A Chilean singer living in Edinburgh, her life and work are profoundly marked by her political exile to the UK in 1977, when she was still a child.
The escape from her homeland happened after her father was arrested and tortured in a concentration camp in the north of the country.
Thirteen years passed until Valentina could return to Chile for the first time.
Today, Valentina Montoya Martínez is a young mother, a successful singer and committed to various humanitarian causes.
Currently, she is making a new record with her group Valentina and Voces del Sur, as well as a compilation of testimonies from some of the victims of the Chilean dictatorship.
In this interview with The Prisma, which took place on the same day as the anniversary of the military coup September 11th 1973, Valentina told us the story of her experience of exile, her artistic compromises in defence of human rights and the rescue of the historical memory of her country.
How your childhood like as the daughter of a political refugee?
Contrary to what some people think, exile wasn’t a golden age for those of us who got away from the dictatorship. Our new life in England wasn’t easy at all. It wasn’t for many other refugees either, some died in a foreign country completely alone and far away from their families.
When we arrived in London, my mother didn’t want to eat, for sorrow, and because of a profound feeling of solidarity with our compatriots. She became very thin. The survivors lived on the edge of town and in deep poverty.
In my case, we were convinced that we would go back within three years, but time passed and the dictatorship continued and the house remained empty because the plan was always to go back.
How did your political and artistic commitments develop?
The truth is that it came up in a very natural manner. I have always thought of art as an instrument for political, social, human and ethical acceptance and you I don’t think you can understand it in any other way.
My mother brought lots of music with her from Chile and I grew up with it: Víctor Jara, Violeta Parra, Quilapayún and lots of tango records.
For me, Víctor Jara came to be a guide. I did a Masters on him at the University of Warwick.
Many exiled friends came to my house from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. There used to be a former political prisoner who sang and played the guitar.His voice filled our house with colours and echoes of the south. He had learnt to play the guitar in prison! It’s extraordinary that in a place of horror and isolation, something so marvellous can emerge!
Since then, I always wanted to sing like him, although I was already singing from a young age. When I was eleven, my mother gave me a guitar and since then, the instrument has been my singing partner. Singing has always been a form of nourishing and defining myself culturally, and for denouncing what happened in my country.
This past August, with your group Voces del Sur, you put on a concert in Edinburgh, in solidarity with Palestine. What is your view on the recent fighting in Gaza?
When I saw the images of dead children, through the shelling in Gaza, as a mother, I felt that I had to do something. And I was invited to a day of solidarity with Palestine and I sang there.
Chile has a history of close solidarity with the Palestinian public because we know what the violation of human rights means. And this feeling of solidarity continues to motivate my work.
What is your latest project about?
Last year I put out a tango record, La Pasionaria, with a Scottish chamber group, Mr McFall’s Chamber. The project has my own themes, the same as those of Astor Piazzolla.
My next project, Crónica de una historia chacabucana (The Chronicle of a Chacabucan History), is based on Chilean folklore.
It’s a musical tale of my father’s journey from the Estadio Nacional to the concentration camp in Chacabuco, in the north of Chile.
With this work, I want to leave a testimony, on my father’s behalf, about his experience during the first period of the dictatorship.
What else is left to do to rescue your historical memory of Chile?
There are lots of things that still haven’t been documented. In my next work, I want to create music that relates important events from our recent history. I hope my work is interdisciplinary, incorporating my academic knowledge of history and theatre into my musical work.
Yes, it’s a personal project, I want to give my father a voice, to free him. But at the same time it is a contribution to oral history. I want to give testimony and commemorate our dead and tortured. In the end, I want to contribute to the rescue of our historical memory….there are lots of silenced birds that need to fly!
(Translated by Daniela Fetta)