- Chilean New Song: The Political Power of Music, 1960s-1973 by J. Patrice McSherry
Chilean New Song: The Political Power of Music, 1960s-1973, a product of several years of research conducted by J. Patrice McSherry in Chile, will have a significant impact on many of its readers. For this reviewer, the historical snapshots describing hope, loss, victory, and memory in Chile rekindled similar memories of struggle during the 1960s Chicano Movement in the United States. The Chicano Civil Rights Movement, also known as El Movimiento, was an extension of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement that began in the 1940s with the stated goal of achieving Mexican-American empowerment. For those who lived through the tumultuous era of the 1960s and 1970s, as activists or observers, reading this book will be an act of remembrance of the many people who lost their lives resisting and rebelling.
Chilean New Song takes the reader into the world of grassroots music and song, a combination of traditional indigenous music and folk music entwined with political messages. Conceptualized as la nueva cancion, this genre reflects political change and mirrors the pulse of the popular classes. The genre also gives testimony to a people’s counter-hegemonic political movement, and is a historical musical repertoire that tells of the changing politics of Chile. Embedded in discussions of la nueva cancion are the “political and musical debates and disagreements that existed,” giving the book a balanced perspective without tinges of romanticism (p. xix). Experience, memory, identity, and emotion are embedded in la nueva cancion; here lie the threads that weave together book and reader.
The book is organized into eight smoothly-written chapters. The reader quickly moves from a rich, concise introduction to the rise of la nueva cancion and its connection to social change, to the book’s conclusion. This last section ties together within a Gramscian hegemonic context–the musicians, the peñas [musical spaces created by and for la nueva cancion], the institutions that supported it and the obstacles created by mainstream media to block its distribution to the general public. Chapter 1 describes the Gramscian conceptual framework of the book and presents the phenomenon of la nueva cancion in great detail. Chapter 2 gives a brief political history of Chile from colonization to the 1960s. Chapter 3 [End Page 284] presents a history of Chilean music and the emergence of la nueva cancion. Chapters 4 and 5 respectively describe Salvador Allende’s government and tell stories of “politically committed artists of the time” and their relationship to the Allende government (p. xx). Chapter 6 discusses la nueva cancion and artist collaboration. Chapter 7 relates the 1973 military coup and its impact on the Chilean people and culture. McSherry’s vivid narrative shows how well-grounded she is in the topic as well as her deep connection to Chile and its people.
McSherry’s discussion of la nueva cancion in Chapter 3 is exceptional. Here one can observe the process of blending folklore with an original composition. Because of mainstream society’s resistance to the la nueva cancion genre, the authors’ struggles to make themselves known to the general public are revealed and incorporated. The description of artists and recordings are invaluable for the reader. Thanks to YouTube, the depth of the music, words, and emotions embedded in these songs does not have to be left to the reader’s imagination. The music of Victor Jara, one of the earliest victims of the 1973 military coup, is readily available on the site. Significantly, the contrast between the themes of his songs and the way in which he was murdered transformed Jara into a symbol of struggle for human rights.
Chilean New Song is a beautifully written treatise on the creative grassroots soul of Chile. The book also contributes to the literature on music and song as resistance, and to cultural and political memory studies. La nueva cancion’s multiple roles link with other forms of popular expression throughout the Americas, including the United States. It is this connection that...