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December 2004
Santos Rubio, popular poet and musician:
The sound of rural wisdom

Songwriter Santos Rubio has just been recognized with the Presidente de la República Music National Award. He's not just a singer but a poet, a "payador” and the interpreter of a typical kind of Chilean guitar, the "guitarrón”.

By Rosario Mena

To celebrate Christmas, in 1998, the National Archives of Oral Literature and Popular Traditions organized a meeting of those popular singers that still practice the Chilean tradition of what's called "canto a lo divino” (song to the divine). Below, there's a fragment in video of the participation of songwriter Santos Rubio.
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Cantores a lo divino


Santos Rubio says that his blindness is the result of a curse, brought upon him when he was only one year old, because of the general envy to his bright blue eyes. Instead of moaning about it, he decided to sharpen his sense of hearing, becoming a musician and poet. He's now an unavoidable reference for typical Chilean traditions, such as the "paya” (rural rhyme), the "guitarrón”, and the popular song and "Earth poetry”. His legacy on traditional culture is transcendental, not just for his work on folk compiling, composing and playing of rural instruments, but also for the significance that this effort has had for the preservation and promotion of such a form of typical Art.

Last December the 3rd, one day before his birthday, President Ricardo Lagos gave him the Presidente de la Republica 2004 National Music Award. He still lives in the same town where he was born in 1938, Puntilla de Pirque (about an hour South of Santiago). There he works on music along with his brother Alfonso. They're the true exponents of a musical and poetry tradition that passes on orally, from one generation to the other. His grandfather, his father and his mother, were also singers from this same area, now a cradle for players of the "guitarrón” and the composers of "payas”.

In search of this deep wisdom, several artists have visited his home. Even Violeta Parra and Victor Jara came to drink from Santos Rubio’s fountain. With the latter, Santos Rubio established a profound friendship (he’s on the credits of Jara's record "Canto por travesura”). Rubio is an expert on instruments such as the harp, the accordion, the guitar, the guitarrón and the vihuela. He has a large repertoire of "cuecas”, "tonadas” and songs to the divine and the human.

Rooted on the ground, far from the lights and showbusiness, Santos Rubio’s stage is rural life and the most traditional celebrations. He participates with sincere commitment in rituals such as the "angel’s wake” (children funerals). Santos Rubio incarnates the traditional singer that meets the community role of that who has a great spiritual relevance. For more than eleven years, he has taught his art to the young students of Pirque’s La Puntilla Grammar School, looking for the maintenance of this art through the generations. His work has also been praised by the intellectual world: he has been invited to give classes in the Arts Faculty of Universidad de Chile, for instance. He has been part of important records and several meetings of payadores all throughout Chile.
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