VICTOR JARA (Chile) BIO, songs for CHE GUEVARA, photos & interview by Nicomedes Santa Cruz
Chilean singer Victor Jara is seen in this undated file picture. The life and times of Jara, who was killed in the first few days of the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet which started in September 1973, is set to be reborn. Warner Music is to redistribute his folk songs on a global basis from 2002 and British actress Emma Thompson is working on the script of a film which she hopes to direct about the son of a peasant farmer. Spanish actor-heartthrob Antonio Banderas has reportedly expressed interest in playing the role of Jara.
VICTOR LARA Bio
Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez (September 28, 1932 – September 15, 1973) was a Chilean teacher, theatre director, poet, singer-songwriter, political activist and member of the Communist Party of Chile. A distinguished theatre director, he devoted himself to the development of Chilean theatre, directing a broad array of works from locally produced Chilean plays, to the classics of the world stage, to the experimental work of Ann Jellicoe. Simultaneously he developed in the field of music and played a pivotal role among neo-folkloric artists who established the Nueva Canción Chilena (New Chilean Song) movement which led to a revolution in the popular music of his country under the Salvador Allende government. Shortly after the Chilean coup of 11 September 1973, he was arrested, tortured and ultimately shot to death by machine gun fire. His body was later thrown out into the street of a shanty town in Santiago. The contrast between the themes of his songs, on love, peace and social justice and the brutal way in which he was murdered transformed Jara into a symbol of struggle for human rights and justice across Latin America.
Víctor Jara was born in the locality of Lonquén, near the city of Santiago, to poor peasants Manuel Jara and Amanda Martínez. Jara’s father, Manuel, was illiterate and wanted his children to work as soon as they could rather than get an education, so by the age of 6, Jara was already working on the land. Manuel Jara was unable to extract a livelihood from the earnings as a peasant in the Ruiz-Tagle estate nor was he able to find stable work to support his large family. He took to drinking and became violent. His relationship with his wife deteriorated, and Manuel left the family when Víctor was still a child to look for work elsewhere. Amanda persevered in raising Víctor and his siblings by herself, insisting that all of them should receive a good education. Amanda, a mestiza with deep Araucanian roots in the south of Chile, was not illiterate, she was autodidactic; played the guitar, the piano and was a singer in her town, singing traditional folk songs at local functions like wedding and funerals for the locals.
Jara’s mother died when he was 15, leaving him to make his own way thereafter. He began to study to be an accountant, but soon moved into a seminary instead, studying to become a priest. After a couple of years, however, he became disillusioned with the Church and left the seminary. Subsequently he spent several years in the army before returning to his home town to pursue interests in folk music and theater.
Jara was deeply influenced by the folklore of Chile and other Latin American countries; he was particularly influenced by artists like Violeta Parra, Atahualpa Yupanqui, and the poet Pablo Neruda. Jara began his foray into folklore in the mid-1950s when he began singing with the group Cuncumen. He moved more decisively into music in the 1960s getting the opportunity to sing at Santiago’s La Peña de Los Parra, owned by Ángel Parra. Through them Jara became greatly involved in the Nueva Canción movement of Latin American folk music. He published his first recording in 1966 and, by 1970, had left his theater work in favor of a career in music. His songs were drawn from a combination of traditional folk music and left-wing political activism. From this period, some of his most renowned songs are Plegaria a un Labrador (“Prayer to a Worker”) and Te Recuerdo Amanda (“I Remember You Amanda”). He supported the Unidad Popular (“Popular Unity”) coalition candidate Salvador Allende for the presidency of Chile, taking part in campaigning, volunteer political work, and playing free concerts.
Nicomedes Santa Cruz (Peru) interview on his Radio show w/ VICTOR JARA. June, 30th 1973
Allende’s campaign was successful and, in 1970, he was elected president of Chile. However, the Chilean military, who opposed Allende’s socialist politics, staged a coup on September 11, 1973, in the course of which Allende was killed (See Death of Salvador Allende). At the moment of the coup, Jara was on the way to the Technical University (today Universidad de Santiago), where he was a teacher. That night he slept at the university along with other teachers and students, and sang to raise morale.
On the morning of September 12, Jara was taken, along with thousands of others, as a prisoner to the Chile Stadium (renamed the Estadio Víctor Jara in September 2003). In the hours and days that followed, many of those detained in the stadium were tortured and killed there by the military forces. Jara was repeatedly beaten and tortured; the bones in his hands were broken as were his ribs. Fellow political prisoners have testified that his captors mockingly suggested that he play guitar for them as he lay on the ground with broken hands. Defiantly, he sang part of “Venceremos” (We Will Win), a song supporting the Popular Unity coalition. After further beatings, he was machine-gunned on September 16, his body dumped on a road on the outskirts of Santiago and then taken to a city morgue.
Jara’s wife Joan was allowed to come and retrieve his body from the site and was able to confirm the physical damage he had endured. After holding a funeral for her husband, Joan Jara fled the country in secret.
Joan Turner Jara currently lives in Chile and runs the Víctor Jara Foundation. The Chile Stadium, also known as the Víctor Jara Stadium, is often confused with the Estadio Nacional (National Stadium).
Before his death, Jara wrote a poem about the conditions of the prisoners in the stadium, the poem was written on a paper that was hidden inside a shoe of a friend. The poem was never named, but is commonly known as Estadio Chile.
In June 2008, Chilean judge Juan Eduardo Fuentes re-opened the investigation into Jara’s death. Judge Fuentes said he would examine 40 new pieces of evidence provided by the singer’s family. On May 28, 2009, José Adolfo Paredes Márquez, a 54-year-old former Army conscript arrested the previous week in San Sebastian, Chile, was formally charged with Jara’s murder. Following Paredes’ arrest, on June 1, 2009, the police investigation identified the name of the officer who first shot Víctor Jara in the head. The officer played Russian roulette with Jara, by placing a single round in his revolver, spinning the cylinder, placing the muzzle against Jara’s head and pulling the trigger. The officer repeated this a couple of times, until a shot fired and Víctor fell to the ground. The officer then ordered two conscripts (one of them Paredes) to finish the job, by firing into Jara’s body. A judge ordered Jara’s body to be exhumed in an effort to determine more information regarding his death.
On December 3, 2009, a massive funeral took place in the “Galpón de Víctor Jara” across from “Plaza Brazil”. Jara’s remains were honoured by thousands. His remains were re-buried in the same place he was buried in 1973.
Víctor Jara’s legacy
Although the military regime managed to burn 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. Joan Jara later wrote an account of Víctor Jara’s life and music, titled Víctor: An Unfinished Song.
On September 22, 1973, the Soviet/Russian astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh named a newly found asteroid 2644 Víctor Jara, in honor of Víctor Jara’s life and artistic work.
American folksinger Phil Ochs, who met and performed with Jara during a tour of South America, organized a benefit concert in his memory in New York in 1974. Titled “An Evening With Salvador Allende”, the concert featured Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Ochs.
An East German biographical movie called El Cantor (the Singer) was made in 1978. It was directed by Jara’s friend Dean Reed, who also played the part of Jara.
Dutch-Swedish singer-songwriter Cornelis Vreeswijk recorded “Blues för Victor Jara” on his album Bananer – bland annat in 1980.
In the late 1990s British actress Emma Thompson started to work on a screenplay, which she planned to use as the basis for a movie about Víctor Jara. Thompson, a human rights activist and fan of Jara, considered the political murder of the Chilean artist as a symbol of human rights violation in Chile. She believed a movie about Jara’s life and death would make more people aware of the Chilean tragedy. The movie would feature Antonio Banderas – another fan of Víctor Jara – as Jara himself where he would sing some of his songs and Emma Thompson as Víctor Jara’s British wife Joan Jara. The project has not yet been made into a film.
The Soviet musician Alexander Gradsky created the rock opera Stadium (Стадион, Stadion) in 1985 based on the events surrounding Jara’s death. The Southwestern American band Calexico open their 2008 album Carried to Dust with the song “Victor Jara’s Hands”. Portuguese folk band Brigada Víctor Jara is named after him.
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