City Paper is not for tourists
One of Chile’s top folk composers, Victor Jara enjoyed a prolific career (he was also a theater director and a professor at Santiago’s Technical University), but in 1973, when he was only 40, he was brutally murdered by members of the military during the coup led by Augusto Pinochet. His songs—smuggled out of Chile by Jara’s British-born wife, Joan, and distributed abroad—ultimately became symbolic of the struggles of those who lost their lives fighting the dictatorship. On Lonquén, Chilean vocalist Francesca Ancarola pays tribute to Jara by updating his work without losing touch with his music’s roots. The album’s title—also the title of an original song she wrote for the disc—refers to the city where remains found in abandoned limestone ovens in 1978 exposed the regime’s cruelty and ultimately led to its downfall a decade later. Throughout the album, Ancarola and her band blend modern and traditional instruments such as the cuatro (a four-stringed instrument commonly used in Latin America) and the cajón, creating a backbeat that enlivens Jara’s songs and underscores their poignancy. “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” (“The Right to Live in Peace”), a protest song about the Vietnam War, evokes current conflicts: “Indochina is the place/On the far side of the wide sea/Where they blow up flowers/With genocide and napalm.” Ancarola sings those lines with subtle acoustic backing—guitar, piano, mandolin, and pandeiro (a Brazilian cousin of the tambourine)—designed to emphasize the emotion she gives to each word. “El Cigarrito” (“The Cigarette”) begins with a soft melody that grows more intense, allowing Ancarola to explore her broad vocal range and the musicians to show their chops, particularly displayed in a beautiful acoustic slide-guitar solo by Federico Dannemann. Pablo Neruda’s “Poema 15” gets a complex flamenco-inflected arrangement that showcases Ancarola’s improvisational skills, as well as the fine work of Dannemann and Rodrigo Galarce on acoustic bass. “[Victor’s] songs are like a picture of what Chile was in those days, and sadly his death interrupted a projection of an artist that could have done much more,” she told a Chilean newspapaper last year. “It gives me great happiness to create, on this record, a more contemporary vision of his songs.” On Lonquén she not only pays respects to the influence of the fallen songwriter, she helps to keep Jara’s music (which was banned in Chile until 1989) ripe for rediscovery by generations to come.