Who was Violeta Parra?
One hundred years after her birth, Violeta Parra, an exponent of Chilean folk music and the icon of a generation, is remembered by Latin Americans as one of…
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With a melancholic charango, Violeta Parra's voice will always be remembered for the sweetness with which she sang that immortal composition "Gracias a la vida", which unjustly sums up her musical importance.
Born in San Carlos (Santiago) on October 4, 1917, Violeta was one of the main "folklorists" of South America, who dedicated her life to the popular music and popular culture of her country.
Songwriter, painter, sculptor, embroiderer and ceramist, Violeta was not only a multidisciplinary artist, but also combined in her works the melancholy and idiosyncrasy of a country once enclosed between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
Despite being born near the capital, her childhood was spent in the southern countryside, between Lautaro, Chillán and Villa Alegre, where along with her brothers she learned to play traditional songs that would allow her to help her family survive.
The boleros, corridos, cuecas, rancheras and tonadas would be the means that would lead her to discover her own voice, especially after returning to Santiago, invited by her brother, also recognized antipoet Nicanor Parra.
Her lifestyle and character wouldn’t allow her to keep afloat a traditional marriage with Luis Cereceda, with whom she had her two children Angel and Isabel. She divorced him in 1948, but not before entering the Communist Party.
By the 1950s, Violeta was already a prolific performer of Latin American popular music, but it was the influence of her brother Nicanor that led her to rebuild her traditional Chilean repertoire, against fashions and social pressures.
She compiled more than three thousand songs that she published in her first solo albums and in her work Cantos folclóricos chilenos, edited by EMI Odeon.
Her work as a folklorist led her to travel to places like Warsaw (Poland) and the former Soviet Union, even arriving in Paris, where she recorded her first full length albums (Guitare et chant: chants et danses du chili) in 1956.
This was the first time that Chilean culture and tradition had come so far.
On her return, she founded the National Museum of Folk Art in Concepción, and continued with her composition of up to four albums published between 1957 and 1960.
In 1961 she traveled to Argentina to meet her sons Ángel and Isabel and from there she left for Finland, Germany, Italy and France, where she would settle for a while singing in the Latin Quarter and giving recitals even in the Theater of Nations of Unesco .
But it would be in 1964 when she would achieve a "historic mark" by becoming the first Latin American to be exhibited individually at the Museum of Decorative Arts at the Palais du Louvre in Paris. Her sample counted on burlap, oils and sculptures in wire and carried the title of Tapestries of Violet Parra.
During this time, she met the man who would inspire much of her repertoire, the Swiss anthropologist and musicologist Gilbert Favre, whom she always considered "the great love of her life." It was in honor of Favre that Parra composed her epic pieces "Corazón Maldito", "El Gavilán" and "Qué he sacado con quererte”.
Returning to Santiago in 1965, Parra would install a large tent to transform it into a center of folk culture, with the collaboration of her sons Ángel and Isabel, and the folklorists Rolando Alarcón, Victor Jara and Patricio Manns.
In a convulsed country that anticipated a political transformation, her dream didn’t come true and the public did not support it.
Her relationship with Gilbert Favre expired when the anthropologist decided to leave for Bolivia in 1966 (which would give rise to one of her best known songs Run Run se fue pa’l norte), and Violeta would be left deeply depressed.
Despite this, she continued to work and compose the songs that would be part of her latest album Las últimas composiciones, which included her great hymns "Gracias a la Vida" and "Volver a los 17".
Her farewell had been anticipated with the words "Gracias a la Vida", and few realized that it was a long-gone goodbye. Violeta Parra took her own life at age 49 in her tent at La Reina, at 17:40 on February 5, 1967, leaving the Chilean folkloric movement orphaned, and evidencing the end of an era that would be continued with the twilight of the dictatorship, only six years later.
This October 4 was 100 years since La Voz de Chile saw the light, and her compositions remain in force, not only for its adaptation in voices like Mercedes Sosa, Raphael and Pedro Vargas or the impetus of her grandchildren to continue her legacy, but because it sowed the seed of Chilean identity, responsible for the survival of folklore.