“For years they have climbed up and down the stairs of the ravine in which they live, a house built with their own hands; with more than four floors it is a true landmark of Valparaisian architecture. There, for years, they built the barrel organs and chinchines that were distributed to the hills and the port”. Thus begins the biography of the Castillo family, one of the most emblematic families of Chilean street performers in Valparaíso. Together with 14 others, they are part of www.patrimoniosonoro.cl, a project launched last month in GAM (Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center) seeking to rescue their profession and securing its place in the Chilean cultural heritage.
With their barrel organs, bass drums, and chinchines, the representatives of this popular art spread throughout the country, bringing with them melodies that remind of times past. They are uniquely Chilean characters, as the home page of the Patrimonio Sonoro website states. The eponymous collective that manages the project explains that the initiative began by approaching and forming links with the practitioners of the art. This was how they proposed to work together with the 15 families of chinchineros, as the street performers are known, with the objective of creating a channel for the dissemination of their longstanding tradition.
As a broadcasting platform, the Patrimonio Sonoro portal not only compiles the stories of these 15 families from Santiago, Valparaíso and the Maule region, but also contains photographic and audiovisual material, created with the intent of “opening new markets and reaching new audiences in order to strengthen the development of this genuine expression of popular Chilean art”. In one of the videos on the site one can see the family of Héctor “Tito” Lizana, one of the oldest living representatives of the trade, showing off their talents at the foot of the Santa Lucía Hill in Santiago.
The story of the Lizanas dates back to the end of the 1930s. After losing his parents at the age of ten, Héctor was adopted by a group of barrel organ players performing near his home. Thanks to his agility and skill with dancing, he revolutionized the art and was responsible for one of its most important transitions: giving motion to the chinchinero, up until that point accustomed to standing in place due to the restrictions of the barrel organ.
Were it not for Patrimonio Sonoro’s initiative, Lizana’s contribution to the history of the trade would have been left undocumented. Along with the personal stories of each family, the website also presents an overview of the history of the tradition of Chilean street performers and critical articles analyzing its role in the formation of the identity of the country. In this way, www.patrimoniosonoro.cl is proof of how new platforms can be made to serve old traditions, helping the construction and dissemination of the country’s image.