UC Berkeley News


Horacio Salinas performs '60s music, Chilean-style
Inti-Illimani founder reflects on 'La Nueva Canción' and Latin American popular movements

| 27 April 2005

Chilean guitarist and composer Horacio Salinas is on campus this month teaching a seminar on the Latin American "new song" movement.
Chilean musician and composer Horacio Salinas was touring in Europe with the musical group Inti-Illimani when a military coup overthrew his country's democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, on Sept. 11, 1973. That traumatic event precipitated "a break that none of us had imagined," Salinas said in a recent interview with Beatriz Manz, professor of geography and ethnic studies. "Against our will, we were very far from our country and alone with our music. We didn't have anything else. The only thing we knew how to do was sing."

Sing they did. After their passports were revoked by the military dictatorship that took power in Chile, the group's intended three-month tour became, instead, an exile lasting 15 years. During that period, the group performed in more than 60 countries and made dozens of recordings, bringing to the world the sounds of Latin America and the Nueva Canción ("New Song") movement- with its use of traditional Andean instruments and lyrics reflecting collective social conditions - born in Latin America in the 1960s.

Salinas - who founded Inti-illimani in 1967 with fellow engineering students and has served as the group's musical director - is on campus this month teaching "La Nueva Canción and Popular Movements in Latin America," a seminar offered through the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS).

"He combines the talent of a musician with the insights of an astute observer of the social and political context," Manz says of the seminar sessions now in progress. "In addition to illustrating points with drawings of pre-Hispanic instruments or explaining a rhythm with his guitar, he uses maps to ensure that students understand the importance of geography, history, and the social and political framework in which music has evolved in Latin America and the Caribbean."

Salinas has received numerous international and Chilean awards and has performed with the London Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, and Italian Lecce Symphony, among others. In his recent conversation with Manz, published in the winter 2005 issue of Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies (formerly known as the CLAS Newsletter), he discusses the formation of Inti-Illimani, life in exile, his return to Chile, and future plans. Excerpts of that interview are published here; the full version, in English translation, is online at newscenter.berkeley.edu/goto/CLAS_05. An earlier interview is available at newscenter.berkeley.edu/goto/CLAS_00.

MANZ: When did you decide to really pursue the musical profession?
SALINAS: I began studying classical guitar in the conservatory in 1967, when I was 16 years old. Before finishing school, I was already directing the group Inti-Illimani. And then for two years I combined my musical studies with the study of chemical engineering.

Are they related?
There is a relationship that exists between music and math. I believe that my interest in chemistry was, above all, the enchantment that I found in chemical experiments: the unpredictability, the chemicals changing colors, the smoke. It was partly the suggestion of alchemy, more than chemistry, which caused me to study it.

Also, all the members of Inti-Illimani were studying electrical, chemical, or mechanical engineering. It is very curious that the groups that were revolutionary in musical terms did not come out of the conservatory or the music schools; they were born in the technical universities, in academia. Quilapayún [a Chilean Nueva Canción group founded in the mid- '60s] and Inti-Illimani were both groups of engineers..

I decided to focus on music after studying engineering for two years. Certain conditions paved the way for artistic work to be promoted at the national level and by the government. We began to talk about the [progressive] government of Salvador Allende because our university, which was the public Santiago Technical University, had a progressive rector. As the Nueva Canción movement grew . the university hired various artists, among them Víctor Jara, members of Quilapayún and Inti-Illimani, Isabel and Ángel Parra, Charo Jofré, and also a folk ballet. We became a team of artists and traveled throughout the country giving free concerts. We went into the communities where musical concerts had never been performed.

So already at the university, the relationship between Nueva Canción and the social and political movements of Chile had begun.
In Chile in the late 1960s, the university was an echo of very strong reformist winds [taking place in Latin America]. In those years the university [itself] was also undergoing profound change, which put an end to the concept of the university as a bubble of study separate from society's problems and opened the university to the community. Therefore, it made sense for the university to hire these musicians..

How would you explain the relationship between your music and the political movement in Chile at that time?
The 1960s was a decade of very profound changes in the world. In political terms, it is the decade in which the hippie movement was born in the United States. Che Guevara's guerrilla warfare also arose. The events of May 1968 took place in France when the purpose and life of the university community was questioned..[Musically, the 1960s saw] the boom of rock and the revolution led by the Beatles. It was the era of singers such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger..In that decade all the problems of human beings surfaced and manifested themselves in the songs.

In Chile the pioneer of that movement was Violeta Parra. What she did was to democratize music. Before her, songs were not about the people's problems. For the first time, songs spoke of social problems in very poetic terms. They were not only about love - which has always been present in song lyrics - but also about the human condition, the social condition, the exploitation of the people. The protest song was born . and music contributed in a notable way to a moment of liberation of the spirit..

Did you ever dream, let's say before 1973, that the music of Inti-Illimani would come to be known in all the corners of the world?
No, because one never knows what is going to happen..In our case, on Sept. 11, 1973 [the day of the Chilean coup], there was a break that none of us had imagined.

You were in Italy, right?
We were in Italy, on a three-month tour that lasted 15 years. Against our will, we were very far from our country and alone with our music. We didn't have anything else. The only thing we knew how to do was sing..

How was your return to Chile? How were you received?
We arrived on September 18, 1988 - the national independence day..The arrival was a bit unimaginable..There were 5,000 people waiting for us at the airport..[I experienced] tremendous emotions, to find people whom I believed weren't there anymore; they kept appearing: classmates, musicians. It was an unrepeatable moment of a very deep kind of love that exists in communities that have suffered a tragedy. There are moments in which the human being is very small, and all together they are transformed into one. There is a communion that unfortunately doesn't last long, but when it comes, it is a tremendously moving moment in life. And that was what happened when we arrived..