Culture, Globe, Latin America, Music

100 years of Violeta Parra, the ‘social voice’

The Chilean folklorist travelled her long country documenting peasant song and then went on to travel the world, showcasing her work. She always sang against injustice, insensitivity and bureaucracy. Today, 50 years after her departure, her interviews are compiled in a book for the first time.


Violeta Parra freefoto ipernity
Violeta Parra

Marcos Ortiz F.


She is one of the greatest folklorists to come from Latin America and, together with Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, maybe the most internationally recognised Chilean. From humble and peasant beginnings, at 15 years old she emigrated from the deep south to Santiago, accompanied by her brother, today known as anti-poet Nicanor Parra, and went on to live in Europe twice.

That is Violeta Parra, the woman who travelled her country collecting traditional songs so that they would never be forgotten and who, in 1964, exhibited her arpilleras in the Louvre; a display of talent that she would exceed in 1966 when she published “Las últimas composiciones” (“Last compositions”), a record that begins with “Gracias a la vida” (“Thanks to life”).

The subject of numerous covers by several artists, the song was a contradiction as the artist was to be found dead on 5 February 1967 having shot herself.

Violeta Parra portada libroEven though 50 years have already passed since her death, many prefer to remember that 2017 also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the birth of a woman who managed to accumulate around three thousand popular songs during her travels.

Journeys to Europe

In 1954, after recording her first songs, she won a prize that gave her the opportunity to sing in Poland, which led to her travelling the Soviet Union and part of Europe.

It was there, far away, where she learned of her eldest daughter’s death. But the artist had already decided to prolong her return, which in fact only happened two years later, after having established herself in Paris, the city where she recorded records and showcased her music.

It is exactly the distance and the journeys that serve as inspiration for part of her work. “Why did I come from Chile/ where I was so happy?/I’m now on foreign soil/oh, singing as if grieving”, sings Parra inVioleta ausente”, a song composed during her second stay in Europe between 1961 and 1965.

“There is a thorn in my breast/ that relentlessly pierces/my heart that longs/ oh, for its Chilean land”, she adds in the second verse.

Compiled interviews

Chilean journalist Marisol Garcia published “Canción valiente” (“Fearless song”) in 2013, a book that analyses the social aspect of the work of Violeta Parra, among other Chilean musicians.

Today, four years later, she has compiled the forgotten interviews conducted between 1954 and 1967 in the volume “Violeta Parra en sus palabras” (“Violeta Parra in her words”), a work that includes written and audiovisual material from Chile and abroad.

“Violeta Parra in her words”)

“Violeta Parra lives her journeys, according to the interviews compiled in the book, with a mixture of enthusiasm and nostalgia”, the journalist explains to The Prisma. “I think she saw travelling as a huge opportunity, and she enjoyed it, but was always conscious that she had to go back to Chile. She did not travel the world for her

Violeta Parra Marisol Garcia
Marisol Garcia, author of  “Violeta Parra in her words”

benefit, but instead to enhance her diffusion of Chilean popular art. Her travels were artistic and cultural missions”, she adds.

According to García, in the interviews “she reflects on her nostalgia for Chile and her decision to travel in order to aid her work. Her political and social awareness was therefore more focused on poverty in Chile (which she also experienced) and the inequality, which is increasingly present in my country, between workers and employers”.

Her journeys throughout Chile were also evidence of the nuance of Violeta Parra’s unrelenting search for a collection of songs that passed from generation to generation, running the risk of one day being lost. Marisol García says “she lived for a time in Concepción (500 kilometres south of Santiago) and also travelled large parts of the north and south looking for singers and popular poets, to put it briefly”.

Violeta parraVioleta’s work is filled with an untiring fight against injustice, insensitivity and beurocracy. Are those issues that go hand in hand with today’s current migration problems?

I believe so, especially regarding something that Violeta pioneered (amongst so many other things): her awareness of the world while in Chile. That is the reason for her song “Un río de sangre” (“a river of blood”), which is about the murders of Federico García Lorca, Congolese Patrice Lumumba, Mexican Emiliano Zapata and Argentinian Ángel Vicente Peñaloza. She is also clearly aware of the issues of mobility and centralism in Chile when she sings to the miners in the north and to the people of Chiloé.

Violeta Parra pinturaAfter returning to Chile for good in 1965, Violeta Parra suffered what many travellers outside of her country also suffered: incomprehension and mistrust. To what extent did living abroad change her?

It turned her into an artist who could settle into a highly interpretive dynamic, which she tried and succeeded in while showcasing her music to very different audiences. And that doesn’t just apply to singing, but also when she exhibited her looms in a pavilion of the Louvre Museum. It exposed her to new influences that she welcomed. It convinced her that Chilean popular art was valuable enough to spread to Europe, which was then proven by the enthusiasm around her.

Photos: free source  –  (Translated by Abaigh Wheatley – email:

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