Ask Chilean musicians what most inspires their work and, surprisingly, the factor that seems to come up most is the isolation they feel from the rest of the world.
Physically cut off from the west by the Andes, from the east by the Pacific, and from the north and south by desert and ice fields, Chileans have experienced a singular and separate cultural evolution.
This has in turn produced a proud literary heritage that includes Pablo Neruda, Isabel Allende and Roberto Bolaño. But when it comes to music, other than the legendary Victor Jara, there are few Chileans who stand out on the world circuit.
Mention one of the country’s most famous bands – Los Prisioneros – and nobody would have a clue what you were talking about. Everybody in France knows of Violeta Parra, but who would be able to tell you she was Chilean? Compared with Brazilian or Argentine music, Chilean music has passed under the radar even during recent trends toward artistic globalization.
That is until now, as Spain’s largest newspaper, El País, issues a special report entitled Chile, New Pop Paradise featuring four Chilean bands who have recently burst onto the Spanish music scene.
Among the noted artists is hip-hop diva Ana Tijoux, who grew up in France and returned to Chile with the loose and fluid rapping style so characteristic of Southern French cities such as Marseilles. Her recent single ‘1977’ was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Latin Rock, Alternative Music or Urban Album.
Dënver’s recent single, Los Adolescentes, which appeared on YouTube last December and currently has nearly 90,000 hits, is another remarkable example of how digital connectivity has brought Chilean artists in contact with the tastes and styles of the world, and allowed them to reach out to a global audience. The clip, which features young nubiles running around in misty fields holding axes, caught the imagination of Spanish youth, taking the country by storm.
The growth of Chilean music in Spain is made more remarkable by the relative size and youth of Chile’s pop music industry, compared to the larger populations and mass music markets in Europe.
“Chile is a country of 16 million inhabitants. Five of which are in Santiago. The purchasing power here is not even half of what it is in Europe,” said Cristian Ayala, director of Chilean online music portal Super45, one of the many Chilean online music magazines.
Ayala attributed the success of Chilean music in global markets in part to Chile’s excellent internet penetration. “That 70 percent of the population has a Facebook account says a lot,” he said to El País.
Javiera Mena, whose album Mena hit the big time in Spain in 2010, also highlights the unique perspective of Chilean alternative music compared to other Latin American countries.
“A Colombian journalist said to me, ‘Chile is the only country that looks inside itself’,” Mena told El País. “In musical terms, definitely. Latino music is hotter, more extrovert and ‘rock star’. Chilean music is different: more melancholy, more shy.”
Gepe, another 2010 breakout star with his record Audiovisión, agreed. In Chile, he told El País, “everything’s grown exponentially, from the music market to the locations and the general public….I think that right now Chile, and being Chilean, is a great advantage if you want to make music.”