Chile: Not So Chilly - Red Hot

Nueva Cancion




The traditional folk music of rural Chile was brought to the global stage through a genre known as Nueva Canción. The economic and political instability of Chile throughout the twentieth century led to a democratically elected socialistic government that was a largely a result of this musical movement. A sense of national and cultural pride accompanies this style of music and the painful history of the peasants of Chile can be heard throughout the genre.



The 1960s and 1970s were a time of political and social upheaval in the United States , and similar social revolutions were taking place all over the world including the South American country of Chile . The music of this time is an insightful way to understand the turmoil of people in the face of oppression (Titon 1992). Music voiced the frustrations of Chileans during this time period through what is known as the Nueva Canción , or New Song. The rising unrest of the masses followed by the subjugation of the common people by a totalitarian government gave rise to this new and unruly style of music. A marked push for Chilean nationalist identity as well as angst and defiant candor are some of the pillars of Nueva Canción from its inception (Manns, Boyle, and Gonzalez 1987). Political uproar often leads to musical innovation, and Chile in the 1960s and 70s was no exception.


Location, Geography, and Climate of Chile

Chile is geographically located on the western coast of South America and borders Argentina , Bolivia , Peru , and the South Pacific Ocean with a total land mass of 756,950 sq km. The majority of the western border of Chile is established by the sea and most of the eastern border is established by Andes Mountains . This extreme variation in elevation causes much variability in the climate. The nature of the large land area also establishes multiple climates ranging from desert in the north, Mediterranean in the central region and a cool, damp climate in the south. (Central Intelligence Agency 2004)


Brief History of Chile

In the 1500s, Chile was inhabited by many indigenous peoples including the Inca. The Incan empire stretched through the deserts of the north and into the central valley. Although the Inca had little influence on the culture of the northern indigenous peoples, they held political control. In the central valley the Araucanian Indians lived in a horticultural and agricultural culture that aggressively resisted both Incan and later Spanish attempts at control (Collier and Sater 1996). The Treaty of Tordesillas between the Spanish and the Portuguese in 1494 gave all of the land outside of Brazil to Spain , that land included what is now Chile (Bernhardson2000). Spanish explorers did not reach modern day Chile until 1541 when a series of unfriendly confrontations took place during the establishment of colonies throughout the countryside (Bernhardson 2000). The encomienda system was one that granted European land owners the ability to require labor of native peoples that resided on the land after purchase for subsistence. This encomienda system soon followed the discovery of gold at El Dorado , and later transformed into the hacienda system that set up a large disparity of wealth and land ownership up till the 1950s. The original encomienda “was a governmental office similar to the encomienda of Spanish military orders, strictly limited in tenure, and essentially conceived as a concession of the right to collect and enjoy the king's tribute” (Lockhart 1969).  The hacienda system was system of landlords that required high taxes for the usage of thier land.  The economic conditions of the 1920s through the 1970s led to unrest among the poor masses (Sater 1979). The hacienda system that existed as the replacement of the encomienda system from the time of the abolition of encomienda was more similar to feudal system of England where land owners collected a form of rent for the land the lower class tenants cultivated. The evolution of the oligarchy into the hacienda transformed the social structure into one in which “elites emerged as those whose control was based upon power and wealth, not Indian labor” (Sater 1979). The late 1950s and into the 1960s sparked factionalism among politicians that were fighting on how to solve the economic problems. The left was divided and lost the election in 1964. In 1970, the Popular Unity party won the election under the leadership of Salvador Allende who had ties to the Communist Party in Chile (Mainwaring and Shugart 1997). After his election, the United States applied political pressure in as part of the “domino theory” battle of the cold war. It is alleged that the CIA assisted in staging a coup d'état lead by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte that overthrew Allende's presidency. This involvement by the United States was due to the fight against the spread of communist and the expropriation of US controlled copper mines (Sigmund 1977). Pinochet was a military dictator from 1970 till 1989 and was responsible for the murder of thousands of people under his nationalistic government. It was during the Communist uprising that Nueva Canción was born.


Distinctive Features of Chile

The rugged terrain of Chile is famous to outdoor enthusiasts the world over. Chile is home to a large portion of the Patagonia region of South America . Torres del Paine National Park and Tierra del Fuego are home to large glaciated regions that are broken into relatively small land masses by fjords and straights. A large amount of the land mass is separated from the rest of South America by the Strait of Magellan (Morain and López Baros 1996). Tierra del Fuego is the South American land closest to the continent of Antarctica.


Origins of Nueva Canción

Some of the themes that identify Nueva Canción as a genre are national identity, human rights, revalidation of traditional life, and social consciousness (Titon 1992). The creation of Nueva Canción has been dedicated to Violeta Parra (1917-1967) who was a born in Chile and immediately took to rural music as well as Andean and Amerindian instruments (Agosín 1995). “Nueva Canción emerged as a real force in the mid-1960s when various governments on the continent were trying to effect democratic social change. The search for Latin American cultural identity became a spontaneous part of the wider struggle for self-determination, and music was a part of the process” (Graham, Sainsbury, and Danbury 1999). Victor Jara was a figure in the history of Nueva Canción that cemented the movement on the global stage (BBC News 1998). He was a famous artist and political advocate in the mid 1960s that was arrested and later brutally murdered by the government of Pinochet in 1973 (Titon 1992).


The Cultural Significance of Nueva Canción
                   The song clip is #13 on the list on the following page  

Original Lyrics of Song and Translation

Interpretation of Song


Prognosis for this Musical Genre

Nueva Canción has cemented itself on the global scene through its widely known punctuations of violence such as the murder of Victor Para by Pinochet's army. In 1998, the 25 th anniversary of Victor Jara's death was held in London commemorating his work and his life (BBC News 1998). The nature of Nueva Canción being “modern and socially conscience in its musical style and message…reacts to penetration by foreign cultures, seeking instead to draw attention to the people…and their struggles for human dignity”(Titon 1992).



The struggle for cultural identity grows more difficult every year with international influences growing stronger with each passing day. The pride that Nueva Canción instilled in the people of Chile helped to establish a stronghold of tradition in the ever changing world. The compassion for the common person generated by this powerful genre enables and empowers social fairness in the new adaptations of Chilean culture.


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

    Agosín, Marjorie

    1995 A Dream of Light & Shadow: Portraits of Latin American Woman Writers.   Albuquerque : New Mexico Press.

    Bernhardson, Wayne

    2000 Chile & Easter Island. Hawthorn: Lonely Planet Publications.

    Collier, Simon, and William F. Sater

    1996 A History of Chile , 1808-1994. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

    Graham, Melissa, Christopher Sainsbury, and Richard Danbury

    1999 Chile : A Rough Guide. London : Rough Guides.

    Mainwaring, Scott, and Matthew S. Shugart

    1997 Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

    Morain, Stan, Shirley López Baros

    1996 Raster Imagery in Graphic Information Systems. Santa Fe : OnWord Press.

    Sigmund, Paul E.

    1977 The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile , 1964-1976. Pittsburgh : University of Pittsburgh Press.

    Titon, Jeff T.

    1992 Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World's People. New York : Schirmer Books.


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