Mixdown Monthly Beat Magazine


Alejandro Vargas

Part 1

The geographical location of the República de Chile [Republic of Chile] is the western Pacific seaboard of South America.  It is a Spanish-speaking country with a population of thirteen and a half million people, vertically encompassing around 4,300 kilometres (from its tropical northern borders with Peru and Bolivia, to its subantarctic southern extreme of Cape Horn) and horizontally averaging 177 kilometres, separated from Argentina by the Cordillera de los Andes [the Andes mountains].  The Spanish conquest, represented by Diego de Almagro (and later by Pedro de Valdivia) took place in 1536, and by February 12, 1541 the Europeans had established the current capital city of Santiago.  Independence was then consequently proclaimed by Bernardo O’Higgins and José de San Martín at the battle of Chacabuco in 1817.  Pre-colonization, indigenous groups inhabiting Chile included the Atacameño, Diaguita, Picunche, Araucanian (Mapuche), Huilliche, Pehuenche and Cunco Indians, although today, the only significant ethnic minority is represented by the Mapuche peoples, as the rest have to a great degree been either exterminated or absorbed into a mestizo race (mestizo or ‘mixed’ pertaining to an Indian and Spanish mix, as apposed to the mixing of alternative races).

The history of modern Chile is marked with the political upheaval of 1973 that forced musicians, artists and poets (the politically active) into a life of exile outside of their native land – the philosophy behind the events is best described by Jorge Coulón from Inti-Illimani (an internationally renown Chilean folk band with a 32-year history), who were on tour in Europe during the coup d’état orchestrated by General Augusto Pinochet.  Inti-Illimani’s music went on to be officially banned by the dictatorship of Chile, deterring them from returning to Chile for the next fifteen years.  Jorge Coulón recounts the sentiments of the time: “There was a sort of paranoia in the military government with respect to all musical activities.  And not only musical, because I think ninety or ninety-five percent of artists, painters, writers, dancers and musicians supported Salvador Allende’s government, because it was a concrete possibility to change the situation in Chile; the situation of inequality, and the situation of extreme poverty in our country.  And it was in a democratic way that we voted and elected Allende in free elections, and most people, intellectuals and artists supported Allende.  And I think they saw a phantom, a ghost (chuckles) in everything that has to do with culture.  In the very first weeks of the military government they banned the instruments.  It was crazy, it was incredible!  And our group, another group Quilapayún and Victor Jara were the most representative groups of the New Chilean Song Movement.  And Quilapayún and our group were on tour; Quilapayún was in France at the time, and we were in Italy on the day of the coup.  And the first thing that they did was to ban the instruments and our groups from the radio; and we were forbidden to return to Chile.  And that day they killed Victor Jara in the Chile soccer stadium.  But I think it was a paranoia with culture.  You know, the Spanish fascist leader Franco once said that when he would hear the word ‘culture’ he would make a move for the gun.  So it’s a long tradition in military mentality.”

It is the events following democratically elected President Allende’s assassination in the bombing of the presidential palace, and the overthrow of his socialist government by the military Junta that led to the great Chilean exodus of the early seventies – many Chileans escaping the persecution that ensued with the new right wing government, and entering Australia (among many countries) as political refugees.  It is important to note that bands such as Inti-Illimani and Illapu (another celebrated Chilean folk group that has visited Australia on four occasions) have a major place in the development of the local Chilean artistic psyche, as their active spiritual link to their homeland has provided the inspiration for the formation of many musical groups, contributing to the creation of the present Chilean-Australian identity.

According to the 1996 census, native-born Chileans now represent a figure of 26,217 or 0.1431784% of the total Australian population of 18,310,714 (this percentage excluding first generation Chilean-Australians).  They are no doubt the dominant Latin American community, and reside mostly in New South Wales (14,383 or approximately 55%) and Victoria (7,478 or approximately 29%), with the remaining 16% distributed fairly evenly among the other states (Tasmania and the Northern Territory excluded, with lesser numbers).  The total figure of Chileans in Australia nevertheless being considerably low when put up against the top ten ethnic groups with roots in the UK (1,164,088 or 6.36%) New Zealand (315,054 or 1.72%), Italy (259,125 or 1.42%), Former Yugoslav Republics (193,775 or 1.06%), Vietnam (164,164 or 0.90%), Greece (141,750 or 0.77%), China (121,145 or 0.66%) and Germany (120,753 or 0.66%), India (84,770 or 0.46%) and Hong Kong & Macau (79,224 or 0.43%).

Alejandro Vargas is one of those Chilean migrants, arriving in Melbourne in 1975 together with his family, and at the age of thirteen.  “We came as normal migrants, but the situation back there was very scary,” he recalls, “My parents were very involved, so it was like, ‘Get out, or you’ll never get out!’”  With both parents engaged in leftist politics (the mother positioned as the Minister of Faith for the Radical Party, an ally to Salvador Allende’s socialist party), a cousin in jail and an uncle sought by the authorities, it was clearly time to leave their homeland.

In Australia, Vargas quickly went on a search for a Latino scene to participate in.  “I became more a Chilean outside, and spoke English because I had to.  I mean, I’ve been here for twenty-five years, and my English is not the best, because I speak Spanish most of the time.  My primary language, the way I think, and if I have to swear, I swear in Spanish, it’s automatic.”  He goes on to clarify that the bias is Latino, rather than Chilean, “You become very patriotic, but patriotic not for the country but for the continent, for the language, the culture, the music.”  He then elucidates, “I love for example, going to schools and showing all those instruments to kids, because kids are so impressed by the sounds.  And it gives them an idea of what we do and how hard it is, in that we’re not just little Indians running around with little mules, with the llamas.  And if I can leave something anywhere that says, ‘This is Latin culture, this is our culture,’ then I love it more.“

His musical initiation actually took place in Santiago, Chile, and at the age of six on the guitar and piano accordion.  “It was typical in Chile to have a guitar around the house, every house had a guitar.  I don’t know if you remember, but it’s part of Chilean life, it’s like a soccer ball,” explains Vargas.  The chronological period being 1968, when Argentine and Chilean popular songs are very much in mode, but above all, dominant is a radio culture, and the singer/guitarist ‘Leonardo Fabio phenomenon’.  “Still in Chile, you find that every singer has his little book of songs, with all the chords for the guitar, the charango and the cuatro,” he says, “And everybody has learnt a song from those books.”  Vargas now regards music as being his saviour in Australia, because as a promising young Chilean student, top of the class for eight years, and not being able to communicate in his adopted country was extremely hurtful.  “I was a motor mouth, a kid that wanted to know everything, a kid that wanted to say everything.  And then here suddenly you’re mute and deaf.  So you go back into your roots and say, ‘How can I express myself in this music?  People don’t understand what I’m saying, but they’ll understand what I’m playing.’  So music becomes your saviour, your translator.”

Jorge Gonzales is another local Chilean musician, and began playing the guitar at the age of sixteen, also in Santiago, Chile.  At school he became involved in folk groups, performing at festivals all around the country.  “But I didn’t have the means to do music, I didn’t have much money for good equipment,” he says, “And then I met these people who were of a clase media (clase media or ‘medium class’ being a level beneath the clase alta or the ‘high class’ of Chile, represented namely by doctors and land owners respectively), higher up than me, that had money.  You know how in Chile there is a big division in the social classes.  They had money to buy vehicles to get around, so they had those comforts.  I didn’t have anything compadre!  They bought a guitar and a Fender set-up for me to use.  It wasn’t mine, but I could use it anytime.”  The music that Gonzalez played then was basically a style in tune with the trends of the time, plus the old music, boleros, tangos, cumbia and rock n’ roll.  “And at the September 18 celebrations, we had to play cuecas,” he recalls.


'Mixdown' Monthly ~ Issue #76, August 2, 2000


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Unauthorized reproduction and copying of this page is prohibited by law. Copyright © 2000 by Andrián Pertout.

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Gustavo Alfonso Garcés and Jorge Gonzales

Part 2

In Chile, before the coup, set in motion had been a political and cultural process inspiring musicians to go against the class divisions.  “Los guevones le tiravan mierda a los ricos, toda esa onda [the guys used to put shit on the rich, all that wavelength],” states Gonzalez, “But from the coup on, everything changed, you couldn’t even say ‘red’, because they’d think that you were a communist.  There was censure, and curfews every day.”  He continues, “There was a system of oppression, where the higher social classes would look down on you – people were being imprisoned, there were police everywhere, you couldn’t say anything in public, you had to keep your ideas quiet, all that.”  Victor Jara, the father of the movement, dubbed La Nueva Canción paying the ultimate price for that system of oppression, murdered by the military regime in 1973.  “I can tell you that today I hate the military, police, whatever they be.  That type of person is fundamentally quadrado [square] to me, and I will never accept them in my way of thinking.  And I don’t forgive them either,” Gonzalez adds with contempt.

Isabel Parra, daughter of Violeta Parra, who is a famous Chilean folk artist with a direct connection to that generation of political and social activists, points out the significance of the movement today: “I think that La Nueva Canción was a movement and still is one that has a tremendous importance to make a connection with Chile.  The groups marked a milestone in the musical history of Chile, and it is unknown at this moment or badly diffused.  I think the situation will be reversed, and that’s how for example in France people study the New Chilean Song phenomenon, books are written about it, doctorates are done and theses are done.  I think that will arrive in Chile rather late, because here (in Chile), there’s been a cultural backlash of great proportions.  And so all those things are pending I would say.”

Alejandro Vargas contributing to the discussion by highlighting the ‘bigger picture’ of the Latin American Nueva Canción perspective: “Chico Buarque in Brazil, Ali Primera in Venezuela, Ruben Blades in Panama, Charlie Garcia, Mercedes Sosa in Argentina, Illapu, Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún in Chile, Los Olimareños in Uruguay – they all created a new poem, a new way of saying things without having to say so much, or a way of rebelling through music.  The main problem with dictatorships in Latin America is that they couldn't control the young people, and the music played by all these people I mentioned, got through to the young crowd, with a message of hope, with a message of, 'Hang on, there's something better, you can better yourself', and there was always hidden messages.  The poems themselves were banned during the dictatorship in Chile and Argentina.  Most of the musicians in Latin America lived in exile in Paris or Rome.  Poets were banned, and the music; even the instruments, because they were more piercing than a bullet to them.  Because when you hit people with culture, people think, and when people think they see right and wrong.”

This is an opportune moment to ask what is Chilean music?  Apart from the indigenous Araucanian representation, the music is for the most part “essentially Spanish in its inspiration and origin.”  In Music in Latin American Culture: Regional Traditions Ercilia Moreno Chá presents Manuel Dannemann’s extremely complex demarcation of nine music-cultural areas for Chile, which although enlightening, the perception on the street is somewhat less complicated, with most Chileans isolating the cueca, when asked about the ‘real’ Chilean music.  Five decades ago, in Music of Latin America, Nicolas Slonimsky describes the cueca as “the most popular air of Chile.”  The story of the zamacueca (usually shortened to cueca) begins with its first appearance in 1824; the origins of the name believed to be a derivative of zamba, “a Moorish festival” and clueca, “the clucking of the hen.”  (In Peru, the dance is called the marinera, changed in the name of patriotism after the 1879 war between Chile and Peru.)  The cueca is either sung or danced, always in a major key, and usually written in six-eight-time with the accompaniment in three-four time.  “Neither the words nor the music obey any fixed rules; various motives are freely intermingled.  The number of bars is from twenty-six to thirty, and there is usually an instrumental introduction eight to ten bars in length.  The last note of the melody is either the third or the fifth of the scale, never the octave,” comments Chilean composer Pedro Humberto Allende (1885-1959).

What is the standing of the cueca today?  Alejandro Vargas proposes, “Years ago Chilean music to me was the cueca, but in a very sarcastic and ironic way, Pinochet did Chile a favour, because culturally we grew.  Groups like Inti-Illimani and Illapu, people like Isabel Parra, they lived overseas, and so Chilean art developed.  It’s sad, but if we hadn’t left Chile, Chilean music would still be the cueca.”

Alex Enrique Pertout (a prominent Chilean percussionist in Australia), points out that although the cueca and the Peruvian marinera essentially have the same rhythmic structure, Peruvians often utilize an alternative Andean instrumentation.  Pertout’s frequent use of cueca type rhythms in instrumental jazz settings reveals that although not quite part of the mainstream, Chilean sentiment is nevertheless very much alive in urban Melbourne, Australia.  “But the one that I listen to is more like the Afro-Peruvian thing, and the Afro-Peruvians play the cajón and they play marinera,” he points out.  The cajón, a percussion instrument that is simply a wooden box, was incidentally introduced to him via Chilean folk group Inti-Illimani, which demonstrates this band’s level of influence on local Chilean musicians.  “They influenced a whole lot of people.  And that was the first time that I saw the cajón, they were the first to start using the Afro-Peruvian rhythms with the cajón, before any other Chileans, so I consider them as great innovators.”

The tonada on the other hand is “the quintessential song of Chile,” and has its roots in the songs of the first Spanish conquistadores – the “strophic forms, the themes, and the poetic devices employed” of the texts indicative of this Medieval and Renaissance Hispanic influence.  This song form, up to the last fifty years, had been traditionally performed exclusively by a female solo voice, but has since been adopted by men.

“The tonada and the cueca are similar, but the tonada is more melodic and has an intermediate melodic section,” explains Jorge Gonzales, “The cueca doesn’t, it begins with a punteo (introductory melody), an entry on piano, accordion, or guitar – it introduces the singers, and that’s it, it’s gone.  But not the tonada, the tonada is a bit more melodic, and is not danced.”  In Australia, Gonzales has played tonadas and cuecas, but mainly for the Fiesta de Dieciocho [Party of the Eighteenth] independence celebrations of the Chilean community.  Although these days he chooses not to get involved in the musical activities of the community, as he has become totally disillusioned with its al lote [dodgy] nature, stating that the it is filled with traits of bad organization, misunderstandings, half-hearted effort, irresponsibility and things simply done badly.  “The problem with many Chileans is that they have this al lote thing in the blood,” he states.

Chilean journalist Alejandro Arellano, who was the presenter of the Spanish program on SBS Radio for over twenty years (from its beginnings in the late seventies), arrived in Australia via Spain, in 1974.  Today he dedicates his time to the literary arts, and is currently in the process of crafting novels for a Spanish-speaking audience, with the main intent being self-satisfaction rather than monetary.  His position of direct contact with the Australian Chilean community (as well as other Spanish-speaking communities) in the past allows for an exemplary summary of the theme at hand.  “The truth is that Chilean music of the traditional type or let’s say music that is connected to tradition – traditional music it cannot be if it’s new – but let’s say its rhythms connected to tradition that is considered Chilean; this was never very big in Australia,” he points out.  “I know that a few cuecas and tonaditas have been composed here and there, but they never circulated very far.  And perhaps that wasn’t the intention, and were created for their reduced mediums, for their zone, their group, something like that.“  He continues to suggest that the music practiced by Chileans in Australia has not been truly Chilean, because Caribbean music, such as cumbias had began to touch the hearts of the people in Chile, and for that reason most of the good bands performing that music in Australia until recently had been Chilean – now joined by the Salvadorians and the Peruvians.  “So for a long time the music that the Chileans searched for, that the Chileans sang, that the Chileans bought, and that the Chileans danced overall were the rhythms that had began with the cumbia and continued with all this that’s called the salsa movement, merengue, and all these things that are from the Caribbean,” he explains.

Arellano then acknowledges the fact that the other great Chilean effort in relation to music has been the contribution to Andean music.  “That is thanks to two or three groups that became famous in Chile, which are basically Inti-Illimani, Illapu, and Quilapayún at first, but was later based in Paris and lost its status.  But the other two were very present here, always innovating, so they were always in fashion.  And that fashion was responsible for creating a lot of groups here, and many musicians who have now begun to export their music.”  According to Arellano, in Australia, the traditional folk music, the cuecas and tonadas have been mainly reserved for the day of independence, September 18 celebrations, which begin early in the month and build up to a climax on the day – where people listen and dance to cuecas in parks; this practice of tradition representing interpretations of old repertoire and therefore not new developments.


'Mixdown' Monthly ~ Issue #77, September 6, 2000


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Unauthorized reproduction and copying of this page is prohibited by law. Copyright © 2000 by Andrián Pertout.

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Inka Marka

Part 3

In 1977, Alejandro Vargas joined ‘The Chilean Folkloric Dancing Group,’ and began performing at various multicultural events such as the Festival of All Nations and the Shell Festival.  “The multicultural thing was a big thing, we had a festival nearly every week then.  And we had amazing shows, a lot of Latin American groups, the Argentine traditional group, the Peruvian dancing group, the Chilean folkloric group, and then we had the Russians, the Yugoslavians, the Greeks, Malaysians, Chinese, everything.  Things that you don’t see now, things that are gone,” he recalls.  Other performances included ones organized by local councils, such as happenings at the Camberwell Civic Theatre, Collingwood Town Hall and Melbourne Town Hall.  Vargas believes that this state of affairs was created by the desperate attempt of all these recently arrived migrants to hang on to their roots.  “You don’t see many Chilean kids doing Chilean dancing anymore, because they’re now first generation Australians.  So my kids are not into Chilean music as much as I was.  But I can’t ask them to feel what I felt, because it doesn’t belong to them.”

In that same year, Vargas went on to form the first Andean music group in Australia, called ‘Apurima,’ and right after Inti-Illimani’s visit.  “That’s when I saw Horacio Durán play the charango, and thought, ‘I love that instrument, I want to learn it!’  I was fifteen at the time, and was amazed by it.”  Following this, he began to actually make money out of music, performing for Australian audiences at gigs such as the Moomba Festival and the Royal Show.  “But busking didn’t start till later, because in 1977 Latin music was nothing.  You talked about Latin music then, and people thought of the big sombrero, the Mexican with the mule.  Hasta Mañana, ABBA, that’s the Spanish they knew,” he says with jest.  It was initially hard for Apurima to break into the scene, but because the sound was unique, the band began to work regularly (sometimes doing three gigs in one day), being well paid, with each member getting up to one hundred dollars, for ten minutes work, which in the late seventies was a substantial sum.  “At sixteen, earning a hundred dollars a night, when your father’s earning a hundred and twenty all week is quite a bit of money!”  The band also performed Andean music (including Inti-Illimani covers) at restaurants around Melbourne, and functions hosted by all the social clubs, including the Uruguayan, Chilean, Argentine and Peruvian clubs.  He goes on to explain that the music with charangos, quenas, and bombos is not typical of what people call ‘Chilean music.’  “The northern part of Chile has this music, but because a long time ago this region belonged to Bolivia, we have a part of Chile that assimilates to Bolivian music,” he says.  “This music wasn’t popular in Chile until 1968, with the resurgence of Quilapayún, Inti-Illimani, and then later in the early seventies, Illapu.”

What are these so-called Andean instruments?  In an interview conducted in 1996 for Australian Musician, Alejandro Vargas provides the following description for the instruments that he plays: “I play the Venezuelan cuatro, the charango, which is a five double stringed instrument made mainly of the shell from the armadillo, the Colombian tiple, which has four triple steel string, tuned like the guitar except for the second string which is B octave, a second octave, so the second string's higher than the first string, and it sounds like a harpsichord, the Spanish guitar.  I also play wind instruments like the quena, which is a bamboo flute with a big hole at the top, but it has no mouthpiece, so sound and the tuning, you have to do it with your mouth.  The quenacho, which is a bigger version of the quena, it's like the imitation or copy of the normal flute, then you have the moxeño, moxeño is a bigger version, it's a copy of the oboe.  The panpipes, you have six different types, the ica, the malta, the zampoña, the semitoyo, the toyo, and then you have the bajón.  They mainly tune in the G scale, so they have an F sharp, not a natural F.”

In the early eighties, Vargas actually worked towards joining Illapu (his childhood dream and aspiration), but after six months of hard work, eight hours a day, five days a week, once in Mexico (Illapu’s base at the time) he settled for a more representative position within the act.  “The first time I ever heard a record from Illapu, I thought, ‘I’m going to meet these guys, and I’m going to play with these guys.’”  Over the years, he has established a close connection with the group, acting as their Australian manager since 1984, being the organizer of all their local tours.  “I feel responsible for having bands like Illapu and Inti-Illimani known here, because I introduced Illapu to the market here, and introduced Inti-Illimani to promoter Clifford Hocking by taking him to one of their concerts.”  Inti-Illimani has since become a popular concert ticket in Australia.  The ‘Leyenda’ album recorded live at the Philharmonie Theater in Köln, Germany is just one admirable example of why this band has such an outstanding reputation around the globe.  The album features collaborations with flamenco guitarist Paco Peña and classical guitarist John Williams.  Paco Peña comments on his association with the group and the events surrounding their return to Chile in 1988, following fifteen years of exile in Italy: “It’s been wonderful really, and I think the whole musical experience has been terrific, because they are very creative people, and to collaborate with them has been very energetic and very productive.  But emotionally, I don’t think you can go much closer to the bone than to play with them as we did in the stadium in Chile, where notorious events took place just after the coup, and being with this Chilean group that was exiled on account of their beliefs.  And you know, coming back to the whole reasons for the coup that took place in Chile, and so on.  So to sit there in that stadium, and play with them for Chilean people was very moving for them, and indeed very appreciated by the audience there.  So I think that probably was the most significant moment.”

Jorge Gonzalez on the other hand arrived in Australia relatively late, on January 6, 1988.  It was soon thereafter that people found out that he played guitar, and began to invite him to perform at birthday parties and other social functions.  He then bought a Roland set-up (which he would never have been able to afford in Chile), and in time was recommended to Melbourne Latin band Nueva Generación.  Today he works as a ‘first class’ welder during the day, “I would love to be a full time musician, but have never found the way to do it.”  Gonzalez is also the current bassist of salsa band Del Barrio, and performs regularly at the Next Blue in the Crown Casino and at The Stage in Fitzroy.  “We play salsa, we don’t play merengue or cumbia, but salsa means when you play mambo, rumba, bomba or even cha-cha, or son, it’s all included,” he says, “It’s all salsa, because salsa is many things, it’s many rhythms included into one theme.”  The band is made of two Chileans, a Uruguayan, a Cuban, a Colombian, a Peruvian, three Australians and a Russian.  “Bands these days are going along with what the public wants, which is merengue, cumbia and salsa, that’s all they want,” he deduces as the reason for the current salsa fever.

Alejandro Vargas has also played in salsa bands, namely Los Rumberos, an eight-piece rumba and salsa band.  “We were all from different musical and cultural backgrounds,” he says, “Two guys from India, another two from Uruguay, my brother Gustavo from Chile, a Chilean sax player, a Spanish guitarist, and myself.”  The band performed within the club circuit, frequenting venues such as Billboards, Café Clicquot, One-Twenty Bar and Bolero, as well as the Melbourne Festival every year.  “On one occasion we had ‘Things of Stone and Wood’ as a support band,” he recalls, “Because we were bigger then.  We used to attract nearly four thousand people at the festival.”

What is the lyrical essence of the music?  “Latin music is full of poetry, and every little bit of poetry tells a different story,” explains Vargas, “And the main theme in the music that we do is social problems.  Now people are writing about AIDS.  There’s a song that says, ‘Don’t close the door, don’t walk away, AIDS will get you.’  You know, protect yourself.”  He continues, “And the state of the economy, how young people are the forgotten ones, and this whole race to become recognized.  Chile’s supposed to be one of the growing countries in Latin America, but there are so many forgotten people, social injustice.”  He is of course referring to the music being imported from Chile, which Illapu describe as being “based on the conflicts and the problems of mankind, especially those of Latin America and the Third World, which remain unresolved.”  “But I haven’t met many people that write here,” says Vargas, “There’s a friend of mine called Victor Ricardo, and he writes.  He has a song called ‘Latino’, which talks about living away from home.”  The only other Chilean songwriter that springs to mind at this juncture is Sydney-based Chilean pop artist Waldo Fabian, who in 1988 released Loco on the Festival Records label.


'Mixdown' Monthly ~ Issue #78, October 4, 2000


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Unauthorized reproduction and copying of this page is prohibited by law. Copyright © 2000 by Andrián Pertout.

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Cecilia ‘de los Andes’ and Aleksander ‘Gorizjian’ Pertout

Part 4

Latin American musicians have always had that sense of responsibility with regards to political and social issues.  In 1998, Inti-Illimani performed together with Bruce Springsteen, Mercedes Sosa, Sting, Wynton Marsalis and Peter Gabriel for the Amnesty cause, and in Chile, they have now established the Victor Jara Foundation.  Jorge Coulón from Inti-Illimani explains the nature of this phenomenon: “In Latin America, in general, artists, poets and writers must do many things, because we have no great philosophers or historians, so we have play a part in that.  We learn in Europe and in English speaking countries that there is big activity at universities of people who are thinking and discussing life and politics.  We have less thinking people, and maybe because we have less money to finance all the people thinking (chuckles).  So part of this activity in Latin America is done by musicians, poets and artists, and it’s very important because the people are waiting for you to do something in this way.  We do have people working in professional politics, but they look after their own interests.  The position of the artist who is engaged in politics is more general, it’s not his own personal interest that he looks out for, it’s more a social interest.  And the people here ask the artist to have a position in this way, people are always asking us not only our opinion but to participate in social activities.”

And what is the structure of the music?  “With salsa you are free to do whatever, as long as it fits in the time frame and in the rhythm frame.  And with the Andean stuff it’s pretty much the same,” states Alejandro Vargas.”  In the creation of new material, songwriters tend to stick close to the established ‘basic’ formats.  “I always write the poem first, and then I look for the melodies that work with it,” explains Victor Ricardo, “I always divide songs into AB sections, and then I come up with a C section to finish, the climax of the song.”  How about the dissemination of the music?  How is the music passed on?  “The tunes are copied from existing recordings, and learnt by ear,” states Vargas, “I haven’t met many Chilean musicians that read music, apart from you (the author) and Alex (Pertout).  You’ve got people that are fantastic musicians like Javier Fredes, but he doesn’t read music, he plays by ear, he plays by the soul.  And they play in a salsa band here and a funk band there, a little bit of everything, and Javier is one of the ones that have the most work.  There’s Rodrigo Aravena, who’s a bass player.  He played with Del Barrio and Los Rumberos, and toured with Men at Work not long ago, in March this year.  Rodrigo Bustos is another Chilean bass player, and he’s playing with Venessa Amorosi at the moment.”

Vargas points out that the only thing that he’s doing today that keeps him close to his dreams and aspirations is teaching.  “A lot of my students are playing on the street, busking, and that makes me feel good, the fact that I’m leaving something behind,” he says.  “I’m not playing on the stage, but my students are.”  He teaches all the Andean instruments, including the quena and charango, as well as guitar, accordion and a little percussion.   “One of my students, Jaime Carrasco plays with ‘Inka Marka,’ he goes around Australia, and has been to South Africa.  He was thirteen, when he started playing the quena.”  Vargas also conducts workshops at educational institutions, “I did a bit of a lecture at Latrobe last week, talking about the instruments, the culture, and the history of Andean instruments, and people appreciate that sort of stuff.  And I would do that anytime.  I’d rather do that than a gig.”

Santiago-born Jaime Carrasco is a member of Andean band ‘Inka Marka,’ which performs a broader vision of Chilean music, encompassing Bolivian and Ecuadorian traditions among several.  “It’s a sense of self-realization in a way, because at school you weren’t quite Australian, you weren’t quite Chilean for that matter, so maybe it helps you fit in somewhere,” Carrasco explains.  Three of its members are Chilean, while the other two, Argentine and Bolivian respectively.  He describes the music as ‘Andean European’, pointing out that the evolution of Andean music is being directed from Europe these days, by bands making a similar living busking on the street, and releasing records, “because bands don’t make a living from this in Bolivia and Ecuador.”  He continues, “It’s a unique evolution, because it’s been able to give a lot of musicians work, like busking wise, and you don’t hear of many forms of music that evolve that way.”  As a student of Alejandro Vargas, Carrasco is a testament to this individual’s commitment to pass on his cultural knowledge.  He arrived in Australia in 1980, at the age of two, and today considers himself as Australian.  “I’ll always be Australian,” he says, “But at the same time you think of yourself as Chilean as well – you speak the language, you eat the food.”  The band members are full-time musicians, “It’s a mixed bag of work, you take what you can get, and a lot of it is busking.”  Inka Marka has released four albums to date.  “The CDs sell pretty well, so that gets us by.  And in between that there’s different stuff, from weddings, to corporate functions, to festivals, to some hotel circuits.”  In the upcoming weeks, the band will be performing in New Caledonia, which represents a return visit, “And we’ve landed a really good job in Malaysia supporting Sting for the Rainforest Festival.”  He then adds, “But we love playing the street, we love busking, that’s really fun for us and it’s been able to give us a living for the past two years.”

The picture of the Chilean-Australian artist may be broadened further still by incorporating the ‘music lovers’, who because attempted to conquer the world with the ‘heavy luggage’ of a family, never quite have represented their community artistically in their own right, although have passed on their musical enthusiasm to the next generation.  Cecilia ‘de los Andes’ Pertout migrated to Australia via Italy in the early seventies, and performed Chilean lyrical songs of the ‘art music’ tradition together with her husband, the late Aleksander ‘Gorizjian’ Herman Pertout in restaurants.  As unknown artists but nevertheless music aficionados, they performed German operettas in Santiago’s restaurants – Cecilia additionally singing songs such as El Copihue Rojo, derived from the repertoire of soprano Rayen Quitral (of Mapuche blood), pronouncing the red copihue, an indigenous southern flower with red or white bell-like petals.  The goal was to eventually establish a musical way life, but once in Australia, with four children, the priority soon became survival, with music viewed as somewhat of a luxury.  So their only musical outlet to be was the four years as restaurateurs at the Key Hole Restaurant in Carlton, Melbourne, where Cecilia and Aleksander ‘the singing chef’ (together with son and percussionist, Alex Enrique Pertout) vowed audiences week after week with their animated renditions of European and Latin American songs.  “But these kinds of songs (El Copihue Rojo) were unknown in Australia, so I didn’t sing them very much here, because they didn’t really work; unless it was a more famous song, such as Ay, ay, ay, which is a Chilean song by Osman Perez Freide known throughout the world.”  The Andean music of Peruvian sensation Ima Sumac also entering the repertoire, with Cecilia performing a soprano version of El Condor Pasa.  Aleksander ‘Gorizjian’ passed away in the early part of 2000, his dreams and aspirations of musical glory shattered, but nevertheless a devout music critic to the end.

What is the musical picture of today?  “In Australia, the traditional Chilean thing is related to dancing.  There’s a group here that does typical Chilean music, it’s made up of two people, and both are my students.  They play accordion and guitar, and sing cuecas and tonadas, that sort of stuff.  And I think that they are the only ones that do that in Australia,” says Alejandro Vargas.  The group is called ‘Trio San Bernardo’ and features José Orellana on guitar and Gerardo Diaz on accordion.  He then concludes, “Everybody else, including myself are into the Andean stuff, we do music from Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia, a bit of everything, but not Chilean music.  We do the cueca, but the northern cueca from Bolivia, Peru, and the northern part of Chile.  But we don’t do the cueca with accordion, and I haven’t seen many young groups that do that.”  Vargas points out an amusing fact, “It’s funny because they call it Andean music, but most of the people that play it are Chileans.  They are some of its best exponents, in Australia and around the world.”

“The only gigs that are happening is the salsa stuff, and I can’t be bothered doing that,” he says.  “There are a few groups that do busking, like Inka Marka, but they’re young.  They can afford to do that, they don’t have a mortgage, kids and work, and everything.  But years ago doing a gig was satisfying for me, but now it’s more of a burden, when I accept a gig, I go and do it and come back home straight away.”  Vargas then adds, “People think that we love the applause and the attention – no, we love to play music, and sometimes it’s better to play it at home.  But I think if you’re a real musician that loves music, it doesn’t have to be on stage.”

Why do Chileans do what they do?  In the words of Alejandro Vargas, “I do it for the love of it.  As a young kid, I didn’t have time to escape, I didn’t have time to go to discos, I didn’t have time to do the kid thing, and I didn’t have a favourite TV show, because I was always busy trying to do music.  When we started Apurima we used to practice seven days a week, every evening.  In summer we’d go to the beach, and then at seven o’clock we’d go home and practice.  It’s my way of keeping the culture alive…”


'Mixdown' Monthly ~ Issue #79, November 1, 2000


All rights reserved. All text, graphics and sound files on this page are copyrighted.
Unauthorized reproduction and copying of this page is prohibited by law. Copyright © 2000 by Andrián Pertout.

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Béhague, Gerard.  Music in Latin America: An Introduction.  Prentice-Hall History of Music Series.  Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979.

Chá, Ercilia Moreno.  “Music in the Southern Cone: Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.”  John M. Schechter, ed.  Music in Latin American Culture: Regional Traditions. New York: Schirmer, 1999.  236-301.

Fairley, Jan.  “Nueva Cancion: The Guitar is a Gun – The Song is a Bullet.”  Simon Broughton, Mark Ellingham, David Muddyman, and Richard Trillo, eds.  World Music: The Rough Guide.  London: Rough Guides, 1994.  569-577.

Olsen, Dale A.  “Folk Music of South America – A Musical Mosaic.”  Elizabeth May, ed.  Musics of Many Cultures. California: U of California Press, 1980.  386-425.

Slonimsky, Nicolas.  Music of Latin America. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1945.

Virtue, Therese, ed.  “Latin American Culture in Melbourne.”  Tradition & Transition:  Music of Four Communities.  Pauline Meaney, comp.  Melbourne: The Boîte, 1986.  33-45.

Public Broadcasts

Acuérdate de mi [Remember me]. By Andrian Pertout.  Perf. Andrian Pertout.  Chilean Community of Victoria: Fifth Latin American Song Festival.  Darebin Arts & Entertainment Centre.  Spanish Program.  SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) Radio.  Introd. Alejandro Arellano.  Trans. Andrian Pertout.  SBS, Melbourne.  19 Aug. 1995.


Apurima.  Raices.  Perf. Alejandro Vargas, Ivan Gándara, Diego Veliz, José Manuel Vargas, Willy Virán.  Apurima, 1996.

Fabian, Waldo.  Loco.  Perf. Waldo Fabian, Jamie Pattugalan, Carl Dewhurst, Sean MacKenzie, Brendon St Ledger, Hugo Leal, Luis Lugo, Andriána Deffenti, Craig Walters, David Theak, Anthony Kable, Todd Hardy, Laurent Le Feuvre, Floyd Vincent, Mark Glanville, Brenda Sole, Gordon Rytmaister, Chris Toner, Andrew Gander.  Festival, 1998.

Illapu.  Sereno.  Perf. Roberto Márquez Bugueño, Cristian Márquez Bugueño, Carlos Elgueta Días, José Miguel Márquez Bugueño, Luis Galdames Sandoval, Eric Maluenda Gonzáles.  EMI Odeon Chilena, 1997.

Inka Marka.  Auki Auki.  Perf. Enrique Berbis, Michel Bestrin, Jaime Carrasco, José Diaz Rodriguez, John Paul Pincheira, Rodrigo Santelices.  Black Market Music, 2000.

Inti-Illimani.  Amar de nuevo.  Perf. Jorge Ball, Daniel Cantillana, Jorge Coulón, Marcelo Coulón, Horacio Durán, Horacio Salinas, Efren Viera, Pedro Villagra.  Green Linnet, 1993.

Inti-Illimani with John Williams & Paco PeñaLeyenda.  Perf. Jorge Coulón, Marcelo Coulón, Horacio Durán, Horacio Salinas, Max Barrú, Renato Freyggang, José Séves, John Williams, Paco Peña.  Sony Classical, 1990.

Mumbo Jumbo.  Carnaval.  Perf. Gustavo Alfonso Garcés, Alejandro Cajili, Augusto Lopez, Alvaro Gonzales, Alex Vega, Manuel Perez, Ralph Whiteoak, Alejandro Vargas.  Newmarket, 1994.

Pertout, Alex. Alex Pertout.   Perf. Alex Pertout, Bob Venier, Mario Genovese, Michael Mathews, Virgil Donati, John Barrett, Colin Hopkins, Cecilia Pertout, Alejandro Vargas, Lachlan Davidson, Andrian Pertout, Linda George, Penelope Dyer, Lindsay Field, Derek Pellicci.  Larrikin, 1993.

Victor Ricardo y La Mezcla Rara.  Laberintos. Perf. Victor Ricardo, Rodrigo Bustos, Eric Bustos, Brenden Elliot, Adam Simmons, Claire Shannon, Mal Pinkerton, Alejandro Vargas, Guillermo Viran, Ben Marks, Greg Spencer, Corey Hall, Ralph Whiteoak, Richard Thoyle, Mathew Henderson, Barry Hodder, Jorgelina Perez, Claudio Mery.  Vicsan, 1998.

Internet Resources

Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.  “Welcome to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.“  Australian Bureau of Statistics.  (11 Jun. 2000): no. pag.  Online.  Internet.  Available HTTP: http://www.abs.gov.au/  (11 Jun. 2000).

 “Illapu: Morena Esperanza.”  Página de Quena (n.d.): no. pag.  Online.  Internet.  Available HTTP: http://enlaces.c5.cl/~quena/illapu/  (10 Jun. 2000).

“Inti-Illimani.”  The Official Chilean Inti-Illimani Home Page (n.d.): no. pag.  Online.  Internet.  Available HTTP: http://www.inti-illimani.cl/  (10 Jun. 2000).

Isabel Parra.”   Sociedad Chilena del derecho de autor (n.d.): no. pag.  Online.  Internet.  Available HTTP: http://www.iparra.scd.cl/  (10 Jun. 2000).


Arellano, Alejandro.  Telephone interview.  Trans. Andrian Pertout.  12 Jun. 2000.

Carrasco, Jaime.  Telephone interview.  12 Jun. 2000.

Gonzalez, Jorge.  Telephone interview.  Trans. Andrian Pertout.  12 Jun. 2000.

Pertout, Alex Enrique.  Telephone interview.  12 Jun. 2000.

Pertout, Andrian.  Interview with Alejandro Vargas.  “Alejandro Vargas.”  Mixdown Monthly 33  (Jan. 1997): 23.

- - - .  Interview with Alejandro Vargas.  “World Music in Melbourne: Apurima.”  Australian Musician Spring 7  (Sep. 1996): 17-18.

- - - .  Interview with Alex Enrique Pertout.  “Alex Pertout: The Percussionist.”  Australian Musician  Spring 15  (Sep. 1997): 30-31.

- - - .  Interview with Gustavo Alfonso Garcés.   “Gustavo Alfonso Garcés: Mumbo Jumbo.”  Mixdown Monthly  49  (May 1998): 21.

- - - .  Interview with Isabel Parra.  “Isabel Parra: The Chilean Folk Songstress.”  Trans. Andrian Pertout, and Aleksander Pertout.  Mixdown Monthly  66  (Oct. 1999): 23.

- - - .  Interview with Jorge Coulón.  “Inti-Illimani: Chilean Folk Legends.”  Mixdown Monthly  67  (Nov. 1999): 22.

- - - .  Interview with Paco Peña.  “Paco Peña: Beyond the Frets of Mortal Man.”  Mixdown Monthly  66  (Oct. 1999): 15.

- - - .  Interview with Paco Peña.  “Paco Peña: Feel the Passion.”  Beat Magazine  621  (16 Sep. 1998): 24.

- - - .  Interview  with Paco Peña.  “Paco Peña: The Art of Flamenco.”  Mixdown Monthly  54  (Oct. 1998): 20.

- - - .  Interview with Roberto Márquez Bugueño.  “Illapu: Los Emisarios Chilenos [The Chilean Emissaries].”  Trans. Andrian Pertout, Aleksander Pertout, and Cecilia Pertout. The Spanish Herald  24  (25 Mar. 1997): 4.

- - - .  Interview with Roberto Márquez Bugueño.  “Illapu: The Chilean Emissaries.”  Trans. Andrian Pertout, Aleksander Pertout, and Cecilia Pertout.  Mixdown Monthly  35  (Mar. 1997): 19.

- - - .  Interview with Victor Ricardo.  “Victor Ricardo y La Mezcla Rara: Laberintos.”  Trans. Andrian Pertout. Mixdown Monthly  60  (Apr. 1999): 28.

Pertout, Cecilia ‘de los Andes’.  Telephone interview.  Trans. Andrian Pertout.  12 Jun. 2000.

Vargas, Alejandro.  Personal interview.  9 Jun. 2000.


“Latin America.”  Gerard Béhague. Music in Latin America: An Introduction.  Map.  Prentice-Hall History of Music Series.  Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979.  xiii.


Encyclopaedia Britannica.  “Chile.” Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 99.  Multimedia ed.  CD-ROM.  Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1999.


Inka Marka.  Inka Marka Live in Bourke Street Mall.  Concert.  Perf. Enrique Berbis, Michel Bestrin, Jaime Carrasco, José Diaz Rodriguez, John Paul Pincheira, Rodrigo Santelices.  Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne.  14 Jun. 2000.

Pertout, Andrian.  Acuérdate de mi [Remember me].  Perf. Andrian Pertout.  Chilean Community of Victoria: Fifth Latin American Song Festival.  Darebin Arts &
Entertainment Centre.  13 Aug. 1995.


“Como lo van hallando: Tenemos una peña lirica [What Do You Think: We Have the Lyrical Group.”  Trans. Andrian Pertout.  Las Ultimas Noticias  (22 Jul. 1970) 16.

“Eh, mozo, me canta por favor: Bueno, porque soy Esloveno [Hey, Waiter, Sing For Me Please: Well, Why I am Slovenian].”  Trans. Andrian Pertout, and Maritza Pertout.  Las Ultimas Noticias: Diario Magazine de Santiago para todo Chile  (20 Dec. 1965) 52.

Migration, Australia.  Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1999.  Cat. No. 3412.0.

Pertout, Andrian.  “Paco Peña: Feel the Passion.”  Mixdown Monthly  53  (Sep. 1998): 6.

- - - .  “Waldo Fabian: Loco, Waldo.” Mixdown Monthly  55  (Nov. 1998): 31.


“Aleksander ‘Gorizjian’ Herman Pertout & Cecilia ‘de los Andes’ Pertout.”  Las Ultimas Noticias.  Photograph.  (22 Jul. 1970) 16.

Farac-Pertout, Katija.  Gustavo Alfonso Garcés & Jorge Gonzalez.  Photograph.  Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne.  Mar. 1998.

- - - .  The Author & Mumbo Jumbo.  Photograph.  Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne.  Mar. 1998.

Pertout, Andrian.  Inka Marka: Busking in Bourke Street Mall.  Photograph.  Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne.  14 Jun. 2000.

- - - .  Alejandro VargasPhotograph.  Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne.  9 Jun. 2000.

- - - .  Alejandro Vargas: Collection of Instruments.  Photograph.  Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne.  9 Jun. 2000.

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