Victor Jara

Not very long ago Boris Johnson said the United Kingdom would leave the European Union- no ifs, no buts- on 31st October 2019 and that he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than ask The E.U. for an extension. Today is 1st November 2019 and unless I’m mistaken the UK is very much still in the E.U. An extension was asked for and granted, extending membership into next year. I think it’s very unlikely we’ll see the Prime Minister face down in a ditch today. It’s not nice to wish death on anyone- and I’m not saying I wish Johnson dead- but he raised the stakes with his use of language, he made the rash promises and here we are, still in the E.U. Johnson is a proven liar, a racist, a homophobe, the PM who illegally prorogued parliament, who insulted the memory of murdered MP Jo Cox in the Commons… the list of his failings goes on and on. Frankly, a ditch is too good for him.

Half a world away in Chile protesters have been taking to the streets in their thousands, rising unhappiness with the political and economic situation, deep disillusionment with their government (led by a billionaire President), the increased cost of living and widespread inequality. Chile is one of the most unequal countries on earth with millions of citizens frozen out. The protests turned violent with the arrival of riot police, the subsequent deaths of at least eighteen protesters and reports of human rights abuses by the security forces. A few days ago the above picture appeared, hundreds of protesters with guitars joining the thousands already on the streets and then the massed ranks of guitarists singing a song written by Chilean poet and singer Victor Jara.

The song is El Derecho de Vivre en Paz (The Right To Live In Peace) and the sound of the umpteen strummed guitars, the multitude of voices and doleful, haunting melody is a sound to behold. Guitar army, this machine kills fascists, the people united can never be divided et cetera.

Victor Jara said his songs weren’t protests songs but revolution songs. He was a poet, activist, singer, director and member of the Chilean Communist Party who played a major role in establishing the New Chilean Song movement, a upsurge in Chilean folk and popular music in the early 70s. In 1973 Allende’s government was overthrown by a right wing coup, supported by the US government, and Augusto Pinochet (friend of Margaret Thatcher) was installed as dictator. On 12th September Jara was arrested and with thousands of others rounded up and held in the Chile Stadium in Santiago. The guards smashed his hands and fingers up and then asked him to play the guitar for them. Shortly after he was killed by a shot in the head and then forty bullets fired into his body. His music was banned by the regime, the master tapes burned or confiscated. Victor’s widow Joan distributed his music around the world, publicising his songs and work. That crowd in Chile recently, a new generation of protesters, using his song and words and tune, shows the power of song and music and inspiration they can bring.

In 1980 The Clash released Sandinista!, six sides of vinyl containing the most varied output of their career (and any other band’s career for that matter). Side 4 has possibly the best run of songs on the whole triple disc set, opening with their sublime, rollicking cover of Police On My Back, the murky rock reggae of Midnight Log and The Equaliser, the lilting, anti- war The Call Up and then the final pair of Washington Bullets and On Broadway. Washington Bullets tells the story of imperialism from Cuba in 1959 to the Sandinistas of the Nicaragua that gave the album its name, taking in the American backed Bay Of Pigs invasion, the Dalai Lama, the Chinese mistreatment of Buddhist monks, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the murder of Victor Jara, Strummer half singing, half talking the words ‘As every cell in Chile will tell/ the cries of the tortured men/ remember Allende and the days before/ before the army came/ please remember Victor Jara/In the Santiago stadium/ Es verdad those Washigton bullets again’.

Washington Bullets