Chile's geographyessentially a long, coastal strip sandwiched between the Andes cordillera and the Pacific Oceanis responsible in many ways for the country's musical and cultural preservation. From dry northern desserts to the rugged peaks and glaciers to the south, many of Chile's indigenous groups were able to retain a great deal of the pre-encounter musical traditions. Among the aboriginal groups are the Atacameño, the Aymara and the Mapuche, and their musical practices are linked to their religious system revolving around the earth, fertility and water. Following the groups' conquest by the Incas, Spanish dominance resulted in the westernization of many natives, forging a mestizo and Creole culture.
Among the numerous instruments are several trumpets (made of cane and cow-horn), rattles, drums including the caja chayera (a snare drum adopted from the Spanish), the makawa (a double membrane drum) and the kultrún (a small kettle drum with an internal rattle), and several flutes including the kena (also spelled quena), the siku (also referred to as zampoña) and the tarka (a wooden duct flute). The Spanish guitar and the adopted bandola are also used. While the music of these groups is still linked to traditional events (such as shamanism, agriculture and fertility), much of Chile's mestizo culture has combined aboriginal and Spanish concepts through the music and dance associated with patron saint festivals (a custom prevalent throughout Latin America). Christian festivals include manifestations and pilgrimages for various saints and in many ways represent the syncretic nature of aboriginal beliefs and Roman Catholicism, with music and dance always at the heart of these festivities.
Secular Chilean mestizo and Creole music includes a repertoire of several Spanish-derived poetic forms including the romance, the villancico and the décima as well as Arab-Andalucían forms such as the nuba and the zejel. The combination of these poetic forms with guitar accompaniment has resulted in the continuation of the minstrel or troubadour traditions found throughout Latin America, with styles including the verso and the tonada, which is regarded as the quintessential song of Chile. These songs are performed solo or in duets as well as larger groups, and are distinguished by their poetic structure as well as function or occasion. Tonadas may also accompany certain religious activities, such as tributes to the dead, the Cross and the saints. In addition to the Spanish guitar, early violin instruments such as the rebec are also used in the accompaniment. By the 1920s, the tonada evolved into an urban form as both peasants and elites migrated to the cities, including a style featuring cowboys (called huasos) who dressed in impressive cowboy costumes and sang about the nostalgia of country life. These guitar-based groups (mainly quartets) also added the harp to the ensemble, and created ornate arrangements which found favor with Chilean audiences.
Chile's national symbolthe cuecais derived from the Peruvian zamacueca (also spelled zambacueca), which featured African, Spanish and Arab-Andalucían influences. This Creole style is performed by different types of ensembles depending on the region, including brass bands and panpipe ensembles in the Andean areas to the north, and guitar and accordion duets in the south. Typically, the cueca chronicles daily life as well as historical events and narrates everything from catastrophes to crimes, and pays tribute to brave men and popular figures, much like the Mexican corrido. The dance typically demonstrates the conquest of the woman by the man using the symbolism of hen and rooster (a similar feature in Cuban rumba), and features the male dancer twirling a scarf.
Perhaps Chile's most important contribution to the pan American musical landscape is its role in disseminating the nueva canción genre. Beginning in the 1960s, several artists and groups founded the movement, among them Victor Jara, Isabel and Angel Parra, and the ensembles Inti-Illimani and Quilapayún. The musical texture of choice was Andean music, with its numerous ancient rhythms and instruments dating back to pre-encounter times, and the lyrics reflected the solidarity among Latin Americans and their cries for peace and social justice, in particular for the oppressed and discriminated native cultures.
Following the tumultuous political events of the early 1970s, nueva canción became music of protest, as many artists and groups were persecuted or tortured for their anti-government sentiments. The genre was banned by the Pinochet regime, and many artists were forced into exile, while others, such as Victor Jara, were killed (in 1973). Since the restoration of democracy in 1994, the remaining and new Chilean groups resurfaced with contemporary versions of this new song movement, and continue its evolution today. Rebeca Mauleon