Violeta Parra


When most folks think of Chilean artists, Pablo Neruda of course pops to mind, but frequently nobody else gets in there. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. 26 years before him in 1945, Chilean poet and author Gabriela Mistral also won the Nobel Prize. I’ll get back to them at a later date. In addition to these writers, Victor Jara and Violeta Parra are two extremely important musicians who have come to embody Chile in a way. For me and many others, these four individuals have become emblematic of 20th century Chilean artists. Their songs are simply stunning and the lyrics get me every time. They sing of life, love, labor and justice to name a few themes.

Violeta Parra is one of the, if not the most influential and important folk musician this nation has produced. She was born in the south, in the rural Chillán area to musical parents. She began singing with her siblings at a young age. One of her brothers, Nicanor Parra, is also a writer nominated for a Nobel a number of times. Anyhow, when she was young she began to travel around the countryside and collect folk tales and stories, and eventually, to record them at home and abroad. She spent a lot of time traveling and living in France, Chile and elsewhere in Europe. She has quite a collection of plastic arts with a large following. I personally find her visual art somewhat painful to look at. Childlike and honest, but with colors that make me sick to my stomach. Her music, for me, is the best. It is honest, lyrical, simple and beautiful. She led a passionate, and at times sad life. Andrés Wood directed a movie about her life called Violeta Se Fue a Los Cielos, 2011. I do recommend it.

Here is one of my favorite songs by Violeta Parra, Gracias a la Vida (Thanks Be to this Life). Its bittersweet overtone and simple realism are a potent combo. In public if this song is heard, I see Chileans kind of catch their breath, and their eyes dim for a second as they drift off, enveloped in a memory. It has the same effect on me. I’ll translate it soon in case you’d like to see the English version.


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