Sunday Singalong: Violeta Parra

OK, this one is Violeta Parra, an incredibly haunting Chilean folk singer who saw folk music as a “weapon against oppression”.  Yeah which revolutionary didn’t? She and her children became the song-writers of the left-wing political movement of her country. Not only that, Parra went to huge lengths to archive and legitimise Chilean folk music – a language of the poor that was fast dying. Parra, herself, had grown up in a poor family of labourers, musicians and poets, which is so Chilean, because that country has more poets per head of population than anywhere else in the world, or at least that’s what I think. With her folk art Parra went on to be the first Latin artist to be exhibited in the Lourve. She had an enormous influence on folk music – she basically kicked off the folk music genre of the 1960s – even though she died before that decade was even done, and her song, Gracias a la Vida is one of the most covered Latin American songs in history.

To really get into the headspace of Parra’s music you need to be driving through the great open spaces of rural Chile.. or reading Pablo Neruda’s poetry in his favourite hotel room in Temuco – experiences I can boastfully claim to have had. Hey, let’s all do a study tour together soon?

One of my travel photos below.

Gracias a la Vida is some superb Spanish poetry – listen to those gorgeous rolling rhymes – but it’s also a terribly heartbreaking song because Parra wrote it not all that long before she killed herself and so every one of her claimed pleasures reads as a sorrowful ‘goodbye’. The song translates roughly in English to…

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
And from within the multitude
The one that I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me an ear that, in all of its width
Records— night and day—crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines and bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sound and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and the light shining.
The route of the soul from which comes love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder,
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I see good so far from bad,
When I see within the clarity of your eyes…

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone’s song, which is my very song.

Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life

The actual lyrics in Spanish are..

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.
Me dio dos luceros que, cuando los abro,
perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco,
y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado
y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado el oído que, en todo su ancho,
graba noche y día grillos y canarios;
martillos, turbinas, ladridos, chubascos,
y la voz tan tierna de mi bien amado.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado el sonido y el abecedario,
con él las palabras que pienso y declaro:
madre, amigo, hermano, y luz alumbrando
la ruta del alma del que estoy amando.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado la marcha de mis pies cansados;
con ellos anduve ciudades y charcos,
playas y desiertos, montañas y llanos,
y la casa tuya, tu calle y tu patio.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.
Me dio el corazón que agita su marco
cuando miro el fruto del cerebro humano;
cuando miro el bueno tan lejos del malo,
cuando miro el fondo de tus ojos claros.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto.
Así yo distingo dicha de quebranto,
los dos materiales que forman mi canto,
y el canto de ustedes que es el mismo canto
y el canto de todos, que es mi propio canto.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.



Categories: arts & entertainment, Culture, gender & feminism, indigenous, language, social justice

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