Introduction to Nueva Canción (Chile)

On the left, the people flying are Victor Jara, Violeta Parra, and Pablo Neruda. The writing states, "The three riders of life, the you!"
Fernández, Rodrigo. "Grafiti Mapocho 2015." 26 October, 2015.….

La Nueva Canción was a music genre and later a protest song movement that arose throughout Latin American countries in the late 1950s. It featured socially conscious lyrics that usually characterized poverty, empowerment, democracy, human rights and Latin American identity. The lyrics were often accompanied by traditional folkloric instruments and vocals. Nueva Canción described the lives and emotions of many people facing political and social unrest in Latin America and around the world.[1] In Chile, Nueva Canción emerged from the influences of popular artists such as Violeta Parra, Victor Jara, Inti-Illimani and others. In 1969, the Universidad Catolica in Chile sponsored the Primer Festival de la Nueva Canción Chilena, solidifying the name of the movement.[2] La Nueva Canción began to spread internationally in the late 1960s as a way to connect leftist and oppositional views during times of political, ideological and cultural struggle.[3]

Nueva Canción Throughout the Allende Campaign

Wallace, James N. Allende Supporters.5 September, 1964. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

By the time Allende’s 1970 presidential campaign began, the Nueva Canción genre had firmly established itself.[4] According to Jen Fairley et al., the genre was known as “the voice of the worker, peasant and student as opposed to that of the patriarch, landowner and oligarchy,” thus making it quite obvious that Nueva Canción would become an essential part in Allende’s campaign, ultimately aiding in his election as president of Chile in 1973.[5] Before Allende’s presidency, the singers of Nueva Canción had the universal goal of electing Allende and endorsing the Unidad Popular (UP) government.[6] Nueva Canción along with other parts of the new cultural movement helped attract large crowds to Allende’s political events, as their inherent social change attitude promoted the same ideas as Allende, but in a more exciting way.[7] In fact, the famous Nueva Canción artists Claudio Iturra and Sergio Ortega wrote the song “Venceremos,” which became Allende’s campaign song and later the song of the Unidad Popular.[8] Throughout the campaign period, this song would be heard at the marches and rallies of hundreds of thousands of Allende supporters.[9]


Desde el hondo crisol de la patria, 

se levanta el clamor popular. 

Ya se anuncia la nueva alborada. 

Todo Chile comienza cantar. 


Venceremos, venceremos. 

Mil cadenas habrá que romper.


Venceremos, venceremos. 

La miseria sabremos vencer. 


Sembraremos las tierras de gloria. 

Socialista sera el porvenir. 

Todos juntos seremos la historia. 

A cumplir, a cumplir, a cumplir.

"We Will Triumph" 

From the depths of our country,
the cry of the people rises.

Now the new dawn is announced.

All of Chile begins to sing. 


We will triumph, we will triumph.

A thousand chains will have to be broken.


We will triumph, we will triumph.

We will learn how to conquer misery. 


We will sow the fields of glory.

The future will be socialist. 

Together we will make history.

Carry on, carry on, carry on.[10]

  bautista19731. "VENCEREMOS – INTILLIMANI". Youtube video, 02:29. Posted [May 2012].

Nueva Canción During the Allende Presidency

Puro Chile. ¡Venceremos! 9 April, 1970. Political History, Library of the Chilean National Congress.¡Venceremos!.JPG.

After Allende was elected, Nueva Canción remained an unofficial but important part of the Unidad Popular government by helping communicate the party’s goals and aspirations through playing at community gatherings and political events.[11] In order to limit the use of foreign currency, the UP government limited the amount of foreign phonograms allowed in Chile and made the import of records illegal, unless they were licensed local pressings. The indirect result was a boost to local music, and therefore a boost for Nueva Canción.[12] It seemed that with every important event for the Unidad Popular, a new song would come with it. Canto Al Programa, a record album focusing on the UP’s program, was composed through a collaboration between famous musicians Sergio Ortega, Luis Advis and the Nueva Canción group Inti-Illimani. Their goal was to create an accessible way for the people to understand the UP.[13] Isabel Parra, the daughter of Violeta Parra and a vital musician of Nueva Canción herself, stated

We were totally involved in what was happening,”

thus demonstrating the significance of Nueva Canción in the political scene.[14] 

Allende’s election resulted in some consequences for the Nueva Canción movement. Throughout the movement, musicians were thrilled about the possibilities for social and political change, but this resulted in a “period of questioning” as political scientist J. Patrice McSherry puts it. Artists were confused on whether or not they should alter their music to match with the new conditions Allende was imposing.[15] Many artists believed that instead of condemning the government, they needed to support the new government in order to increase the number of Allende supporters and to construct a more equal society.[16] In the end, the musicians ended up supporting the UP government more than the UP government supported them, but it didn’t matter as it was the first time many saw hope for a new Chile.[17]

Nueva Canción During Pinochet

User:Ben2. Pinochet 11-09-1982. 11 September, 1982.

On September 11th, 1973 in Santiago, Chile the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Augusto Pinochet, overthrew President Allende’s government in a military coup d’état. Pinochet’s goal was to eradicate Marxism in Chile, and in order to do this, he restructured the government and all public institutions by dissolving unions, banning political parties and imprisoning, torturing and killing those associated with opposition parties, such as the Communist Party and other parties in the UP coalition.[18] 

Since music had a large importance within the opposition movements, Pinochet ordered the military junta to confiscate and burn all Nueva Canción recordings.

They were banned from the airways and removed from record stores.[19] He even went so far as to prohibit popular folklorist instruments such as the quena and charango.[20] Many Nueva Canción musicians faced political repression, forcing them to take refuge in Europe, North America or other countries in Latin America.

By the mid 1970s musicians began to play indigenous Andean folk music. It did not have political nuances and musicians could freely express themselves. They termed this music, “Canto Nuevo” and a revival of Nueva Canción slowly and secretly developed, giving hope to those who suffered continuous loss, repression and distress. In the early years of creating Canto Nuevo music, artists would protest the dictatorship through metaphorical lyrics yet as the years went on and this movement grew, they were able to sing about their everyday lives and even love songs developing a way for people to heal and connect once again.[21] As years passed, Pinochet’s control over the media weakened as Canto Nuevo grew and musicians' voices were heard around the world. The movement has continued to grow globally with new artists using Nueva Canción as a mean of resistance against injustices and discrimination. 

Violeta Parra (4 October 1917 – 5 February 1967)

Fernando Coss, Luis. violeta_parra. 8 February 2013.

Although Violeta Parra took her own life before the Nueva Canción movement reached its height, she played a key role in its appearance in Chile and around the world. Growing up, Parra was surrounded by music and the arts. Her father was a music teacher and her mother a farmer who would sing and play guitar in her spare time. As she grew older, Parra continued to play the guitar and sing Chilean folklore music, expressing her love of Chile through her music. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, while on tour around the world, Parra began collecting hundreds of traditional folklore and popular songs from different regions of Chile so that Chilean culture would not be lost.[22] Not only was she a composer and instrumentalist, but she also had a passion for writing poetry and creating pottery and tapestries of her daily life and struggles. Through these mediums and her fame, she influenced many Chilean artists, activists and everyday people to express their national identity, including Victor Jara who ultimately became a key contributor to the start of the Nueva Canción Movement in Chile.

“Gracias A La Vida” by Violeta Parra is her most renowned song and has been performed throughout the world since its release on the album, Las Ultimas Composiciones. This album was her last before committing suicide in 1967. 

"Gracias a la Vida"

Gracias a la Vida que me ha dado tanto

Me dio 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 oido que en todo su ancho

Graba noche y dia grillos y canarios

Martillos, turbinas, ladridos, 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

Playas y desiertos montañas y llanos

Y la casa tuya, tu calle y tu patio


Gracias a la Vida que me ha dado tanto

Me dio el corazón que agita su marco

Cuando miro el fruto del cerebro humano

Cuando miro el 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 y me ha dado el llanto

Así 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


Gracias a la Vida

Gracias a la Vida

Gracias a la Vida

Gracias a la Vida

"Thanks to life"

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.

It gave me two stars, which when I open them,

Perfectly distinguish black from white

And in the tall sky its starry backdrop,

And within the multitudes the one that I love.


Thanks to life, which has given me so much.

It gave me hearing that, in all of its reach

Records night and day crickets and canaries,

Hammers and turbines, bricks and storms,

And the tender voice of my beloved.


Thanks to life, which has given me so much.

It gave me sound and the alphabet.

With them the words I think and declare:

“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and light shining down on 

The road of the soul of the one I'm loving.


Thanks to life, which has given me so much.

It gave me the steps of my tired feet.

With them I have traversed cities and puddles

Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.

And your house, your street and your garden.


Thanks to life, which has given me so much.

It gave me this heart that shakes its frame,

When I see the fruit of the human brain,

When I see good so far from evil,

When I look into the depth of your light eyes…


Thanks to life, which has given me so much.

It gave me laughter and it gave me tears.

With them I distinguish happiness from pain

The two elements that make up my song,

And your song, as well, which is the same song.

And everyone’s song, which is my very song.


Thanks to life

Thanks to life

Thanks to life

Thanks to life

Politik Muzik. "Violeta Parra Gracias a la Vida." Vimeo, 4:58. Posted [2012].

Victor Jara (September 28, 1932-September 16, 1973)

"Victor Jara lives"
Navarro, Yohan. Victor Jara Stencil. 25 November, 2011.

Victor Jara, grew up without a father in a mining and rural area of Chile. In the 1950s Jara’s family moved to Santiago. During the 1960s, Jara visited Cuba and the Soviet Union which encouraged him to join the Communist Party of Chile. As arguably the most influential singer of the Nueva Canción movement, Jara was going to perform at the announcement of Allende’s plebiscite at the State University of Technology (UTE). The plebiscite would decide whether the people were for or against the UP’s constitutional reforms, thus judging whether the nation supported Allende.[23] This plebiscite never occurred because of the September 11th coup that put Pinochet into power. Prior to this, Allende had named Jara a Cultural Ambassador of the Unidad Popular government.[24] Unfortunately, Jara was hated by as many people as he was loved. He was a hero to the poor causing him to become an enemy of the rich and conservative.[25]

Hirth, Lion. Cementario General en Santiago de Chile. 13 July, 2006.
One of many of Victor Jara's famous song with political connections. 
arimanthos. "'A Desleambrar' by Victor Jara (Spanish and English lyrics)". Youtube video, 01:42. Posted [June 2008].

Ultimately, it was Jara’s devotion to the poor, his desire for change, and his immense fame that lead to his brutal death. On September 11th, 1973, Victor Jara was at home with his wife Joan. The two both knew the significance of the planes flying overhead and gunshots in the distance on the day of the coup. Jara understood that he was already a target. This did not stop him from joining students and professors at UTE where Jara was a visiting professor of music.[26] Despite being ordered to return home, Jara along with students and other faculty members remained to protect their university and show their solidarity against the coup.[27] By mid-afternoon the next day, those who had chosen to remain – including Jara – were taken to the Stadium of Chile.[28] Eyewitnesses claim that it actually took several hours for the military guards to recognize Victor Jara, but once they did it was the beginning of the end for him. After being beaten profusely, Jara came back to his group of friends, sat down and wrote: 

In this small part of the city
We are five thousand.
I wonder how many we are in all
in the cities and in the whole country? ... 

Six of us lost themselves in the space of the stars One dead, with a blow like I never believed Could be dealt to a human being.
The other four wanted to end their terror 

One throwing himself into space, others beating their heads against the wall
What fear is brought by the face of fascism
They make their forward plans with such cunning precision... Without letting anything get in the way. 

Blood is medals for them
Massacre the proof of heroism.
Oh my God, is this the world you created
Was it for this the astonishing seven days of labour?[29]

That same afternoon, Jara was aggressively pulled downstairs into a concrete changing room reserved for ‘important or special prisoners’ where he was savagely tortured. He came out badly beaten and was barely alive, but oral history claims he was still able to sing Venceremos and finish his last song singing,

And Mexico, Cuba and the world?/

 Scream this shame! .../ 

What I see I have never seen/ What I have felt and feel/ 

Will give birth to the moment.[30]

It is recorded that Victor Jara died on September 16, 1973, but it was not until this year (2018), that eight ex-military officers were finally sentenced to fifteen years and one day in prison for his death.[31]

Today, Victor Jara is a national symbol in Chile who composed songs that have become inherent parts of Chilean culture. He will always be connected with Allende’s political campaign and the UP government.[32] Jara was the epitome of the Nueva Canción movement. After his murder he transformed into a sort of mythical figure due to his fearless ability to speak his mind and fight for the people. Jara became widely known throughout the world and influenced the spread of the Nueva Canción in Latin America.[33]

Te Recuredo Amanda is about two factory workers who fell in love and their separation. 
Kilimister, Lawrence. "Victor Jara - Te Recuerdo Amanda / I Remember you, Amanda. (English Subtitles)". Youtube video, 02:37. Posted [March 2015].


This was taken on September 18th,1988 during Inti-Illimani’s first concert in Chile after being in exile for 15 years. 
Acto de cierre de la campaña de los Independientes por el No.September 24th, 1988. Archivo Alejandro Hales - Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile. November 8th, 2018.

Inti-Illimani is a Latin American folk ensemble from Chile, formed in 1967 by students of the Universidad Técnica del Estado in Santiago, Chile.[34] The group chose the name, Inti-Illimani, (pronounced “in-tee-E-yee-MAH-nee”) from the historical Aymara and Quechua ethnic groups who were subjected to Inca ruling; their territory stretched down to southern Chile. In choosing this group name, Inti-Illimani wanted to voice not just Chilean political and social struggles but struggles of all Latin American people.[35] They gained fame with the release of their song “Venceremos” (We Will Triumph), the anthem of Salvador Allende’s UP government and became key members of La Nueva Canción movement. On September 11th 1973, the day of Pinochet’s coup d’état, they were on tour in Europe and were unable to return to their home country forcing them into de facto exile in Italy.[36] Throughout their music career, Inti-Illimani has been considered a “world music group”.[37] During their years in exile the group incorporated traditional European baroque with Latin American rhythms, melodies and instruments, creating a blend of modern transnational music. Back in Chile, their music was banned yet they still managed to distribute it through re-copying and self-distributing recordings. They did not return to Chile until September 1988 where they helped organize the “no” campaign for the plebiscite deciding on the extension or end of Pinochet’s dictatorial rule.[38] While only one of the original members remain in the ensemble, many artists have joined, continuing to spread the legacy of Nueva Canción music. 

This song is a tribute to Victor Jara, as he was an influential figure for Nueva Canción and Inti-Illimani’s music. In this song, Inti-Illimani quotes Jara’s own words: “ I do not sing just for singing, nor for having a good voice. I sing because the quitar makes sense and has reason.”[39]
La Pichanga Música Chilena. "Inti-Illimani 'Canto de las estrellas'". Youtube video, 04:55. Posted [March 2013].

Interview with Oscar Sarmiento

Oscar Sarmiento is a professor in the Modern Languages department at SUNY Potsdam. He grew up in Santiago, Chile and was a college student at the beginning of the Pinochet dictatorship. He considers himself to have been a poet during this time and was targeted by the regime for his political beliefs. His sister Patricia heavily influenced his interest in music and specifically the Nueva Canción movement. Although he does not consider himself a part of the ‘Nueva Canción generation’, he often sang their songs with his friends throughout the dictatorship. This interview explores Sarmiento’s life and music throughout the Pinochet dictatorship between 1973 and 1988.

To see the full interview click here


[1]David Spener, We Shall Not Be Moved/No Nos Moverán (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2016), 17-26.

[2] Nancy Morris, “Canto Porque Es Necesario Cantar: The New Song Movement in Chile, 1973-1983,” Latin American Research Review 21, no. 2 (1986): 117-136,

[3] Krista Brune, "Subversive Instruments: Protest and Politics of MPB and the Nueva Canción," Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 33, (2015): 128, doi:10.7560/SLAPC3309.….

[4]Morris, “Canto Porque es Necesario Cantar," 122.

[5]Jan Fairley, Simon Frith, Stan Rijven, and Ian Christie, Living Politics, Making Music: The Writings of Jan Fairley, Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series, (Farnham: Routledge, 2014),, 13.

[6] J. Patrice McSherry, Chilean New Song: The Political Power of Music, 1960s-1973, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015),, 86.


[8]Morris, “Canto Porque es Necesario Cantar,” 121; Fairley, Living Politcs, Making Music, 53.

[9]McSherry, Chilean New Song, 86.

[10]Morris, “Canto Porque es Necesario Cantar,” 121.


[12]Fairley et al., Living Politcs, Making Music, 17.

[13]Ibid., 121-122.

[14]Ibid., 122.

[15]McSherry, Chilean New Song, 86-87.

[16]McSherry, Chilean New Song, 87.


[18]Morris, “Canto Porque es Necesario Cantar,” 122.

[19]Ibid., 123.


[21]Ibid., 130.

[22]Ibid., 119.

[23]Victor Figueroa Clark, Salvador Allende: Revolutionary Democrat, (London: Pluto Press, 2013), 114, doi:10.2307/j.ctt183p6k6.9, .

[24]Peter Read and Marivic Wyndham, “Victor Jara, the State University of Technology and the Victor Jara Stadium,” in Narrow But Endlessly Deep: The Struggle for Memorialisation in Chile since the Transition to Democracy, (Acton: ANU Press, 2016), 23,

[25]Read and Wyndham, “Victor Jara,” 23.

[26]Ibid., 29.

[27]Ibid.; Spener, We Shall Not Be Moved, 23. 

[28]Read and Wyndham, “Victor Jara,” 31-36. On September 12, 2003 the stadium was renamed the Victor Jara Stadium. 

[29]Ibid., 31-32.

[30]Ibid., 33. 

[31]“Victor Jara murder: ex-military officers sentenced in Chile for 1973 death,” The Guardian, July 3, 2018,….

[32]Partricia Vilches, “De Violeta Parra a Victor Jara Y los Prisoneros: Recuperación de la Memoria Colectiva e Identidad Cultural a través de la Música Comprometida,” Latin American Music Review 25, no. 2 (2004): 200,

[33]Jane Tumas-Serna, “The “Nueva canción” Movement and Its Mass-Mediated Performance Context,” Latin American Music Review/Revista de Música Latinoamericana 13, no. 2 (1992): 146, doi:10.2307/948080.

[34]González, Juan Pablo. “‘Inti-Illimani" and the Artistic Treatment of Folklore.” Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamericana 10, no. 2 (1989): 1269.

[35]Fairley, Jan. "La Nueva Canción Latinoamericana." Bulletin of Latin American Research 3, no. 2 (1984): 112.

[36]Gordon, Diane. “Inti-Illimani.” Guitar Player 31, no. 10 (1997): 41.

[37]Ibid., 41.

[38]González, "'Inti-Illimani,'"269.

[39] Gordon, "Inti-Illimani," 42.


Brune, Krista. "Subversive Instruments: Protest and Politics of MPB and the Nueva Canción." Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 33 (2015): 128-145. doi:10.7560/SLAPC3309.

Clark, Victor Figueroa. Salvador Allende: Revolutionary Democrat. London: Pluto Press, 2013. doi:10.2307/j.ctt183p6k6.9.

The Desconcierto. "VIDEO | After 15 Years of Exile: "Vuelvo", the Day of the Unforgettable Reunion of Inti Illimani with the Chilean People." El Desconcierto, September 20, 2018.

Fairley, Jan. “La Nueva Canción Latinoamericana.” Bulletin of Latin American Research 3, no. 2 (1984): 107-15. doi:10.2307/3338257.

Fairley, Jan, Simon Frith, Stan Rijven, and Ian Christie. Living Politics, Making Music : The Writings of Jan Fairley. Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series. Farnham: Routledge, 2014.….

González, Juan Pablo. “‘Inti-Illimani" and the Artistic Treatment of Folklore.” Latin American Music Review / Revista De Música Latinoamericana 10, no. 2 (1989): 267-86. doi:10.2307/779953.

Gordon, Diane. “Inti-Illimani.” Guitar Player 31, no. 10 (1997): 41 - 42.….

McSherry, Patrice J. Chilean New Song : The Political Power of Music, 1960s-1973Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015.

Morris, Nancy. "Canto Porque Es Necesario Cantar: The New Song Movement in Chile, 1973-1983." Latin American Research Review 21, no. 2 (1986): 117-136.

Read, Peter, and Marivic Wyndham. "Victor Jara, the State University of Technology and the Victor Jara Stadium." In Narrow But Endlessly Deep: The Struggle for Memorialisation in Chile since the Transition to Democracy, 23-38. Acton, Australia: ANU Press, 2016.

Spener, David. "A Song, Socialism, and the 1973 Military Coup in Chile." In We Shall Not Be Moved/No Nos Moverán: Biography of a Song of Struggle, 17-26. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2016.

Tumas-Serna, Jane. "The "Nueva Canción" Movement and Its Mass-Mediated Performance Context." Latin American Music Review / Revista De Música Latinoamericana 13, no. 2 (1992): 139-57. doi:10.2307/948080.

“Victor Jara murder: ex-military officers sentenced in Chile for 1973 death.” The Guardian, July 3, 2018.…-sentenced-in-chile-for-1973-death.

Vilches, Patricia. "De Violeta Parra a Víctor Jara Y Los Prisioneros: Recuperación De La Memoria Colectiva E Identidad Cultural a Través De La Música Comprometida." Latin American Music Review / Revista De Música Latinoamericana 25, no. 2 (2004): 195-215.