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March 2005

Violeta Parra:
Violeta "to the rescue"

Besides being a first-class poet, an unforgettable singer and a truly complete artist (from the guitar to the burlap with the same talent), our Violeta Parra was an investigator and rescuer of the folk songs that were orally transmitted at the countryside of Chile.

By Rosario Mena.

Violeta Parra was born in San Carlos, Chillán, on October the 4th, 1917. Her father was a music teacher; and her mother, a woman that enjoyed playing the guitar and singing, and who made a living as a seamstress. There were nine siblings; among them, the poet Nicanor, Roberto (musician and writer) and Lalo (singer). It was with the latter and with their sister Hilda that Violeta started to sing throughout the streets of Chillan, when she was just nine years old. At 12, she was already composing her first songs. Later, while preparing to become a teacher in Santiago, she concentrated on the creation of tonadas, boleros and corridos.

She married Luis Cereceda, a railroad worker, in 1937. The children they both had, Angel and Isabel, would became great musicians as well, both working very closely with their mother. In 1948 she separates from her husband and starts living an itinerant life all throughtout Chile. She gets married again the next ear, and from that marriage were born her two other daughters, Carmen Luisa and Rosita Clara.

Violeta did a very active work around circuses, bars, “quintas de recreo”, “peñas” and halls. In 1952, motivated by her brother Nicanor, she starts travelling around Chile's smaller towns and villages, just to record and collect folk music that hasn’t been recorded befored. She gets to have a close contact with lots of musicians, most of them very old. She travels with her older children, just with a recorder and a guitar. They work in circuses and theaters as well. Later, in her own creative work, Violeta will make a kind of cultural synthesis based on this in-terrain experience, which helps her show the richness that hides in Chilean popular tradition. What Violeta does is vindicate the true popular culture, fighting against prejudices and stereotypies.

In 1953, after a concert at the house of Pablo Neruda, Violeta makes a jump towards stardom, with a contract with Chile radio for several shows. A year later she receives the Caupolican Award, given to the best folk musician of that year. Her first records are made in France, where she lives for two years after being invited to Poland, and travelling all throughout Europe and the Soviet Union.

Back in Chile, in 1958, she starts working on ceramics and tapestries, and later she begins making burlaps, because of an illness that keeps her in bed for several months. Then comes a fruitful time, full of activities: she travels, organizes concerts, teaches about folk music, writes, paints and continues with her tireless work of rescuing popular music traditions.

In 1961, she goes to Europe once again, this time with Angel and Isabel, and stays in Paris for three years. She offers several concerts, and presents her music in Paris’ radio and TV shows. In 1963 she gets to exhibit, with great sucecess, her burlaps, paintings and wire-sculptures at the Louvre museum. She was the first Latin American artist who invididually did so. The following year, Swiss TV prepares a documentary about her life and work.

Back in Chile she goes back to sing with Angel and Isabel, at the “Peña de los Parra” (Carmen 340), and then inaugurates her own tent for concerts at the Santiago area known as La Reina, hoping to make it a big centre for folk culture. There she plays with her children, while she keeps recording and travelling with her music throughout Chile. On April the 5th, 1967, she shoots herself and dies, at her tent of La Reina. Her book “Decimas” is edited three years later because of the insistence of her brother Nicanor.



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