Tag Archives: Víctor Jara

When we held hands

There we were, behind a makeshift curtain on the stage at one of the sixth form colleges in Halmstad, staring down at a bucket filled with compost. And then we walked out in front of the audience, hand in hand, and I certified that I had in fact seen a naked, Spanish man at the back. That’s all Björn Granath needed me for.

I must have looked the type who just adores being the one to ‘volunteer’ to come up on stage. I wasn’t, but realised I had to, since my friends on either side didn’t really fit the bill for looking at naked men.

It was the mid-1970s and we’d come to see Dario Fo’s Dom har dödat en gitarr men folket har tusen åter,* brought to us by Teater Narren. There were two of them, but I can only recall the one who held my hand, and whenever Björn has popped up on screens since that night, I remember the bucket. And how much of an idiot I felt like.

(I have to point out here that bucket of compost in Swedish ‘could’ sound just like naked Spanish man. So I didn’t lie.)

Björn’s character had to persuade the other character that there was this person in a state of undress at the back. Sounds like typical Dario Fo, if you ask me. And I suppose he did ask me.

I’ve just learned that Björn died earlier this month. Far too early. He was only ten years older than me. But at least from those early beginnings, he went on to pretty close to the top in Swedish drama. And now that I’m no longer standing in front of my grinning companions, I suppose I quite liked my couple of minutes up there.

*’Han matado una guitarra’ in honour of the then recently murdered Víctor Jara.

40 years on

Today it is forty years since the coup in Chile. While it isn’t primarily a ‘cultural’ memory, it was nevertheless important for me and many others. We might not have known all that much about Chilean music before the day Allende and countless others died, but we soon learned.

My Chilean music

What was so lucky in such dreadful times was the fact that many of the big names in Chilean music were abroad on September 11th. That way they survived, and they were well suited to carry on the fight with the help of their songs.

Whether groups like Quilapayún and Inti-Illimani would have toured Sweden had there been no coup I don’t know. But the way things were they came, and we saw them, and we shared in what they had to offer.

Many other people also came. First it was the more public figures. (I remember when Peruvian peasant leader Hugo Blanco came to my small home town, staying with the friends of a friend.)

By Christmas 1973 those friends were hosts to many political leaders, both Chilean and from other parts of Latin America, who had already sought refuge in Chile, and who had been forced to leave yet another country to be safe.

And then there were people like Víctor Jara who died in Santiago. They have not been forgotten.

Víctor Jara

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.