Chicago and West Coast Beat: Gracias a La Vida, A Tribute to Violeta Parra

By Ernest Barteldes

Violeta Parra was one of the greatest singers and songwriters to emerge during the
“Nueva Cancion” (“new song”) movement in South America, and was incredibly influential not only for her contemporaries but also to many fans and musicians who came after she took her own life in 1967.

Parra is arguably best recognized for “Gracias a La Vida,” a song that celebrates the gifts of life – the tune was recorded by luminaries like Mercedes Sosa, Brazil’s Elis Regina and countless others.  The lyrics speak of gratefulness and the happiness of being in love, but some interpret the words as a suicide note.

The tribute will feature Ilaipu, an Andean group formed in 1971 that had first-hand experience of the excesses of the Pinochet regime:  after wrapping up a tour in 1981, they found themselves barred from their own country due to the political content of their lyrics. They lived in exile for almost the remainder of the decade, when the dictator finally stepped down in 1988 following a successful opposition campaign to strip him from the presidency.

Also on the bill is Colombina Parra (a niece of Violeta’s), who started her career as a punk/grunge singer-songwriter in the 1990s.  Her style did evolve, and now she incorporates various acoustic and regional elements into her music – an example of that is “Volvamos a Encontrarnos,” a sensual tune in which she almost whispers the vocals with the backing of percussion and acoustic guitar.

The Chicago concert is part of a four-day event entitled “ Gracias a la Vida: The Rebel Spirit of Chile’s Legendary Voice, which celebrates Parra’s legacy with field trips, film screenings and lectures.

Saturday, April 18, Old Town School of Folk, 4544 N Lincoln Ave · Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall; 773.728.6000; 7:00; $30

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