Saturday, January 20, 2007

Violeta Parra & the concept of cultural discourse

Violeta Parra, composer of the profound “Gracias a la Vida” and innovator of the “New Song” movement in Chile (La Nueva Canciòn chilena), had a life of work that has effected generations of musicians and profound thinkers alike. Her music is famous for beautiful melodies, but the heart of her music is her poetry. The poem “Gracias a La Vida” inspires much more than a love song, and is extraordinary writing in and of itself, separate from the music.
The song is a certifiable anthem among Chileans and many South Americans, and has been covered countless times, most notably by Joan Baez on her 1974 Spanish language album of the same title, and by the Argentinean folk singer Mercedes Sosa. The latter version is undoubtedly the most beautiful—Sosa’s rich contralto accompanied by simple guitar is astounding in it’s elegance and interpretation (although the importance of hearing Violeta’s own voice on her song is of the utmost, the beauty of Sosa’s version is undeniable). Sosa and her husband, Manuel Oscar Martines, were prominent figures in the mid-60s nueva cancion movement in Argentina, the parallel movement to that of Parra’s that was occurring in Chile at the same time. Sosa recorded a tribute to Parra after her death.
One of Violeta Parra's major concerns was using her music to, number one, keep Chilean folk music alive, and number two, to have a forum for cultural and political discourse. Joan Baez of course composed and performed under the same ideals, hoping to enact change through music and art. It may seem random for me to post on a Chilean song from the ‘60s, but it seems like such a relevant and important concept, one that is more or less missing from our current musical culture. I feel that there is nothing worse than apathy, and I feel that among young people of my generation apathy is epidemic. There are no “movements” –no group inspiration to change the world around us. There are the occasional artists like Martha Wainwright and Talib Kweli, but on the whole, we have the Jessica Simpsons, who are neither talented nor articulate nor impassioned. Not every artist is inspired to be profound with their music, which is fine--music can certainly be great without being profound. But I feel that there is a gap in our generation's culture--there is no thirst for the profound. “Gracias a la vida” is but one example of the power of a beautiful and profound piece of music, and I wish there were more examples of that combination in today's popular music.

"Mercedes Sosa." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 15 Jan 2007, 02:15 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 20 Jan 2007 .

Preferred version: Mercedes Sosa, Album: “Exitos Eternos”

Gracias a la vida
Poem by Violeta Parra
English translation by William Morín

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me dió dos luceros, que cuando los abro.
Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco
Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado,
Y en las multitudes
El hombre que yo amo.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado el oìdo que en todo su ancho
Graba noche y dìa grillos y canarios
Martillos, turbinas, ladrillos, chubascos
Y la voz tan tierna de mi bien amado.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado el sonido y el abecedario.
Con él las palabras que pienso y declaro,
“Madre,” “amigo,” “hermano,” y luz alumbrando
La ruta del alma del que estoy amando.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado la marcha de mis pies cansados.
Con ellos anduve ciudades y charcos,
Valles y desiertos, montañas y llanos,
Y la casa tuya, tu calle y tu patio.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me diò el corazòn que agita su marco.
Cuando miro el fruto del cerebro humano,
Cuando miro al bueno tan lejos del malo.
Cuando miro el fondo de tus ojos claros.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado la risa, me ha dado el llanto.
Asì yo distingo dicha de quebranto,
Los dos materiales que forman mi canto,
Y el canto de ustedes que es el mismo canto
Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto.

Thank you to life

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
And from within the multitude
The one that I love.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me an ear that, in all of its width
Records—night and day—crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines and bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sounds and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and the light shining.
The route of the soul from which comes love.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder.
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I see good so far from bad,
When I see within the clarity of your eyes…

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone’s song, which is my very song.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

lovely translation. However, when Parra says "miro al fondo de sus ojos claros" I think she means "When i look deep into your clear eyes"... just a thought :)

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