Following Tradition, Chilean Musicians Lead in Anti-Inequality Protests

Photo by Fernanda Requena

On Monday, amid mounting conflicts between the Chilean people and military police, social justice-minded rapper Ana Tijoux dropped “#CACEROLAZO.” The song’s title name checks the Latin American protest tradition of banging pots and pans in the street. Lyrics inform those who may not be aware that President Sebastián Piñera’s 30 peso metro fare hike was only the tipping point after decades of the shredding of Chileans’ social safety net. “No son treinta pesos, son treinta años,” Tijoux flows.

The same day “CACEROLAZO” was released, Piñera announced that he was rolling back the fare hike that kicked off what is now nearly a week of national protests. But despair over income inequality, the disintegration of Chile’s public health care, the high cost of education and insufficient pension system echo in Tijoux’s words, and reflect a growing sense of despair among Chileans. Widely hailed as Latin America’s most successful neoliberal economy, their nations is also the only one in the world that has privatized its water system. Chileans may have initially gone out in street over high cost of public transportation, but the reasons why they stay there are myriad.

Piñera made it clear that the government is “at war” with unarmed protestors, and his draconian toque de queda (state of emergency) is still in effect. By Tuesday there were at least 15 dead civilians. Shocking videos of carabinero brutality have emerged — well, shocking to those who have forgotten the brutal optics of the same Chilean forces in the aftermath of General Pinochet’s bloody, United States government-assisted 1973 coup.

“The world needs to know that in Chile the dictatorship is still not over,” writes Santiago trap artist Young Cister a.k.a Esteban Cisterna to Remezcla. “They sold us ‘democracy.’ It never arrived.”

Chilean musicians have long taken the lead in resistance to government-led violence. The songs of Víctor Jara inspired Pinochet dissenters even after Jara was assassinated by the totalitarian regime. In 2019, the singer’s music still echoes off blocks of Santiago apartment buildings, drawing neighborhood-wide applause. This week, the singer’s 1971 song “El Derecho De Vivir En Paz [The Right To Live In Peace]” entered the country’s Spotify top 100. Tijoux’s 2011 anti-fascist protest track “Shock” has also risen up to number 25 on the same chart, proof that the country turns to its musicians to be bolstered through times of crisis.

But a new generation of musicians has also stepped up to become voices for their people. Trapero Pablo Chill-E was spotted handing out lemons to protestors, protection from the tear gas bombs being flung into crowds by the police. A coalition of Chilean musicians came together to put out a video manifesto on Sunday criticizing the human rights violations that have occurred during Piñera’s state of emergency and calling for global support for the Chilean people. Trap artist DrefQuila and singers Mon Laferte, Camila Moreno, and Francisca Valenzuela were among those urging peace, while asserting the right of the protestors to fight for their country.

Many artists have made themselves visible while attending protests, like Neoperreo artists Tomasa del Real and Jamez Manuel. On Tuesday, pop-trap vocalist Gianluca announced that he’d be playing a free, family-friendly show with Princess Alba, Frankie Blu and other artists in Plaza Sucre, located as many of the capital’s peaceful protests have been in Santiago’s Ñuñoa neighborhood.

“We musicians are connected to what happens in the streets,” singer Mariel Mariel a.k.a. Mariel Villagra wrote in an email interview with Remezcla. “Many of our songs are about how this moment would arrive.” Villagra was one of the artists who appeared in the coalition video. “We carry Víctor Jara in our blood and in our memory.”

Villagra has spent the protests in her apartment caring for her three month old daughter in Santiago neighborhood Ñuñoa, where singer Alex Andwanter performed in a public plaza for protestors. But like many of her peers, Villagra realized that she could use her platform to spread reliable information. “I choose to share information about human rights, lawyers, student organizations, dissidents, messages for nursing mothers, or messages from our musicians’ coalition,” she says. Other musicians share her views, and Chilean celebrity’s pages have become an important source of information for their followers during these uncertain times.

“I was born during a dictatorship, this is nothing new to me,” the singer continues. “I’ve lived this and that’s why I don’t want it to repeat.”

Over the past week, Cisterna was live broadcasting from many of the protests to counteract the violent image being painted of demonstrators by Chile’s mainstream media. “Young people don’t trust traditional media because we know that they’re only reporting facts that are favorable to that which controls the press: big business,” says Cisterna. “In my music I can sing about things that have nothing to do with social problems, like having a good time,” he continues. “But we can have a good time and we can also protest.”

Genre, subject matter, familial status — despite these variables, it seems clear that Chilean artists are stepping up in the current struggle because of a sense they had from birth that this is what creative people do in crisis. Protest, in this case, is not an extracurricular activity, but rather what makes the artist. “Our people helped us to be where we are,” says Cisterna. “This is the least we can do for them.”