lyrics, out of order, but still… Te Recuerdo Amanda was one of the very few songs the tone deaf Mother-of-witch ever recognised.
It was a chance blog-contact email a week ago that started me thinking about Víctor again. I’m not used to others remembering either him or Allende or the coup. I provided a profile of me on Normblog a couple of years ago, and for my cultural hero I put Víctor Jara. I don’t feel you can call someone a hero too lightly.
Memory is a tricky thing, but I’m fairly certain I once met Joan Jara, Víctor’s widow. There was an evening at the Friends’ Meeting House in Brighton, at the end of the 1970s. I’m sure Joan was there. There are many other venues where I heard the big groups from Chile sing. It’s a blessing so many of them escaped Víctor’s fate. And their music did a lot to support the cause, which will be why they murdered Víctor and destroyed his music, except what Joan managed to smuggle out.
Here is a clip with Inti-Illimani singing Venceremos for Víctor and all the others
and finally Quilapayún with ¡El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido!
You can hope.