Nueva Canción’s Víctor Jara: A Discography Overview
By Emily Nagatomo
Víctor Jara, a pioneer of the Nueva Canción Chilena movement, was the voice of the Chilean poor. The themes of Jara’s songs dealt with the poverty and injustice experienced by the common people and advocated for human rights. The longing guitar, charged lyrics, and powerful folkloric performances sowed a revolutionary hope for a more peaceful and loving Chile during a time of great political turmoil. The music of the Nueva Canción movement was a uniting force against the right-wing, Chilean dictators and politicians. The characteristic sorrowful guitar melodies with Jara’s characteristic sweet voice evoke a crooner-like nostalgia of what could be for a better Chile. The powerful musical protest captivated young progressives across Latin America. This proved a threat to conservative movements, and under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Jara was tortured and executed in the Chile Stadium. The legacy of Víctor Jara continues through his music, reminding us to imagine a better life free of the ills of poverty and injustice.
In 1966 and 1967, Víctor Jara released his first two eponymous albums, drawing much inspiration from Violeta Parra, the founder of the Nueva Canción movement. In his early albums, the lyrics and sentiments are largely autobiographical of Jara’s childhood in poverty. “Canción de cuna para un niño vago” (Lullaby for a Deserted Chile) reflects the turbulent relationship Jara had with his father. The melancholic lullaby pays homage to the children, like Jara, who grew up in rural poverty and subject to the brutality of “la vida tan dura” (such a hard life). The focus of the song then shifts beyond the child and to the all-encompassing concerns of money on the family, and then across Latin America and the world. The song pays a haunting tribute to the most vulnerable and reiterates the need for change.
The call for change continues through his subsequent albums and becomes especially charged after endorsing Salvador Allende, the Marxist head of the Popular Unity party. One of Jara’s most famous songs “Venceremos” (We Will Triumph) became the anthem of Allende’s campaign in 1970. Unlike the typical folkloric music of the Nueva Canción movement, the march has a strong, regular rhythm and exclamatory lyrics to rally support for Allende. “Venceremos” was pivotal in cementing musical protest as an incendiary for revolution throughout Latin America. It would also, however, mark Jara and those associated with the Nueva Canción movement as a direct threat to conservative regimes.
In Jara’s final album, the title track “Manifiesto” expresses the deeply melancholic nature of the nexus between Jara’s singing and political advocacy. The most foretelling and haunting lyrics being: “El canto tiene sentido/ cuando palpita en las venas del que morirá cantando/ las verdades verdaderas” translating to “the song makes sense when it throbs in the veins of the one who will die singing the truthful truths”. The beautiful vocals and guitar accompaniment create a simultaneously idyllic and somber tone that empathizes with the struggle of protest. There is always the idealized goal inherent to protest and advocacy, yet the reality is often grim and arduous and can be difficult to maintain positivity.
Castillo, Andrés. Fundación Victor Jara. Andrés Castillo
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The most foretelling and haunting lyrics being: “El canto tiene sentido/ cuando palpita en las venas del que morirá cantando/ las verdades verdaderas” translating to “the song makes sense when it throbs in the veins of the one who will die singing the truthful truths”. The beautiful vocals and guitar accompaniment create a simultaneously idyllic and somber tone that empathizes with the struggle of protest.