Gracias a La Vida: The Rebel Spirit of Violeta Parra
April 17, 2015
New York, NY
By Ernest Barteldes
In an evening of dedicated to trailblazing singer-songwriter Violeta Parra named after what is arguably her most celebrated songs, rapper Ana Tijoux opened the proceeding accompanied by an acoustic guitarist, opening with a stripped-down version of “Sacar La Voz,” a tune originally recorded as a duet with Jorge Drexler, following that with “Mi Verdad,” a poignant tune on the class differences in her native land – a growing problem all over Latin America.
She closed her short set with “Antipatriarca,” a feminist statement against machismo around the world whole lyrics say “you will not humiliate me/you will not shut me up/you will not oppress me” during the chorus.
Tijoux adapts well to a more intimate setting – she presented a similar set during the acoustic showcase at the 2014 Latin Alternative Music Conference acoustic showcase, singing with a more melodic feel, taking advantage of the empty spaces to give a fuller vocal delivery.
Backed by a three-piece group (guitars, percussion), Colombina Parra took to the stage with no introduction, playing a set of psychedelic-inspired original songs with no apparent reference to her aunt. Her music was quite aggressive and electric. She didn’t seem too eager to connect with the audience, and the only time she did have any interaction was when she interrupted one of the tunes to briefly introduce the band.
Her music seems to come from various influences – one song had a Bob Dylan-esque quality, and another ended with a cacophony of sounds that reminded me of the Beatles’ “A Day in The Life.” Her stage persona was, however, a bit off-putting.
After a short intermission the six-piece Illapu (pronounced ih-lah-PUH) began with an uptempo Andean number. The sextet often switched instruments, often playing with different pan flutes, charangas and regular guitars in addition to percussion and bass guitar. Their set included songs by Parra and also by Victor Jara, the composer and singer tortured and murdered by the Pinochet regime in 1973.
The group, however, does not dwell in sadness but celebrates the music of the harsh times that eventually led to the entire band being exiled from their home country. In fact, one of the most celebrated songs of the set was “Vuelo Para Vivir,” a song that talks about their return to Chile with footage of the group being received in Santiago airport to hugs and tears from fans and family members.
Colombina Parra was invited back to the stage to sing lead on “Gracias a La Vida” with Illapu. She read the lyrics as she sang (to the surprise of many in the audience – the song is very well known throughout Latin America. They closed with “Arriba Quemando Al Sol” with Parra on lead vocals and very tight four-part harmony vocals from the group.