New Chilean website creates catalogue of street music

Chile’s capital is home to about 1500 street musicians, or callejeros. Now the website Santiago Sonoro brings recordings, photos and biographies of some of these to the general public.

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On buses and street corners, at cafes and city squares, Santiago’s street performers, or callejeros, are essential bearers of the city’s cultural traditions. Some perform well-known folk songs, others write original pieces, while still others explore more recently introduced genres like rap, African drumming and dance. A new Santiago-based project called Santiago Sonoro, the first of its kind, makes this music available to the public as an online registry and catalogue.

Creating Santiago Sonoro

Project director Miguel Angel Devia began assembling the website in April 2010, using his handheld recorder to capture the songs of street performers heard around Santiago.

Because many of Santiago’s callejeros perform on the buses that run the length and breadth of the capital, major intersections throughout the city serve as important hubs for street music. “These intersections,” Devia says, “are the cradles where street musicians are nurtured.”

On these intersections and corners throughout the city, Devia recorded artists of all ages, backgrounds and styles. Made on the streets, these recordings capture the sounds of passing cars and pedestrians as part of the music itself. The recordings then appear on the website along with photos, biographies and in some cases contact information.

The Callejeros of Santiago

For now, Santiago Sonoro works with about 100 street performers, a small fraction of what Devia says is a city of 1,500 callejeros, many of whom have performed here for decades.

“Historically the majority of callejeros played traditional music,” Devia says, “but in the 90s influences started coming in from outside. Now I’d say about 30 percent play traditional songs, 30 percent are rappers and 30 percent perform other kinds of music.”

For Devia, these musicians serve as a cultural record of the city’s life. Some callejeros keep traditional forms like cueca present in Santiago’s day-to-day life, while others honor the memories of Chilean icons Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, key figures in the 1960s folk movement. The sounds of the zampoña, a Peruvian Pan flute, attest to Chile’s recent history of immigration, while young rappers rhyme about contemporary Chile’s global aspirations.

A musical map

As the project moves forward, Devia hopes to incorporate as many musicians as possible. “The idea is to get everyone involved without discrimination,” he says, including ordinary citizens as well as performers. “If you’re on a bus and hear a performer, use your phone to record it, take photos. It’s a collaborative project.”

A launch event held at Santiago’s Galpón Victor Jara attracted an audience of 250 for performances by six street bands and the popular cumbia group Chorizo Salvaje (Wild Chorizo), whose members started out as callejeros.

Santiago Sonoro’s producer Javier Pacheco says that the next step will be to expand the project beyond Santiago to Chilean cities like Antofagasta, Valparaíso and Temuco, all of which have their own traditions of street performance. Pacheco and Devia plan to seek funding for the project’s future from universities, embassies and cultural institutions. “Events like last night’s launch don’t benefit us economically,” Pacheco says. “We do this because we love the music.”

Before expansion plans go forward, Devia and his team have 1,400 more street performers to record in Santiago. In compiling this registry, Devia hopes not only to support callejeros, but also to create a cultural map of Santiago through the people that fill it with music.

This post is also available in Spanish