Gautam Dasgupta Jaal LP (Super, 1987)
If you are looking here for some insight on Bollywood soundtracks, you are at the wrong place. Not only is my knowledge of this genre of music surface level, but there is a little disclaimer on the back of this record stating "Not from the original film soundtrack"! So what we have here is some kind of Bollywood cash in. Great. Actually, great! Really, it makes no difference to me whether this is authentic Bollywood or some Bombay back alley rip off. Whatever it is, there are three killer tunes here.
About fifteen years ago, I picked up a Bollywood soundtrack because the record cover was too good to pass up. The image was some Indian Fabio-type riding an elephant which was about to stomp on some dude who looked like a cross between Gandhi and Warren Oates in The Wild Bunch. A couple babes in saris looked at the elephant rider with admiration. Lucky me that the record was as wild as the sleeve. Hooked, I hopped into my truck and went to every Indian grocery store in town, asking for music soundtracks. There usually was a small box. I flipped through records and one or two or five looked good, I bought them. After a while I became familiar with a few names and expanded my trips up the Valley to Yuba City, where there is a sizable Indian & Sikh population. My pickings were okay. That is to say, I got some good records, but all in all my total haul was less than 75. Vinyl had just transitioned to CD and I was getting the last of the these store's vinyl. A year later I did another sweep and encountered not one record.
Here are three songs from the non-soundtrack called Jaal. One of the things I love about these "Bollywood" songs is that even more so than American movie soundtracks, the rule here is whatever sounds work. The composers and musicians do have their standard routines, but when they stray a bit from the typical Bollywood dance tune or romantic song and incorporate other styles, the mixture is a bit more daring than say Leonard Bernstein. Raina Bawari Bahayee Re has a nice stripped down, almost dub sound to it. Rapadi Ki Topadi switches things up a few times in the song, but the foundation is a great minimal drum/vocal thing. And Rei Mere Doston starts with a Morricone western bit and then slides into a more conventional mode though without losing the dusty sound. The music was written by Gautam Dasgupta. The artists name appear before the song titles.
Ravi Shankar Transmigration Macabre LP (Spark, 1973)
Composed in 1967 for a Brit art film called Viola, Transmigration Macabre is not your average Ravi Shankar album. Overtly psychedelic, sometimes closer to Coltrane's mystical free jazz than the Indian classical music Shankar is famous for, Transmigration... is one of those records that gets revealed to you. In the olden days, that revelation would happen in the used record store. Young Timmy would come to the counter with a copy of Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality and one of Ravi Shankar's albums on World Pacific or his East/West record with violinist Yehudi Menuhin. The head behind the counter would shake his head, put aside the Shankar records, reach behind the counter and pull out a copy of Transmigration Macabre. "Here, kid. This is the one you want," he'd say ringing Young Timmy and sending him out the door, not giving him time to object. Young Timmy would go home, smoke a joint on the side of the house, go into his bedroom, listen to Sabbath and then put on the Shankar album AND BLOW HIS FUCKING MIND! That is the way it used to happen. Not anymore. Now we check out blogs or podcasts and do the soulseek thing. We find the dudes with the rapidshare blogs and download psychedelic collections that once took decades to obtain. No sweat, no blood, no stinky record geek loser standing behind the counter playing underground music pusher, sending you away with the idea that not only does every musician have a freaky side, but many of us are secret freaks. The record store guy knew that you were a freak and you now know he is a freak. You speak a secret language. Not a hip language or a lingo that makes you better than anyone else. Nah, just one that acknowledges that you don't fit in. Nowadays, people wear their freakiness or at least they wear some kind of store bought freakiness. Yeah, sure it is great that people can look however they want to look. It is groovy that every flavor is out there to be tasted. But it seems to me something has been lost in this effortless. point/click/download world. Like digital recordings can't capture room ambiance the way analog can; like look at words on a screen doesn't measure up to kicking back and reading a book; like watching two people fuck on yummygirlfuck.com, with your pants around your ankles doesn't quite compare to lying next to the one you love or even kinda like; this instant aural gratification, hell, let me just say that I hope that as far as this blog goes, it inspires you to do something more than play passive consumer of yet another mp3, even if that is only going out and getting your fingers dirty, digging for your own crud. Please enjoy:
Z Gun 1
Ryan Wells & I just published the first issue of our zine Z Gun. It is 40 pages with interviews with and stuff on the Brainbombs, Not Not Fun Records, San Francisco art punk of the 70s/80s, Pink Reason, tons of reviews and more. Stuff written by Shaun Wright (Marble Stature), Min Yee (A Frames), Monty Buckles (The Lamps) and Ryan & I. The price is very reasonable. Reviews so far:
"A sight for sore eyes" Tom Lax - Siltbreeze Records
"Best read in ages..." Brian Turner - WFMU
"It felt great to turn pages again" Grady Runyon - Monoshock/The Bad Trips
"Woah!" - Rick Ele - KDVS
Ordering info at S-S Records.
Get Stoned Ezy
High Speed & the Afflicted Man Get Stoned Ezy LP (Rock Toilet, 199?)
Among DIY psych & private press enthusiasts, The Afflicted Man (AKA Steve Hall) is pretty legendary. To the uninitiated, his is just a name. Maybe you might read a reference to it, some review by the Bull Tongue duo name drops Steve Hall or you see an Afflicted Man comparison in a Forced Exposure listing. You note the name and keep going. But, if you are like me, it is a name you never encounter in the record bin, because, hell, this shit is impossible to find. Even rabid music freaks are eluded by gems like Get Stoned Ezy. Too bad, because this stuff is dynamite. Grenchingly rabid guitar fuzz squall is what High Speed & the Afflicted Man is all about, perfect for the High Rise/Mainliner/Monoshock set. So what is the background on The Afflicted Man. I'll let my friend and colleague Roland Woodbe tell you. This from The Siltblog:
Afflicted Man (or Afflicted) was the charming moniker of a Londoner by the name've Steve Hall. Up to this outing, Afflicted Man's style could best described at stock-in-trade Brit DIY w/an almost Street Level sort've quality to it. Then at some point Hall lost the Afflicted tag & went on to the Accursed, which was a decidedly Nation Front styled punk trio who knocked out (at least) 2 lp's. And somewhere between that transformation came this amazing anomally. Too freaked out for punks, too punked out for freaks, 'Get Stoned Ezy' is a bloodbath of pedal stomping carnage. Recorded & (originally) released in 1982, it must've felt like a rusty safety pin stuck straight through the heart of whatever DIY fanbase Hall had aquirred. And for all the Pink Fairies or Hawkwind type's that mighta come across it, it was too primitive & animalistic for their quid. And forget about the psych & prog clowns. To them this must've seemed like a soundtrack to the Manson Family. In a country where the pigeonhole is everything, this record wouldn't play by the rules, was deemed "esoteric" & banished into the fog. See ya!
So where in the world did I get mine? Lucked out. Bought a stack of records from Monoshock's Scott Derr and this happened to be in the stack.
The song I've chosen for you was recorded in 1982. It is called Sun Sun and it takes up one side of a record. That means I ask that you download this one and not listen to it in real time.
Ornette Coleman Body Meta LP (Artist House, 1978)
You read many jazz guides? Yeah, me neither. I used to. When I was first getting into jazz, they were valuable for figuring out where to turn next. With many artists, especially the Legends, the guides were good to find the "essential" records. Every guide hyped Miles's Sketches of Spain, Monk's Brilliant Corners, and Coltrane's Giant Steps, as they should. Those records are fantastic! However there were also great records that the critics were not kind to , so they either never made it into a guide or where downplayed ("Eh, kid, you don't want to listen to that). On the Corner by Miles Davis is a pretty great example. Shat upon for years by the critics, On the Corner was passionately possessed by underground music freaks, avant punkers, deep funksters, and the college dejay crowd. These folks not only kept it alive but championed it so much that the record finally got reevaluated by the jazz establishment and is now given its due as a groundbreaking record.
Today we have another example of a record that needs to be taken out and played to fresh ears. Although a few people have taken up for Ornette Coleman's Body Meta, it is still not a record that is considered remarkable, by even die hard Ornette fans. "Hard to listen to" is the complaint I hear when I bring it up. I admit it is not an easy listening record. There is a challenge here, but not only is that part of the fun, to get caught up in the "difficulty" of this record means missing lots of great things.
First, lets start off with the overall sound. Some folks have called this fusion, some funk jazz. If it is either, it is as sideway an attack on fusion and I've ever heard. Funky, yeah it is, but again, this is a funk of angles and corners, not round pulses and fluid curves. Recorded in 1975, this predates No Wave by a few years, though its funkiness is as aggressive as The Contrortions, and certainly could have served as a template or at least an influence of any of the early No Wave bands. Second, the playing on this is mind-boggling. The two guitarists, Bern Nix and Charlie Ellerbee, create wire sculptures of sound, twisting notes in on themselves, weaving tight like a mutant steel cable. The rhythm section should be as heralded as the individual players are, for the razored groove that Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Shannon Jackson establish is a great example of something deceptively primitive and off the cuff. Ornette comes in and attacks the song, then plays with it. Soon he gets inside and is out again. He picks the sound apart from up high (you figure out what that mean, cuz I sure don't know!). And this goes on song after song, even when things "mellow out."
I've pushed Body Meta on many people and now you get the pushing. Some recoil in pain, some react with glee. I don't know anyone who has heard this record that doesn't have an opinion on it.
Mekanik Destruktiw Komandoh Berlin 12" (Sixth International, 1983)
Named after the great Magma album of the same name, MDK musically resembles their namesake very little. Instead of the prog com krautrock cum hippie art jam that Magma is, MDK taps into the Rough Trade/post punk of their time (admittedly with a tad of krautrock). Their sound is one of contrasts: Tight playing with rough production, guttural spit-out vocals with semi-smooth sax, a locked groove with herky jerk. Not only does it work well, but it ages much better than I expected.
I was introduced to MDK by Maximum Rockandroll. I am not a MRR basher. Though nowadays, I find it irrelevant, I think the zine has had a very useful existence, especially during the times that the zine loosens up a bit on the what is and what isn't punk angle. When MRR started, punk was pretty wide open. All the genre ghettos that were forced upon it by purists and marketers had yet to take hold. Early MRRs reflect that: The Pagans were reviewed along side Diamanda Galas. Scene reports focused on any local band playing non-mainstream original music. Because MRR was pretty much the first zine to aggressively explore the international rock underground, all kinds of gems were discovered. One of them was MDK.
I am not sure exactly how MDK got MRR's attention but I am guess it was due to Ruth Schwartz. At the time, I believe Ruth was one of the people running Rough Trade's San Francisco store and Sixth International, the label MDK was on, was RT's very short-lived American imprint. I first heard MDK on MRR's radio show on KPFA, a show we listened to religiously (every Tuesday night, my little brother and I would rig up a boombox, wires attached to the antenna, strung out the window and up to the roof where they were hooked to a series of wire coat hangers. Still got shit for reception but through the snow we heard our punk rock!).
I remember MDK being interviewed on MRR radio and being fascinated that rock & roll was being made by people other than Americans or Brits (for those of you too young to remember: Until the 1990s, it was a novelty - at least in the mainstream - for non-Anglo-Americans to play rock & roll. Every once in a while an Aussie or a German would chart and dejays would discuss it as something "neat." I remember the craze around Nena's hit 99 Luft Balloons, a shitty song pushed as a novelty [Hey! She's singing in KRAUT!]. Nowadays, people rarely are moved by such things. Failure to be surprised that people other than Americans & Brits can play rock & roll or pop music is what cultural warriors refer to as Our Loss of Innocence). MDK was new and unusual in their Germanness and I was determined to get the record. I conned a friend to con her sister to take us to San Francisco so I could go to Rough Trade and buy the record, which I did (along with the Offs' 624823, X's White Girl, and MX-80's Crowd Control). I wasn't disappointed.
The history of the band or what happened to its members, I have no idea. They came to America, played San Francisco (there is some Target Video footage out there), and released on record. The label, Sixth International, released one more record, a Scream LP, and then folded. Rough Trade San Francisco lingered for a couple years and died. I still have the record.
Wheel in the Roses
Rema Rema Wheel in the Roses 12" (4 AD, 1980)
One of the most exciting segues on record that I have ever heard is the one from The Feedback Song into Rema-Rema, on Rema-Rema’s Wheel in the Roses 12”. Originally released as the first single on 4AD, the transition from the feedbacky, squiggly wail/piano pounding/effect pedal twisting/thud thud to a buuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhm of a distorted bass slide and primitive tribal drumming is paradise. When I first heard it, I dropped the needle over and over in order to hear it again. The needle drop is not to get past Feedback Song. No, Feedback Song is great, too. The song starts with a clean bass riff and is joined by a simple drum beat that doesn’t get much beyond a throbbing drum in a hollow room. A synth washes in and even in 2005 it doesn’t sound dorky or dated, say the way the synths are on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure. Then the pleasant whine of a loud guitar cracks though and a vocalist with a Scottish (or Irish) accent sings as if he’s making a declaration. Little changes, other than a couple brief breaks. The song goes out with a chaos of feedback and synth washes, and, as described above, bamm comes Rema-Rema.
The song Rema-Rema is one of the great primitive punk / post-punk tunes. It is big; it is loud; it is dumb; it is direct. Hard primal drumming and a monster bass are fucked by more squalling guitar. The vocals sing-song over the mess. The only thing that compares by contemporary standards is the A Frames live when they are liquored up and playing stupid. As far as bands of yore: It brings to mind the other two mentioned here and Australia’s X.
Side two of this 12” is an instrumental song called Instrumental, which reeks of Chrome/Killing Joke distopian soundscape. Again, simple and thuddish, Instrumental relies on feedback and repetition. The closer is a slow thing called Fond Affections. Even more atmospheric than Instrumental, FA pulses in an early industrial way, with some drugged dub influence and, of course, there is feedback. The lyrics are charmingly depressing, with lines like "There is no light at the beginning/Let's all sit down and CRY!"
Rema-Rema were not around for long. Band members left to form Adam & the Ants, Mass, and Renegade Sound Wave. Drummer Max (a woman) teaches ballroom dancing. The lack of experience makes for a serious lack of polish, which only aids these guys/gal (that and this being recorded live). If Rema-Rema would have lasted longer and gotten “proper” studio treatment the result would have probably been slick and sterile.
Through time this record has achieved a "must have" status among certain segments of record geeks. While I was first hipped to them by Big Black in an old Forced Exposure interview (and then by Big Black covering Rema Rema), it was years before I was able to track down a copy of this 12". When I did it was at a local indie store. On a lark, I decided to look in their new section under "R" for this very record. It was there, sealed, and had been sitting there for 15 years, priced at $3.98.
I have chosen to leave Feedback Song/Rema Rema as it is on the record, one going into the other, and not single each song out. The Good Lord intended for you to hear this glorious transition and I will not deny divinity.
House of Love
House of Love s/t LP (Creation, 1988)
There is so much great music out there that it seems wrong to keep on throwing stuff from the Fifties and Sixties at you. Time to fast forward to 1988 and feature some songs from one of the best debut albums any band ever did. This Camberwell, England band did a few singles on the groundbreaking Creation Records label, before releasing this fantastic record. Taking their sonics from the wall of sound punk band Jesus & Mary Chain but leaving the aggression, House of Love created a near flawless debut. The hit from the record, Christine, is the song that stands out, but the others are nearly as worthy. Even the weak songs, sound fine in the context of the record.
I ignored this one back when it came out, not that I'd have been very receptive to it. At the time I was listening to Big Black and Killdozer, reading Herbert Selby, Jr. and crap on Carl Panzram, and pretty much pretending to be a cynical, smart-ass creep. Though I, ahem, wrote bad poetry and was mad about Tom Waits, something like the House of Love was a little too fey for me. Ha! What an ass! I first heard the record at Scott "Secret Center" Miller's house, the evening we were assembling Nar 7"s (his band, my label). Miller was spearheading a mini-Creation Records revival among our small music/record freak scene and he slyly slipped this one on the turntable. Though my ears were tuned more to the Pagans, 60s punk, and free jazz, a song like Christine is awfully hard to resist. I noted the band, got advice to get the first album, and scored one at the local "indie" superstore a couple days later. Listened to it and I didn't feel a need to rush out and buy a pair of pointy boots. However, in a very short lived band called Nebakanezer, I did attempt to cover Christine. Our vocal, bass & drum trio's one show was received with as much hostility as the US Marines march into Fallujah, and this by our friends! So bad was our reception that the band lost the will to practice and broke up out of disinterest.
I don't feel a need to run down the history of the band. There is enough information already out there and, besides, their story is pretty much falls into the UK band + drugs + egos = self destruction, boring records, and/or premature demise theme. Line up changes lead to a 1992 break up. In 2005, the band reformed for a record.
William Castle's Ghost Story
William Castle William Castle's Ghost Story LP (Peter Pan, 1972)
Any list of important, genre-defining directors must include William Castle. He is to horror films what John Ford is to the western. Sure, there is Herschell Gordon Lewis and Ed Wood. Yes, there is Tobe Hooper and George Romero. Love 'em all. But none of those guys ever made a kid's record! (Okay, HGL made a kid's movie, but Castle still has the "tingler" over him.)
Though the front cover has tag that warns "the very young or tender-hearted" to stay away and the back says "This recording is definitely not recommended for children under eight years of age," it was released on Peter Pan Records, probably the biggest producer of kid's records at the time. Why the warning? Scary stories, I guess. Are they scary? Christ, I'm too old to figure that one out. I will say that the story telling and sound effects/music on this are much better and much creepier than your standard haunted house record.
The cut I am singling out is called Lobotomy & the Shock Treatment. The "song" description reads "Mansfield House's psychedelic night club features an unusually mad/mod group called Lobotomy & the Shock Treatment. Their admirers wind up in straight jackets."
This one I picked up with a bunch of movie soundtracks. An old fellow came into the bookstore and asked if I wanted to buy some records. We made arrangements for me to pick him up at the Pancake Circus and we drove to his storage unit. He unlocked his storage and rolled up the metal door and inside were shelves of records, about 10,000, all cataloged and organized. In the front was a small sofa and a coffee table. On a shelf was a stereo. As I went through the records, the man explained that he kept a couple hundred in his apartment and would rotate stock, so to speak. He also would come out to the storage unit when it wasn't too hot or wet and listen to records. Most of the records were soundtracks or movie related. He had some records by singers from the 1940s and a fair number of exotica and lounge music. I dug up all the Italian, Science Fiction, and noir soundtracks I could find, as well as some exotica and the William Castle record. The old man nixed about 50%, we set a price and back to Pancake Circus. I tried phoning him six months later and the line had been disconnected.
Lombotomy & the Shock Treatment
(Originally posted August 11, 2005. I don't like to repost stuff but, dammit, it's 105 here in Sacramento and 90+ in my apartment. I need to get the hell out of here. So you get some retreds til next week...)
You Go On
The Bach's Lunch You Go On (Tomorrow, 1967)
In the quest for the Big Hit Single, record producers often throw what they think is an inferior song on the B-side of the song they are trying to break.* The king of the crummy B-side is novelty/cut-in record producer Dickie Goodman. Fearful that the flipside of one of his novelty records would break the charts at the expense of the A-side, Goodman would put one minute instrumentals based on test-tones, non-songs that were more like experimental fixed grooves than anything else, and other deliberately crappy "songs" on the B-side. On one Yellow Balloon 45, producer Mike Curb simply pressed a backward recording of the A-side on the B-side. More often then not, a record producer will just put a song that is a little too quirky, dark, moody or raw on the flip. As time passes, it is not rare that the B-side turns out to be the better of the two songs. Such is the case with this gem of a single.
Produced by Carole King and on her label, The Bach's Lunch only release features a remake of King's first hit, the 1961 Shirelles' classic Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and a song penned by the Myddle Class's Rick Philip and Dave Palmer (under the name Philip Palmer). While the A-side is a solid version of Will You..., slowed down a bit and with some nice Vox organ, it is the B-side, You Go On, which is as perfect a haunted pop songs as you will ever hear.
You Go On starts with a nice, amateurish piano riff and then, thanks to the organ, a dreamy, nearly ethereal pop tone creeps in. Girl group style backing vocals are dropped for a Brian Wilson style swirl, which sounds both sexy and ghost-like.
I've read one description calling the song "brooding baroque" and that tag kind of captures the vocals but it misses the mood. Brooding is too heavy of a word. There is a bluesiness to the song and the vocals sounds a bit haunted and dark, but it still keeps a pop sense to it that keeps away the bleakness that the word "brooding" implies. Rather than brooding, this taps into a dreamy, rainy day melancholy state of mind.
The most baroque thing about You Go On is the backing vocals. The instrumentation is pretty straight forward - guitar, bass, drums, piano and organ - and sounds more like the Them than what record freaks commonly think as baroque pop - Forever Changes-era Love or Brian Wilson during Good Vibrations/Pet Sounds/Smile days.
The stripped down instrumentation paired with lush, layered vocals makes You Go On is one of the great B-sides of all time. This should be on the play list on anyone into girl groups, 60s pop, bubblegum, or modern day twee. This is a fantastic song.
* There are two reasons for the invention of the crappy B-side. First is the record producer's ego. Nothing irks a producer more than when a lowly DJ flips a record over, discovers that B-side is really the hit, plays it on the air and creates a hit B-side. Second, and most important, is that record companies hate it when a record has both hit A & B-sides. When 45 was king, the record companies wanted the consumer to buy as many 45s as possible and if one 45 had two hits on it, that was one less record people would buy. Better to break those two good songs up and pair them with crappy B-sides. Two singles with bad B-sides meant more more money for the record company than one single with two hits on it.
(Originally posted January 8, 2006. It is too damn hot in Sacramento, so I fled for a few days. Will bring records back home soon....)
Casbah No Onna
Tamaki Sawa Casbah No Onna b/w Akai Yoru 7" (Nivico, 196?)
When I found this record a few months ago, I had no idea who Tamaki Sawa was and now that I do, I am sure any fan of quirky pop culture or j-pop will certainly enjoy what little I've found out about her. First off, she started her career as a jazz singer in the late 1950s. However, her beautiful cool look made her cinch for film and TV. In 1969, she made her biggest mark on the screen (in this case the small screen) with the television series Playgirls. Ripped off later by Aaron Spelling for Charlie's Angels, Playgirls featured a bevy of beautiful female detectives, armed and ready to beat the hell out of their adversaries. Sawa sang the theme song and her music was featured much of the series' five year run. After some years of retirement, Sawa was elected to the Japanese parliament and after her one term she planned to return to acting, specifically a stage show entitled Playgirls, Inc. However she died in 2003 at the age of 66.
There is a strain of Japanese pop of the 1950s and 1960s which I like to think of as noir pop. The music is haunting and dark, owing much to American bands like the Viscounts, who were huge in Japan. The vocals are distant and cool, with an undertone of sadness. The sound reminds me of the feeling of looking at life and realizing that the dark side of human nature is just as strong as the light. These two by Tamaki Sawa fit right in that mood.
(Originally posted January 15, 2006. It is too hot to rip vinyl right now. Gotta get out of this town for some Frisco fog... back next week with fresh stuff...)
Santiago Penando Estas
Violeta Parra Santiago Penando Estas LP (Albatros, 1973)
The last ten years have seen a growing appreciation of Tropicalia, Brazil's late Sixites contribution to rebel music. Yet in the rush to embrace fantastic artists such as Tom Ze, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, and Caetano Veloso, one not so small piece of information hardly gets mentioned: Tropicalia was but one of many musical eruptions happening in South America at the time. Combining South American folk music, radical politics, Cuban son, Musica negra (music made by African slaves in Latin America), and a little bit of rock & roll, La Nueva Cancion (New Song Movement) served as an umbrella for radical musicians from primarily South America, but also Central America and the Caribbean. From Argentina there was Mercedes Sosa; from Uruguay, Alfredo Zitarrossa; from Venezuela there was Ali Primera; from Cuba, the great Silvio Rodriguez; while Brazil contributed Veloso, as well as Chico Buraque. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru all birthed musicians loyal to La Nueva Cancion, many of who wound up in exile, prison, or killed by their countries government. Of all South American countries, Chile was the one where La Nueva Cancion was the most popular.
Of the Chilean musicians associated with Neuva Cancion, the most well known is Victor Jara. Jara's put his beautiful folk songs in the service of politics, singing about working people and popular struggle. His work for Salvador Allende's Unidad Popular movement, which lead to the socialist's election to President of Chile, marked Jara. When Pinochet, the Chilean military, and the CIA overthrew Allende, Jara was soon imprisoned tortured and executed. While Jara's songs are certainly remarkable, the drama of his life overshadows others just as, if not more important in Chile's Nueva Cancion. One of those people is Violeta Parra.
Born in the 1910s, Violeta Parra grew up among artists, musicians, and poets - mainly her bothers and sisters. At age 7, she was singing and playing guitar. At 17, Violeta was touring the country with her brother Santiago, singing popular songs. The 1950s saw Parra traveling the country, documenting Chili's folklore. She collected art, stories, myths, poems, and songs. Her immersion in Chile's folk culture left a deep impression on her and she was to use this knowledge as the basis for her art. In 1954, playing music, as well as doing sculpture, tapestry and paintings, she won an award for folk singer of the year and was asked to represent Chile at the International Youth Festival in Poland. After the fest, she toured the Soviet Union and wound up in Paris, where she stayed for a couple years and cut her first record.
When she returned to Chile, Parra was considered an important folklorist and was the most popular of all Chilean musicians. One would think that these accomplishments would make he landing in Chile easy. Not so. Her time in Paris had radicalized her. She now had no need for stuffy academics, whom she clashed with over the Museum of Popular Art, an idea of hers, corrupted by academia. Her music was turned toward the people. The music had such a profound effect on Chileans, particularly other musicians, that Neuva Cancion was born. By 1964, she had tired of Chile and moved back to Paris, where she was honored with a show of her visual art at the Louvre. A year later she was back in Chile, where she started a pena in a tent in Santiago.
La pena is a coffee house of sorts that serves as both a cultural and political center. It was Parra idea to revive the pena in order to form the basis for revolution. However, few around her saw what she did. Despite her popularity, the pena was often empty. While intellectuals sometimes dropped by, no action resulted from their visits. Violeta fell into a deep depression and tried to kill herself. Her friends came to her aid and arranged a tour for her. Playing to crowds in Chile lifted Parra's spirits. Upon her return to Santiago, her friends describe Parra as vibrant and full of energy. Maybe so, but within months, Violeta put a shotgun to her head and killed herself.
Though Violeta Parra's pena was not as influential as she liked, her music did created the basis for Neuva Cancion, which in turn helped revolutionize Latin American politics and lead to the election of Chile's only socialist head of state. And not only that, the songs she left are damn good.