Before becoming a "payador", Pedro Yáñez was a guitar player, singer of the Latinamerican repertoire, ethnomusicology student, folklore's investigator and compiler of stories, riddles, tales and verses. He has directed creative workshops and collaborated on the few cueca recordings made by the late Victor Jara.
He's able to improvise the diverse styles of the cueca. In the 70s he founded Inti Illimani and introduced himself to the "guitarron" and the "payas". He believes that Chilean traditional roots music is an art linked with the ancient tradition of the rural "song to the divine", and should be seen by people as a way to identify themselves with that national culture that belongs to us all.
?When did you have your most definite introduction to the cueca?
—I would listen to cuecas since I was a little boy in Campanario, my town in Ñuble. Then I learned to write them, at 19. As a "payador" I'm able to improvise the lyrics, and that's what we have been doing with Eduardo Peralta since the mid-80s. It's the same for almost all "payadores", who can improvise and write cuecas with relative ease.
—What's the vital relation between the cueca and the paya?
—There's a very close relation. The cueca begins with a "copla", which is equivalent to the verse in the paya. Then comes the "seguidilla" with a structure open to dialogue. So you have alternate singers for every round.
—And which would be the main differences and similitudes among the two, in terms of content?
—First, it has to do with identity. Both are part of our culture and are developed within the sphere of what's called "popular arts". They're both sung poetry, and have complete relevance in the tradition and professional circles. Its lyrics come from people's experiences and hopes. The big difference is that the cueca has a text, a tune and a dance, so you get to perform it in larger social meetings. The "decimas" of the paya are very much related to philosophy and religion. My personal view is that the decima may be more "intelligent"; but the cueca is the cueca.
—What do you think about the relation between the rural and the urban singing? Can you see any link between the singers from the countryside and the city?
—The rural tradition includes stories, myths, legends, handcrafts, dances.
What we call popular song has urban and rural elements, because you will find songs in any given community. So the "urban cueca" is also part of our songbook, and its texts are popular poetry, and its dance is part of a whole dancing heritage. Among the two worlds I sense there is true admiration, not rivalry.
—As a famous "payador", what would you say are the conditions to better promote and develop the "paya"?
—The main condition is for a contact among the people and the singers. It was such a contact that gave birth to these kind of expressions in the first place, and then chose the best among the singers for them to become professionals. But that contact was later artificially interrupted. So I think that the challenge for the 21st century is for the people to regain their right to enjoy our artistic heritage. I don't believe in the media polluting the mental health of our society, and I dare think of a future in which there will be promoted values related to identity, creativity, sociability and a kind of smart enjoyment.
Pedro Yáñez was born in 1946 in Campanario, a town of the Ñuble province, and has inhabited since his childhood the rural world. His contact with poets, singers and guitar players would later lead him to compile and register popular creation.
Since he was 18 he was part of folk groups, and his first public performances were in theaters in the cities of Tome and Concepcion. In 1967, in Santiago, he founded and became the director of Inti-Illimani, a group he left when moving South (were he did a similar work with Los Afuerinos).
He studied singing, guitar, harmony and composition at the Universidad de Chile, while performing as troubadour at the peña Chile Ríe y Canta. The coup of September 1973 meant his expulsion from his studies in Music and Ethnomusicology.
Meanwhile he published his first record, as part of the duo Coiron (with Valericio Lepe). His vocation of "payador" was strengthened by his meeting with such talented musicians as Santos Rubio, Arturo Vera, Honorio Hila, Manuel Ulloa and Roberto Vasquez. He recorded his first "decimas" in 1972. In 1976 he recorded the LP El canto del hombre. In 1981, Encuentro de payadores featured his work with Santos Rubio, Benedicto Salinas and Jorge Yáñez.
Las palabras dormidas and Cuatro payadores chilenos are two of his recordings from the 80s.
In 1994 he receives the APES award as "best folk musician" for his work in the record El jardinero y la flor. In 1999 he would get the National Music Award Presidente de la Republica. A year later, his name will be recognized with the Altazor Award.
El canto del hombre is the title of his 2001 CD, in which some songs feature his wife, Cecila Astorga, Chile's first "payadora". The CD Encuentro internacional de payadores was recorded live and features the work of Yáñez, Eduardo Peralta, Manuel Sánchez, Cecilia Astorga and Uruguay's José Curbelo. The record is a good introduction to the performance of the "paya", even with questions from the audience.