The musical scenario in the first half of the twentieth century and the origins of nueva canción latino-americana
Transnationality is in the essence of the configuration of popular song
in Latin America. The foundation of the formation of sounds,
instrumentation, and musical genres which over time were consolidated in
the continent and taken as expressions of national cultures, can be
found in the intense transatlantic intersection of references of the
cultures originating in the continent—from the European cultural
universe imposed through colonization, African cultures brought through
slavery, the constant and intermittent exchanges among various parts of
While exchanges and transfers are at the foundations of the cultural
formation of the continent, the history of the invention of Latin
American nations in the nineteenth century is directly associated with
the gradual construction of "national" cultures, which signifies
establishing limits and frontiers that distinguish what is "typical" in
each new nation being constructed. Configured in this process, through a
series of filters and the definition of models, rules, and formats, was
what the "national" music of each country would be.
While music went through this "nationalization" movement in the
nineteenth century, in the twentieth the development of the culture
industry and the growing massified circulation cultural allowed by
mechanical reproduction, opened space for the shaping of an
internationalized musical market. Musical genres, now strong identified
with national cultures, came to circulate and be intensely consumed in
the different parts of the world. After the end of the Second World War,
with the imposition of the Cold War and the radicalization of
ideological polarization, Latin America became a stage of political
disputes, in which the cultural industry, already established, had a
On one hand, genres such as the Mexican bolero, the Cuban rumba, or
the Brazilian samba, already seen as "typical" of each country and
imprinted by the United States and its entertainment industry, became
cinema soundtracks, dominating radios all over the continent, and
allowing the large multinational companies to sell thousands of records.
The songs produced in different parts of the continent were digested by
the international cultural industry and gained breadth to breach
frontiers and make their names in the United States and Europe.
On the other hand, this strong policy of cultural domination, imposed by
the power of the multinationals on the means of communication and the
circulation of mass culture, which filtered and imprinted itself on that
cultural universe what politically interesting to put into circulation,
caused reactions in various Latin American countries. This resulted in
an intense process of the reaffirmation of what was understood as
"popular culture," in a movement of resistance to the globalization of
the culture which was being imposed.
In light of the advance of modernization, urbanization, and the
massification of consumption, sectors of the intelligentsia of various
Latin American countries reacted by defending the need to revalue
elements seen as being characteristic of nationality. The expression of
this "national" was to be found in the "popular," in "autochthone"
culture, generically understood under the label of "folklore."
During the 1940s and 1950s, the arts became a symbolic battlefield and
"folklore" was understood as a place of resistance to the domination of
foreign imperialism. Various Latin American countries experienced
processes of an intense growth of research into and the dissemination of
folklore, to the point of a folkloric boom being talked about at the end
of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s.
Initially, folkloric activity was very linked to the idea of the
"rescue" or "preservation" of an anonymous popular culture, which was in
danger of becoming extinct due to the advance of mass industrial
culture. The folklorist was seen as a type of "savior," with the mission
of preventing the "original" culture of the country from being lost.
However, especially from the 1950s onwards, debates in the folkloric
field advanced and new perspectives began to be presented. In
counterpoint to the more conservative folklorism, there emerged the
vision that folklore could not be seen as something agonizing, or as a
museum piece which needed to be save from extinction. The role of the
folklorist became instead that of keeping the "soul of the people"
alive, making folklore the base for the creation of new works.
Rather than untouchable material, folkloric production came to be seen
as the creation of authorial works which, in incorporating folkloric
information and crossing them with other references, were transformed
into expressions of nationality. In the field of popular music, the
genres, rhythms, and instruments of traditional anonymous folk songs
came to be the matrix of a massive universe of music which gained a
leading place in the cultural industry.
Between the 1950s and 1960s, Latin American radios (and also in other
parts of the world) were taken over by "folk" singers and groups and
their works became great hits with the public. These artists assumed
very different postures in relation to entertainment and what
"folkloric" production was, resulting in the consolidation of different
types of folklorism. Within this intense activity, two names gained
special renown as they were the pioneers in an area that sought to give
folkloric (or better folk) music space for the transmission of
explicitly political and engaged content: Atahualpa Yupanqui and Violeta
The Argentine musician, composer, singer, poet, and folklorist Héctor
Roberto Chavero (1908-1992), who adopted the artistic name of Atahualpa
Yupanqui, was a central figure in the politicization of folk type
singing. Since the 1930s, Yupanqui travelling around Argentina and other
Latin American countries, collecting popular music which served as a
base for the development of his authorial work.
He had a strong involvement with politics since the 1940s, as he was a
member of the Argentine Communist Party, which resulted in intense
persecution and his imprisonment various times. His activism involved
his work, transforming him into a pioneer in the production of engaged
songs based on folkloric material.
"El arriero," composed in 1944, is considered one of the first
appearances of social criticism in a folk song, an element which would
be a central mark of nueva canción from the 1960s onwards. The
character in the song lyrics is a rural worker looking after animal
herds, and the famous verses "the pains are ours/the cows belong to
others" denounced in an original manner the exploitation of their work,
showing the abyss existing between the simple man in the countryside and
the large rural worker.
In 1949, with the worsening of political tensions in Argentina,
Atahualpa left the country. In a scheme organized by the Communist
Party, he crossed the frontier with Uruguay and left for France. After
going through Paris, Atahualpa started a trip through communist bloc
countries, visiting Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania,
where he gave some musical performances and some talks about Latin
America folklore, as well as participating in artistic and political
Back in France, Atahualpa managed to make great space for himself in
local cultural circuits, appearing with prominence, and dividing the
stage with important names from French music, such as Edith Piaf.
In addition, in Paris, the Argentine folk artist recorded various
phonographs for Le Chant du Monde, a French recording label founded in
1938 and intimately linked to the French Communist Party and famous for
maintaining an impressive catalogue of "music from the world."
Yupanqui's success abroad contributed to his affirmation as a leading
figure in Latin American folk production, guaranteeing him an important
place in the universe of references of political songs on the continent.
Alongside Yupanqui, another central reference in folk activities in
Latin America in the 1950s was the Chilean composer, singer, fine
artist, and folklorist Violeta Parra (1917-1967). In this period, she
visited numerous areas in her country meticulously collecting anonymous
songs that were part of the traditional Chilean repertoire, gathering
material that was the basis for her to develop her authorial work as a
In 1955, Violeta Parra travelled for the first time to Europe, invited
to participate in the V World Festival of Youth and Students, held in
city of Warsaw, Poland. She thus made her first incursion into the
communist world, also passing through the Soviet Union and
Her journey ended with a period in France where she made a series of
performances in bars and made contact with Latin American artists and
intellectuals in Paris at that time.
Violeta recorded her first solo records in the French capital, two
albums released by Le Chant du Monde in which she gave a voice to
folkloric themes collected while she had traveled through Chile. She
thus found herself in the middle of a scenario of the valorization of
culture coming from outside Europe—often understood as categories such
as "exotic" and "picturesque"—a space for popular Latin American
During her European trip, Violeta also spent a period in London, where
she presented and recorded tracks for an album released by Odeon, as
well as performing on BBC television and radio programs, expanding even
more the circulation of her work.
In this way, with the communist parties creating possibilities for Latin
American artists to visit and present communist bloc countries, the
pulsating folk song movement which was strengthening in various parts of
Latin America also gained visibility in European cultural circuits. An
unprecedented space opened in the European cultural industry, which
allowed the affirmation of Latin American folk production in the
political, intellectual, and artistic spheres of the old world. This
movement of dialogue between popular culture and the circuits of the
circulation of the masses led to the development of commercial folk
music in Latin America. Given the transformations of the Latin American
political scenario, this laid the foundations in the 1960s for a new
period of folk projection to be experienced, marked by politicization
and the incorporation of social criticism, the origin of a project which
became established under the label of nueva canción latino-americana.
From the politicization of folk song to the first steps in nueva canción latino-americana
In 1959, the Cuban Revolution turned the attention of the entire world
to Latin America. The formation of a socialist government in the middle
of the Cold War in a small Caribbean island, until then seen as part of
the United States' "backyard," caused an enormous impact, animating
leftwing movements in various countries.
The idea of "revolution" took over the entire American continent, which
glimpsed concrete possibilities of radical political changes. This had a
strong impact on the cultural field and the idea that it was necessary
to invest in raising awareness among the people to encourage
transformation became central for a large part of the Latin American
intelligentsia. Many artists identified with leftwing ideas began to try
to make art an instrument of social transformation.
Popular songs, due to their massive character and their communication
potential, came to be seen as the path to divulge political ideas to a
broader public. In various parts of Latin America this led to musical
movements gaining force which through an attempted aesthetic renovation
of national traditions sought to produce political songs.
During the first half of the 1960s, this engaged song movement, which
initially formed in the Southern Cone, established itself under the
label of nueva canción latino-americana. Its production had as a
striking characteristic strong political engagement and the search for
the construction of a continental integration project through song.
Nuevo Cancionero Argentino
The first fundamental mark of the constitution of the nueva canción
latino-americana project was the formation of the Argentine nuevo
cancionero movement. This was created by a group of intellectuals in
the city of Mendoza, which at this moment was experiencing a great
cultural fervor. It is significant that the movement was organized
outside Buenos Aires, since one of the group's proposals was to question
the existence of a central axis of Argentine culture focused on the
country's capital, emphasizing the need to incorporate the cultural
production of the other provinces in the "national" production.
The movement, whose conception and expansion depended to a great extent
on the work of Armando Tejada Gómez (1929-1992) and Óscar Matus
(1935-1991), found in the Tucumana singer Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009) one
of its best known figures.
The movement was officially launched in a concert held in the Círculo
de periodistas (Association of Journalists), in Mendoza on 11 February
1963. In addition to artistic numbers, the opening night was marked by
the first public reading of the Manifiesto del Nuevo Cancionero,
written by Tejada Gómez and signed by a series of artists and
intellectuals. The document outlined the principles defended by the
group, starting with the discussion of the panorama of Argentine popular
music, but also pointing to the need to look for dialogues which could
go beyond national limits and put Argentine songs in contact with other
productions from the continent.
The initial marks of the recording of nuevo cancionero argentino were
the Testimonial del Nuevo Cancionero albums, which contained poems by
Armando Tejada Gómez and his songs in partnership with Óscar Matus, and
Canciones con fundamento, in which Mercedes Sosa gave voice to various
partnership of Matus and Tejada Gómez. Both were released in 1965 by the
independent label El grillo, led by Matus.
Uruguayan Protest Song
During the same period, the strong movement of Uruguayan folk renovation
enabled a new generation of composers and singers to propose, in
dialogue with what had happened in countries such as Argentina, the
incorporation of new sonorities and the connection of the folk
repertoire with the social and political context of that moment.
Although it did not result in an organized and institutionalized
movement as in Argentina, this generation had its production placed
under the label of canción protesta. The foundation of this new strand
was marked by the launch by the Uruguayan label Antar of the debut album
of Los Olimareños, a duo consisting of Braulio López (1942-) and José
Luis Guerra (1943-), and by the debut album of the composer and singer
Daniel Viglietti (1939-2017). These artists, alongside Alfredo
Zitarrosa, shaped at this moment the core of engaged Uruguayan music.
"Canción para mi América," released by Viglietti on his first album can
be seen as the first great work of nueva canción latino-americana, by
affirming the Latin Americanist discourse and circulating intensely
around the continent. It was rerecorded in the following years by the
Chilean brother and sister Isabel and Ángel Parra and the Argentine
singer Mercedes Sosa.
Chilean Nueva Canción
In Chile, a group of artists emerged in what was called neofolklore,
(a song movement based on folk and strongly linked to the commercial
interests of the mainstream music industry), who assumed more explicit
and critical postures, distanced themselves from the traditionalism of
typical Chilean music, and formed the basis of what would be labelled as
nueva canción chilena.
Strongly influenced by what had occurred in the folk music spheres in
Argentina and Uruguay, the movement was deeply dependent on the work of
Violeta Parra. Following the paths opened by the latter, nueva canción
undertook an expansion of the sound universe of Chilean folk, also
incorporating musical references from other Latin American countries.
The emergence of the movement was directly linked to Violeta Parra's
second European experience, this time in the company of her children
Isabel Parra (1939-) and Ángel Parra (1943-2017). Traveling again to
participate in the World Festival of Youth and Students, this time
held in the city of Helsinki in Finland, in July 1962, the Parra family
visited the Soviet Union, Germany, and Italy, completing the trip with a
long period in Paris, which lasted until 1965. During their time in
Europe, the Parra family gave series of concerts and presentations to
radio and television, establishing a profound connection with European
artists and intellectuals, which contributed to maintain the visibility
of Latin American cultural production of a folk type in the circuits of
the old continent.
Returning from the trip Isabel and Ángel, greatly impacted by the
Parisian artistic scene, rented a property in Santiago where they opened
Peña de los Parra, the foundation of which can be seen as the initial
landmark of the nueva canción chilena movement.
Peña came to have a fixed group of musicians, including, as well as
the Parras, artists such as Patricio Manns (1937-) and Rolando Alarcón
(1929-1973), soon joined by Víctor Jara (1932-1973), thereby bringing
together what would constitute the central core of the nueva cancion
movement, permitting their contact with the public and the
dissemination of their songs, which were soon recorded.
Gradually the movement expanded, being joined by new artists, notably
the creation of the folk groups Quilapayún and Inti-Illimani. 1969
marked the beginning of a process of institutionalization, with the
holding of the I Festival de la Nueva Canción Chilena. This gave a
definitive name to the movement, publicized the artists, and allowed the
circulation of their works.
At the end of the 1960s, with the consolidation of the Argentine nuevo
cancionero, Uruguayan canción protesta, and Chilean nueva canción,
a model was forged of committed music with a strong Latin Americanist
nature. Its composers and singers found their own and original paths and
dialogued in distinct manners with the traditional national music of
their countries. However, they shared references, which allowed the
formation of a common and strongly politicized musical universe, which
became established under the label of nueva canción latino-americana.
Encuentro de la Canción Protesta (Cuba, 1967) and the debate about engaged music
One of the most significant marks of the affirmation of this political
song movement and its projection at a continental level was the holding
in Havana, between 29 July and 10 August 1967 of the I Encuentro de la
Canción Protesta. The event officializing the creation of Organización
Latinoamericana de Solidaridad (OLAS) was being held at the same moment
in Cuba. This sought to bring together the peripheral countries under
the leadership of the Cubans.
Attending the meeting were delegations of artists from 18 countries with
the aim of discussing the paths and the possibilities of protest songs.
The invited musicians also performed in open air concerts, theaters, and
on radio and television. In the debates that were part of the event it
was discussed how music could be used as a weapon to denounce social
inequalities and the ills of the working people, as well as to raise
awareness among the people about engaging in the revolutionary struggle.
Aesthetic perspectives were also debated, reflecting on the relationship
of protest songs with the folk universe and popular culture and the
possible intersection of these references with modern musical elements.
Moreover, the event also affirmed Cuba as the center of the
revolutionary experience on the American continent, serving as the
platform for the socialist government of the island to defend its model
of revolution in the intense debates taking over the global left at that
moment. The presence of representatives of different Latin American
countries (Argentines, Chileans, Cubans, Haitians, Mexicans,
Paraguayans, Peruvians, and Uruguayans), most of them linked to nueva
canción movements in their countries, demonstrated the search for
expanded connections on the continent in order to establish a Latin
American protest song network.
Despite its strong Latin-Americanist mark, the event also sought to
expand dialogues beyond Latin American through the participation of
delegations from Australia, Spain, France, Great Britain, Italy, and
Portugal, which allowed nueva canción to open for approximation with
different types of protest songs and to pay attention to new themes and
One of the most important groups at the event was the British
delegation, consisting of Terry Yarnell, John Faulkner, Sandra Kerr
(1942-), and the couple Ewan MacColl (1915-1989) e Peggy Seeger (1935-),
collectively known as The London Critics Group. This movement, led by
the MacColl and Seeger couple, organized meetings in the 1960s and 1970s
to discuss the possibilities of political musical and the insertion of
folk music in Britain.
Through the significant presence of artists from outside Latin American
in the Cuban event, nueva canción established an important connection
with protest songs around the world, with the question of
anti-imperialism and the struggle against US domination of the continent
gaining space in its discourse. Demands such as the decolonization of
countries in Africa and Asia, the struggle for civil rights for
minorities, and opposition to the Vietnam War, represented by a
delegation of the South Vietnam Liberation Front, also came to be part
of the repertoire of Latin American musicians.
Canción Protesta and US folk music
Another important bridge that was strengthened in the Encuentro de la
Canción Protesta was with US folk music. Since the nineteenth century
in the United States the discussion of folklore gained strength, with
various researchers going around the country collecting materials which
could express the "origins of nationality." In the 1930s, due the impact
of the crisis of unprecedented size which shook the country, critical
groups linked to the left gained strength. Along with these groups
emerged a set of artists who redefined the perspectives previously
adopted by folkloric music, now called folk music, seeking to put it
to the service of political engagement.
A large part of the musicians linked to folk music had ties with the
Communist Party and organizations linked to it, which meant that they
suffered great persecution in the 1940s, in the context of radical
anti-communism symbolized by the activities of the Un-American
Activities Committee, which forced some important protest song artists
testify, such as Pete Seeger (1919-2014).
During the 1950s and 1960s, these folk music artists gained relevance in
the US musical scenario, assuming a leading place in the movements which
fought against the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights. Songs came to be
seen as key to the demonstrations and protests which took place all over
the United States. It was in this context that the couple Barbara Dane
(1927-) and Irwin Silber (1925-2010) gained importance, acting intensely
in the name of the politicization of folk music and its use in the
defense of political causes. Irwin Silber was a journalist and executive
director of People's Song and editor of Sing Out!, famous US
publications which divulged folk music and defended the political
action of musicians.
Barbara Dane, an important jazz and folk singer, gained importance
playing alongside Pete Seeger in events against the Vietnam War and in
1966 was the first US artist to tour Cuba after the revolution. This
activism led her, alongside Silber, to represent the US protest
movements in the I Encuentro de la Canción Protesta.
The participation of the US couple in the I Encuentro de la Canción
Protesta and the contacts they established with Latin American artists
had a strong influence on the foundation of their record company
Paredon Records in 1970, which over 12 years produced 45 records and
acted as an important channel for the dissemination of nueva canción
latino-americana in the United States and the world.
Grupo de Experimentación Sonora (GESI) and the emergence of Cuban nueva trova
At the end of the I Encuentro de la Canción Protesta it was decided to
release a record with songs from various of the artists who participated
in the event. Also proposed was the creation of a center which had the
objective of keeping the exchanges of experience of engaged song active
all over the continent, functioning as a base for nueva canción.
Centro de la Canción Protesta, created in 1967 and based in Casa de
las Américas, assumed the function of publicizing the production of
artists from various parts of the continent and became an important
space for bringing together young Cuban artists, who sought to renew the
island's traditional music and create new music connected with the
country's political moment.
Artists such as Pablo Milanés (1943-), Silvio Rodríguez (1946-), and
Noel Nicola (1946-2005) first met in Centro de la Canción Protesta.
However, this did not last long, coming to an end in the middle of
1969.Following the end of the center, its participants were invited to
take part in a new project being developed by Alfredo Guevara, a key
figure in Cuban culture and director of the Instituto Cubano de Arte e
Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC).
After a trip to Brazil where he came into contact with some of the
daring cinema experiences there, impressed with the soundtracks of these
films in 1969 Guevara decided to create the Grupo de Experimentación
Sonora (GESI), linked to ICAIC, aimed at producing soundtracks for
Cuban films. The group was led by Maestro Leo Brouwer (1939-).
GESI was a space for the gestation of artistic production which from
the 1970s onwards was part of the movement officially baptized as nueva
trova cubana, representing a new aesthetic perspective within the
increasingly broad and complex universe of nueva canción
latino-americana. At the same time as a new type of engaged music was
being created in Cuba, nueva canción spread all over the continent,
while movements based on the idea of modernizing national traditional
music in order to create songs which could serve as a platform for
political discourse gained force in various countries. At the end of the
1960s and beginning of the 1970s, nueva canción became a musical
phenomenon in Latin America. A broad and complex circuit of music and
work was established, allowing this production to reach beyond Latin
Political radicalization, military coups, exiles, and the redefinition of circulation networks of engaged music
The highly political content of the repertoire of nueva canción
latino-americana and the engagement of its artists meant that the
political scenario had a direct impact on the development of this
artistic production. The constant advance of authoritarianism on the
Latin American continent, with the multiplication of military coups and
the establishment of dictatorships, brought to this artistic universe a
strong discourse in the name of emancipation and the struggle for
freedom which would open the way for the revolution.
Given the closure of neighboring countries, the election of the
socialist Salvador Allende as president of Chile, representing a
coalition of leftwing countries called Unidade Popular, made the
country into a fundamental space of the affirmation of change. Artists
linked to nueva canción chilena were intensely engaged in the campaign
for the election of Allende and, with his victory, even when adopting
different ideological positions within the Chilean left, assumed a
leading place in the political process.
During the three years of the Unidade Popular experience of government,
Chile became alongside Cuba a central place for the production of
engaged music and also a meeting point for musicians from various parts
of the world who wanted to make their art an instrument of political
struggle. The dialogue between the two countries was very intense in
this period, involving Fidel Castro visiting Chile and Salvador Allende
Cuba, as well as the widespread circulation of artists between the two
In the first half of the 1970s, the aesthetic perspectives and the
political slogans of nova canción latino-americana expanded and this
intense construction of a circulation network of its artists was
strongly affected by the recrudescence of authoritarianism on the
continent. The 1970s were marked by the radicalization of the
dictatorships in the Southern Cone. While in the second half of the
1960s the continent had experienced an authoritarian escalation, in the
1970s it got much worse. In 1973, the military coup in Uruguay
crystalized the authoritarian experience which had been underway in the
country, while the military coup in Chile ended the experience of the
Unidade Popular government. In 1976, the closure was completed with
the coup led by General Jorge Rafael Videla and the establishment of a
new dictatorship in Argentina. In this scenario engaged artists were
transformed into privileged targets of the new owners of power.
Censorship, persecution, torture, disappearances, death, and the
violence which marked the new governments directly affected the nueva
One of the most striking episodes in this process was the brutal murder
of the Chilean Víctor Jara who on the day of the military coup, 11
September 1973, was arrested and brought to the National Stadium, which
was converted into an enormous prison camp. There the musician was
barbarously tortured and killed by the agents of the security forces,
becoming the greatest symbol of the violence which befell politically
engaged Latin American artists.
For the musicians who remained in their countries, the challenge was now
to survive in the middle of violence and continue with their work, even
under the imprint of censorship and repression. The aim came to be the
discovery of means to resist the dictatorship and to make music a weapon
in this struggle. However, for many artists who were especially targeted
by the new regimes, exile was the only way out. A large part of the
central figures of nueva canción latino-americana went into exile
between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s.
For many Cuba, the revolutionary center of the continent, and Mexico, a
country with a long tradition of sheltering those persecuted
politically, were the nearest options to try to escape from repression.
In these countries solidarity movements with the victims of
dictatorships on the continent were established, which used artists and
the nueva canción repertoire as a mobilization instrument.
In 1974 in Mexico the album México Chile Solidaridad was released,
with recordings by engaged Mexican artists in honor of the Chilean
people. Two albums were released in Cuba: Jornada de solidaridad con la
lucha del Pueblo de Chile, with nueva trova cubana artists, and
Compañero presidente, an important project with representatives of
nueva canción from various parts of the continent to pay tribute to
Salvador Allende, killed in the conflicts when the military took power.
Projects such as this had an important role in the mobilization process
of movements resisting the dictatorships and in sheltering their
victims, but also demonstrated how in this period nueva canción
latino-americana had already assumed a leading role in the continent's
While initially neighboring countries became escape routes, over time
many looked for refuge in more distant places, especially European
countries which were willing to shelter the exiles. In various parts of
the world, solidarity movements with the victims of Latin American
dictatorships were being formed. These movements found in music an
important path to disseminate their political discourse, especially in
the sense of denouncing the atrocities being committed by the new
established authoritarian governments.
The experience of exile, although it signified a harsh blow for nueva
canción latino-americana, in the end became a moment for the
re-dimensioning of projects. While the old circuits of engaged art were
ended by repression and censorship, new and even broader networks were
established due to the intense circulation of artists through the
formation of a musical network of exile. In various countries collective
records were released which consolidated a musical universe understood
at this time as typical of nueva canción. Moreover, these records
transmitted a repertoire which assumed a voice of resistance and
intended to raise awareness, both among the community of exiles and the
population of the countries sheltering them, about the need to fight
against dictatorships. The awareness that the experience of exile would
not be as brief as initially believed and the need to find means of
survival and restart their careers meant that the exiled artists had to
look for paths to insert themselves in artistic circuits in the
countries sheltering them. Many labels opened their studios and
catalogues to artists linked to nueva canción.
Paris was one of the most important centers of Latin American exiles in
Europe. Many leftwing activists took refuge there and various important
nueva canción latino-americana artists settled in France, such as the
Chileans Isabel and Ángel Parra and the Uruguayan Daniel Viglietti. The
French label Le Chant du Monde was one of the spaces which welcomed
exiled artists. It had a long tradition of paying attention to Latin
American folk, while its catalogue contained albums by Atahualpa
Yupanqui and Violeta Parra.
Also in Paris smaller labels linked to political activists also welcomed
Latin American artists, as is the case of the independent label
Expression Spontanée, created by the French composer and singer Jean
Bériac. The label recorded and released albums by Karaxú, a group
founded in exile by the Chilean Patricio Manns with the aim of producing
propaganda for Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), a group
which defended armed resistance against the military dictatorship.
Other European cities also held important groups of exiles, as in the
case of Rome. In Italy, the label I Dischi Dello Zodiaco, linked to
Vedette Records, founded by the Musician Armando Sciascia in 1962, was
a redoubt of Latin American artists, holding in its catalogue records by
nueva cancion names, such as the Chileans from Inti-Illimani.
Although tragic the experience of exile allowed the insertion of Latin
American artists in musical circuits all over the world. In the second
half of the 1970s, the production of exiles managed to achieve high
sales in European circuits, creating a broad interest in musical
production in Latin America, but also calling attention to the region's
political problems and opening space for denunciations of the atrocities
committed by the dictatorships. While on the one hand, the military
coups signified an abrupt closing of the channels of the circulation of
nueva canción established in the 1960s, on the other, the fact that
many had been obliged to go into exile meant that circulation circuits
were re-dimensioned, allowing the movement to reach an unprecedented
scale of repercussion.
Música popular brasileira (MPB) and its connections with nueva canción
At this moment of the redefinition of the circulation circuits of nueva
canción, an important connection was established with the experience of
engaged music which had developed in Brazil. The context of the
establishment of authoritarian governments in various Latin American
countries allowed an approximation with the Brazilian reality, under a
dictatorship since 1964.
The first experiences of political engagement in the field of Brazilian
popular music occurred in the first half of the 1960s, when proposals
for structural reforms animated progressive sectors with the possibility
of changes in the country. At this moment, artists linked to the bossa
nova movement, which had emerged at the end of the 1950s, began to
defend the need to review song themes, in order to connect them with the
Composers such as Sérgio Ricardo (1932-) and Carlos Lyra (1939-),
central figures in bossa nova, came to criticize the themes of the
movement, which were excessively linked with middle class sectors from
the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro, defending the need for new questions.
Music had to be politicized, giving rise to what is called bossa nova
This was the starting point for an engaged music movement which
following the 1964 military coup assumed the front line in the
resistance to the dictatorship. During the 1960s, various artists joined
the movement, seeking to develop music which without giving up the
aesthetic conquests of bossa nova had the objective of reconnecting
with the popular through the incorporation of genres such as samba. The
record industry, radio stations, and especially television channels had
a crucial role in the strengthening of this movement. Song festivals
which became one of the principal products of the Brazilian cultural
industry, functioned as a platform for publicizing engaged music and
were the stage of intense disputes between the different groups which
were rivals from both the point of view of aesthetic projects and
This universe of engaged Brazilian popular music, which became
institutionalized as música popular brasileira (MPB), remained to a
certain extent removed from the process of the formation of nueva
canción latino-americana. Few effective dialogues were established
between Brazilian engaged musicians and the important names of political
music in neighboring countries until the middle of the 1970s. With the
intensification of authoritarianism in the continent, the sharing of the
experience of resistance to violence and the repression of military
governments drew Brazilian artists closer to their neighbors, initiating
a series of connections. Artists central to MPB, such as Elis Regina
(1945-1982), Milton Nascimento (1942-), and Chico Buarque (1944-),
collaborated in a close manner with Argentine, Chilean, and Cuban
artists during the decade and incorporated in their repertoires
referential nueva cancion songs.
At the end of the 1970s and principally in the 1980s new questions
emerged, provoking a radical revision of the aesthetic and ideological
perspectives of nueva cancion artists. In this new reality of Latin
America, marked by the political opening, the legacy left by the
activism of nueva canción had to find its space with the disputes of
memory which marked redemocratization, beginning a new moment of musical
production in the continent.