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Victor Jara

The life of Victor Jara (September 23, 1932-September 16(?), 1973)

    Victor Jara is an extremely important influence on the music and culture of Chile. His life was a reflection of his country, of the tumultuous times in which he lived, and of his personal philosophies. Victor Jara began his life in a small town of Chile and with his music talent and great love for the people of Chile, became one of the best known and most influential musical figures of Latin America.
    Victor Jara was born in Loquen, Chile, a small town outside of Santiago. His parents were rural farmers--his father, Manuel, worked as a simple laborer while his mother, Amanda, performed many odd jobs to make money for the family. Victor Jara's father had a drinking problem, and their home was often not happy because of the many fights when Victor's drunken father used to hit Amanda. After some years of this unhappiness, Victor's father moved to the countryside to work as a farmer, and Amanda was left on her own to raise Victor Jara and his brothers and sisters. She was an extremely hard worker, and in the words of Victor Jara, her optimistic outlook on life gave strength to the family. She was an extremely important part of Victor Jara's life. She sang and played the guitar, and taught Victor to play the guitar and also taught him many traditional folk songs of Chile. The time he spent with his mother had a great influence on his musical style.
    Amanda had a great belief in the power of education, so when Victor finished elementary and high school he began studying accounting. Sadly, Amanda died when Victor was only 15 years old. He left his accounting studies and entered into the seminary. He was very sad over the death of his mother, and also believed that the profession of a priest was the most important in the world. But after two years, he became disenchanted with religion, and left to join the army for a few years. After this he returned to Lonquen, but had no job or prospects and thus began to study the folk music of Chile with a group of friends. During this time he developed an interest in theater, and began to study acting in the School of Theater in the University of Chile. There he showed an inclination towards directing, and after his acting degree was completed, he began in the directing program. During these years and in the future, Victor Jara participated in countless theater productions. He was also beginning to further sing and study folk music when he first met Violeta Parra. She was an extremely talented singer and artist, an admirer of the traditional music and instruments of Chile, and the owner of a small cafe in Santiago. Victor began to help in this cafe, and soon began singing more and more. During this time he also began to get involved in the politics of Chile. In 1966, he made his first solo disk, self titled "Victor Jara." In the following years he continued as a theater director but began to spend more and more time with his songs and political activities. Finally, in 1970, he left the life of the theater to spend all of his time working for the people of Chile through his songs.
    The songs of Victor Jara are filled with his thoughts on the simple people of Chile. He had a great love for the hard working people of small towns and villages, and many of his songs celebrate the lives of these people. Also, because of his great love for his country, many of his songs attack injustices in society or political scandals. Victor Jara is an essential part of the great Latin American musical movement known as "Nueva Cancion" or New Song. This movement is involved with many revolutionary activities in Latin America, and all of the artists of Neuva Cancion share many common goals and thoughts (please see the essay on Nueva Cancion for more information). Finally, Victor Jara's political ideas where an extremely important part of his songs. He believed in the general communist philosophy, like many progressive singers of Latin America, because of it's promises to better the lives of poor people.
    You can see the devotion of Victor Jara to his political ideals most strongly in his support of the presendency of Salvador Allende in 1973. Allende was a part of the Popular Unity party (a subsection of the Communist Party of Chile) and Victor Jara, along with other Chileans singers, gave concerts in favor of Allende and his political goals. Allende was a progressive canditate who had a great love for the people of the small towns of Chile. The Popular Unity party had plans to increase education, and to supply increased housing and free socialized medical care. One of the concerts representative of this campaign for Allende was the concert given in the Stadium of Chile, where many political artists sang in favor of Allende. In the end, the Allende campaign was a success, and he was elected president of Chile, after some political compromise and manuevering. However, there was much opposition to the election of Allende and the military organized a coup to overthrow the newly placed president. In the resulting coup, Allende was killed and the military seized control of the government. On the day of this tragedy, Victor Jara was at his job in the State Technical University, which was surrounded by the military, who took Victor Jara prisoner for five horrible days. During these days, he was forced to live in cold and dirty prisons without proper food or water, but other prisoners there with him testify that during these sufferings, he was only concerned with the welfare of his fellow prisoners.
    Finally, the military brought Victor Jara and other political prisoners to the Stadium of Chile, the place where the concert for Allende has previously been held. There the milatary men tortured and killed many people. They broke Victor Jara's hands (Note: many stories indicate that Victor Jara's hands were cut off, but Joan Jara's book about Victor indicates that when she saw him after his death, his hands were broken, so that is the version being used in this essay) so that he couldn't play his guitar, and then taunted him to try and sing and play his songs. Even under these horrible tortures, Victor Jara magnificently sang a portion of the song of the Popular Unity party. After this, he received many brutal blows, and finally was brutally killed with a machine gun and carried to a mass grave.
    After his horrible death Joan Jara, the wife of Victor, was shown to his body and gave him a proper funeral and buriel. Because of all of the problems in Chile following his horrible coup, she was forced to leave the country in secret with tapes of Victor Jara's music. Even today, the policital and intensely human songs of Victor Jara are respected all over the world, and the ideals of Nueva Cancion and political music in general remain extremely strong. The life of Victor Jara is a beautiful example of an intelligent and sincere singer who spoke strongly through his songs. As a result, the songs of Victor Jara are a testimony to his strength and positive view of life.

Victor Jara
words by Adrian Mitchell, music by Arlo Guthrie

Victor Jara of Chile
Lived like a shooting star
He fought for the people of Chile
With his songs and his guitar
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

Victor Jara was a peasant
He worked from a few years old
He sat upon his father's plow
And watched the earth unfold
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

Now when the neighbors had a wedding
Or one of their children died
His mother sang all night for them
With Victor by her side
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

He grew up to be a fighter
Against the people's wrongs
He listened to their grief and joy
And turned them into songs
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

He sang about the copper miners
And those who worked the land
He sang about the factory workers
And they knew he was their man
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

He campaigned for Allende
Working night and day
He sang "Take hold of your brothers hand
You know the future begins today"
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

Then the generals seized Chile
They arrested Victor then
They caged him in a stadium
With five-thousand frightened men
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

Victor stood in the stadium
His voice was brave and strong
And he sang for his fellow prisoners
Till the guards cut short his song
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

They broke the bones in both his hands
They beat him on the head
They tore him with electric shocks
And then they shot him dead
His hands were gentle, his hands were strong

Repeat first verse

1977, 1990 by by Adrian Mitchell & Arlo Guthrie
All Rights Reserved.