Today we take a slight detour from our usual fare and delve, albeit briefly, into the work of Víctor Jara; namely, his fifth record, El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, or The Right to Live in Peace. Jara is a legend in both his homeland of Chile and the rest of South America, but his strong anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist sympathies have not been conducive to widespread popularity here in the United States. Indeed, it was the United States-backed military junta in Chile which saw Jara brutally tortured and executed in 1973 alongside thousands of other fellow workers and artists. This may be unusually political territory for the Storm but, if you will, simply think of this as a bridge between Moris Birabent’s Argentine folk-rock classic Treinta Minutos de Vida and the work of the great Phil Ochs, another singer irrevocably tied to the far-left who actually befriended Jara on a trip to Chile with Jerry Rubin, traveling with him across Chile and singing in the copper mines and shanty towns.
El Derecho de Vivir en Paz is something of a landmark album in Jara’s body of work, if for no other reason than it saw him reaching out to the popular rock and roll music of the day for the first time. In 1960s Chile, rock and roll was often viewed as suspect, being a product of American imperialism as translated through U.S. domination of media. Jara appreciated the music of groups like The Beatles, however, and thus approached underground Chilean folk-rock group Los Blops to accompany him on a couple of songs for his new record, the first and foremost being the anthemic title track. If anyone had any worries that Víctor was “selling out” to American pop music, however (as ridiculous a sentiment as that may be), the song’s passionate dedication to Ho Chi Minh was swift in erasing them. In any case, it would not be long before other Nueva Canción singers – including the great Patricio Manns and the brother and sister duo of Isabel and Angel Parra – were inviting Chilean rock and roll musicians onto their own recordings.
“Abre La Ventana” is a call to the dispossessed working people of Chile to open up their windows and let the light of social change shine in. The song features middle eastern touches in the music (guitar and charango playing off each other quite beautifully) and an extremely warm display of Jara’s voice. As with his past albums, Víctor explores all different forms of South American folksong, from the irresistible revolutionary singalong “A Cuba” to the traditional Peruvian folk song “A La Molina No Voy Más.” He even reaches out to the North American folk music underground by including a translation of Malvina Reynolds “Little Boxes,” presented here as “Las Casitas del Barrio Alto” and featuring an addendum of biting, topical lyrics against racism, the Chilean right wing, and United States imperialism. According to Jara’s wife, Joan, Reynolds herself heard this reworking and lauded it for its sharper political slant. The most renowned, and quite possibly the most moving song on this record, however, comes at its end, with “Plegaria A Un Labrador,” a driving prayer to the working man to take up arms against his oppressors.
Though the influence of contemporary European and North American music is relatively small on El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, the music itself is not so far removed from the kind of folk and folk-rock being explored elsewhere in the world. Indeed, its roots come from much the same place: Europe, Africa, and the many indigenous cultures of the Americas. Whether you support Jara’s politics or not, the beauty of the man’s music and the lyricism of his singing cannot be denied. Though most Chilean vinyl copies of Jara’s albums were destroyed by the military in the mid 1970s, Warner Music Chile has reissued his most popular albums with the assistance of the Víctor Jara Foundation, and El Derecho de Vivir en Paz is now available with bonus tracks, including several rare live performances and a handful of non-album tracks. Dedicated searching should also be able to lead you to one of several foreign reissues of the album under a series of different titles and covers, most of which, however, follow the original track order.