The Dream Lives On: the spirit of Victor Jara remembered in Wales

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The Dream Lives On: the spirit of Victor Jara remembered in Wales

Pete Godfrey gives details of an upcoming music and culture festival in Wales

In mid-August Wales will reverberate to the unlikely sounds of Latin American music with a distinctly political twist as the El Sueño Existe festival – ‘The Dream Lives on’ – is celebrated among the green hillsides of Machynlleth.

The festival, inspired by the music and political vision of legendary Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara, is held in alternate summers, and has become something of a fixture in the calendar of folk music and progressive ideas. This year’s festival, which runs from August 16th to 18th, features a wealth of musical acts headlined by Anglo-Chilean band Quimantú and the melodious scourge of frackers and frequent flyers, Seize The Day. Alongside them will be the customary colourful array of Latin dancers and theatre performers, and a wide-ranging series of political and cultural workshops.

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Each edition of the festival focuses on specific issues, and this year’s themes are Mexico – a historic opportunity for progress under the socialist government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador – and Women of Latin America: the struggle for gender equality and female reproductive rights. Workshops will include a focus on human rights in Mexico, remembering the still unexplained disappearance of 43 students travelling in a coach, exploring the phenomenon of migrant caravans, and ‘Workers, not maids’ – a look at how Mexican women in domestic jobs organise.

Further afield, there’ll be sessions on indigenous resistance to deforestation of the Amazon and the Trump administration’s heavy-handed attempts to sabotage social progress in Venezuela. The festival is also family-friendly, with a full programme of games, stories and activities for children.

The spotlight on Mexico – author and academic Adam Feinstein will provide an insight into the country’s Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz – will also give consideration to the cultural and political significance of artists like feminist icon Frida Kahlo and muralist Diego Rivera. The potent working-class Mexican mural movement was subsequently taken up by Chileans during the successful election campaign of Salvador Allende, whose Popular Unity socialist coalition came to power in 1970. Colourful, imaginative murals demanding workers’ rights and equality between the sexes ‘made the walls speak’ all over the capital, Santiago.

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The demise of Allende’s government under the brutal CIA-backed military coup of General Augusto Pinochet in 1973 is all too well documented – but the mural tradition migrated to Britain along with thousands of Chilean exiles. In 1976 three young Chileans painted a mural on the refectory wall at Leeds University with the slogan: ‘And there will be work for everyone!’ The huge artwork was later covered up by a new building development, but has recently been recovered and re-painted by volunteers, and a copy of it – with the original slogan also translated into Welsh – will be unveiled at this summer’s festival. Two of the original Chilean artists are going to be present.

El Sueño Existe attracts a vibrant mix of Chileans who found a haven in Britain in the 1970s, veterans of solidarity campaigns here, and the younger generation who have inherited the wealth of both Latin American and British cultural traditions. The touchstone is Victor Jara himself, a Communist and passionate supporter of Allende’s government, who was among the thousands of Pinochet’s victims, tortured and savagely murdered at the age of 39 for being a voice of the people. Unlike his tormentors, his legacy has become recognised as being artistically unique – an eloquent testimony of the flagrant injustices in Chilean society, and a call to arms to remedy them.

One of Victor Jara’s musical collaborators, Alejandro Reyes, who came to Britain as an exile, will be among those playing at the festival. Although he describes himself self-effacingly as ‘a relic’, he is more a part of the living history of a cultural inheritance that remains astonishingly robust and all too relevant.

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But it is a musical tradition that is evolving. At the festival the Anglo-Chilean band Quimantú will showcase a unique range of styles blending Andean instruments, Western classical influences and African drumming. Nicaraguan pianist and singer Clara Curteis brings her feminist perspective to songs of social struggle. Expresión Inka, a young people’s dance and drama group, will present a play about the migration of Latin American children. Welsh language music – always an important part of El Sueño Existe – is represented by young singer-songwriter Meinir Gwilym as well as the women’s choir Chor Gobaith. Salsa comes all the way from Penzance with Cornish band Quijada. And Seize The Day will give harmonious expression to the urgency of trying to avert a climate catastrophe.

Visitors to the festival can expect the unexpected, whether it is an early morning ceremony to honour ‘Pachamama’ – Mother Nature – or a lyrical poetry performance from Latin American women’s writers’ group ‘Las Juanas’, all with a splash of colour and a strong dose of progressive politics.

Perhaps the last word should go to a Chilean woman exiled here, who attended the previous El Sueño Existe: ‘The festival is the one place in Britain where I really feel I belong.’

Weekend ticket £50/£60 (£30 under 25s), camping £20, campervan £25. Tickets: www.elsuenoexiste.com

Read 252 times Last modified on Thursday, 01 August 2019 14:44
Pete Godfrey

Pete Godfrey works as a freelance journalist, is a union man, makes music, scribbles poetry and hangs out in the Hebrides.