Hour: Acalanto is clearly linked to a lineage of Chilean music that first
emerged from the social movements that swept Salvador Allende into power, and then during the Chilean struggle against U.S.-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet. Can you tell us more about this musical and political tradition?
Rafael Azocar: Acalanto is inspired by a musical movement born in Chile and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, a movement called nueva canción . The inspiration for this musical movement was the serious social issues facing our country, including poverty, economic injustice and imperialism. Today we continue this tradition in Montreal. Clearly we are inspired by Chilean culture and the musical traditions of Latin America. More broadly, Acalanto is rooted in a sound and rhythm from the global south.
Hour: How and why has Chilean musical culture been tied to social movements in the past few decades?
Azocar: Chile has a long tradition and history of social movements being reflected in culture. Many Chilean cultural innovations were born on the streets in the cities and on peasant lands. Social movements in Chile have always created space for artistic culture to develop - an open space beyond Chilean traditions where [one] can [explore] artistically.
Many involved in activism in Chile have also been artists, like the famous Chilean painter Roberto Matta . Actually many of the most innovative artists in Chile in recent decades have been linked to popular movements while also creating contemporary music, theatre and art.
In the 1960s and 1970s when nueva canción emerged, there was a real effort made to create culture that was accessible to everyone - to peasants, to workers. It was not art of the elites. Artists from this era also looked at Chile's history critically and spoke about social struggles in the past. Artists who emerged during this era, like Víctor Jara , really studied Chilean popular culture and contributed actively to social change via the arts.
Pavez: It is really important to highlight those artists who created space and worked to build bridges, creating space for artistic expression in Chile that was linked to protest, to social movements. Víctor Jara is certainly one of the important figures within our cultural trajectory. Jara travelled to the countryside for years, speaking with the peasants, writing songs and creating theatre that expressed the political demands and dreams of the peasants.
An artistic transformation took place in Chile via nueva canción, although the artistic movement faced serious repression during the 1973 U.S.-backed coup d'état and Jara was executed along with thousands of dissidents at the Chile stadium in Santiago.
For the first time, major Chilean artists like Jara understood and expressed the social reality in Chile, of peasants living with so little - in total poverty. Jara expressed the living conditions, the life rhythm of the poor. He reinterpreted Chilean folkloric music to sing not only about the lakes, the mountains and women in beautiful dresses, but also to address the social injustice that shaped life for many Chileans.
Hour: Chile's musical history hits a totally different tone than the popular music broadcast today on radios in Chile or Canada. Clearly Acalanto's music offers a very different interpretation of culture. How do you reflect on your experiences of communicating your Chilean music in Canada today?
Azocar: Actually when progressive music from artists like Víctor Jara started becoming popular in Chile at the grassroots, it wasn't being played often on the radio. It was pop songs from Latin America but also from the U.S. that were playing.
Today we face a similar situation - not only in Chile, but also in Canada. Pop music that plays on the radio or TV offers no serious social reflection. Songs from Chilean musicians involved in nueva canción were revolutionary, it really worked to advance Chilean music as an art form, exploring new styles and composition.
Actually, those involved in struggles for social change and those fighting the capitalist system come to see our ensemble Acalanto perform. Those in Montreal interested in really exploring music, and not settling with Céline Dion, should come to see Acalanto!
Hour: Acalanto clearly has a strong social conscience, but also you create moving music. How do you strike that balance between offering a social message while playing beautiful folkloric Latin American music?
Pavez: Our music expresses both our humanity and also our identity. Acalanto plays music that aims to be universal while also being rooted in our own history and identity as Chileans.
As Chilean musicians in Montreal we are away from our country, so Acalanto's sound has developed uniquely given our geography, although we are still playing similar instruments and rhythms [familiar] to many in our country.
Hour: Concerning the earthquake that struck Chile in late February last winter, Acalanto organized a series of benefit concerts to support Chile. What have been your efforts to help people in Chile and what are your thoughts about the government response to the earthquake?
Azocar: Last winter there was an urgent need to send aid to the victims of the earthquake - direct solidarity. In response, Acalanto and others from the Chilean community organized concerts with Chilean artists to raise funds for the earthquake victims.
Chile has witnessed numerous recent earthquakes. The earthquake last winter, but also a political earthquake represented by the new right-wing government in Chile, which is more concerned by big business than with the Chilean people.
Chile's current government has used the earthquake to push neo-liberal economics. For example, private corporations have been given responsibility for different elements to the post-quake reconstruction and clean-up.
Pavez: At the time of the earthquake, the international media presented a false image of Chile as a country that didn't need international aid like Haiti. In reality many people were in direct need of international solidarity, usually people not supported by the government.
Chile's government often failed to prioritize poor areas hit during the earthquake. Also there were the Mapuche communities in southern Chile, the indigenous people to Chile. Mapuche people live in the region hit by the earthquake and the government largely ignored the realities faced by Mapuche communities after the earthquake.
Actually the new government in Chile aims to develop industries that will only [in the] future destroy the environment in southern Chile, undercutting the indigenous rights of the Mapuche people. Certainly people in Chile need international solidarity, especially the Mapuche, today and tomorrow, although we need to be inspired not by pity but by the spirit of those in Chile fighting against injustice.
For more info about Acalanto, visit www.acalanto.org .
Stefan Christoff is a journalist, community organizer and musician in Montreal who regularly contributes to Hour. Follow him at www.twitter.com/spirodon .