Andean Prog Rock
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Your survey of experimental, artistic rock isn’t complete without this group.
By Wesley Tomaselli
What do you get when you mix Andean riffs, rock ’n’ roll and a coup d’état? Los Jaivas, a globe-trotting folk group that fled the bloody, political turmoil of Chile in the ’70s only to eventually come back and redefine the meaning of progressive rock. The group married traditional Andean folk with symphonic rock so seamlessly that world-famous poet Pablo Neruda even lent them some lines from one of his epic poems for a song.
It was the early 1960s when young Eduardo Parra and his brothers Claudio and Gabriel were dancing and playing around the piano in the center of their house in the Chilean coastal city Viña del Mar. The Parra brothers loved performing with each other. The band really began when they were young boys, Eduardo Parra, now 71, tells OZY. “There was always a piano in the Parra house, and that instrument was at the center of an infinity of performances we did.”
… a truly new kind of musical language, a genre that didn’t used to exist but that’s now called ‘fusion.’
Eduardo and his brothers named themselves The High-Bass and played music with the intention of making some money at parties so they could get professional instruments and dedicate themselves to jazz. But in 1968, the boys switched the band’s name to Los Jaivas (pronounced ‘High-Bass’ in Spanish) and moved to the capital, Santiago, where the hippie spirit sucked them in. The love and peace didn’t last long, though. Little did Los Jaivas know, their world was about to get politically rocked.
Chile was then led by Salvador Allende, a democratically-elected socialist president. But these were years of the Red Scare. Washington wanted to tilt Chile in the direction of capitalism and feared that Allende might promote communism. The CIA inspired a military coup d’état in 1973, and Allende died in the ensuing chaos. In the aftermath, military dictator Augusto Pinochet was installed as president, and Los Jaivas fled to Argentina and later to France.
The group made the drastic decision to leave Chile because the military takeover meant an end to celebration, as far as its members were concerned. “And that was going to keep us — as musicians — from developing our art,” says Parra. In spite of the 1973 coup d’état, Parra says, the band has always stayed away from politically charged songs. “What prevailed in our ideas was a truly new kind of musical language, a genre that didn’t used to exist but that’s now called ‘fusion,’” says Parra.
Los Jaivas touched the apex of fame in 1981 when the group came back to the beloved Andes mountains and recorded a music video for the album Alturas de Macchu Picchu in the ancient Incan city in the Peruvian Andes. Andean instruments like the trutruca and the charango layer on a lazy, melancholic, folksy overtone to the group’s punchier interpretation of rock ’n’ roll. For the famous recording of La Poderosa Muerte, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote the lyrics. In the album, Eduardo Parra and his brothers pushed the limits with their sense of the spectacular. This time, it wasn’t quite the living room that set their stage — it was Machu Picchu.