Violeta Parra in the 1960s
|Birth name||Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval|
4 October 1917|
San Carlos, Chile
|Origin||San Carlos, Chile|
|Died||5 February 1967
|Genres||Folk, Singer-songwriter, Andean music, Latin music, Chilean music, Experimental music, Nueva canción|
|Occupations||Singer-songwriter, Plastic arts|
|Instruments||Vocals, Guitar, Charango, Cuatro, Percussion|
|Associated acts||Víctor Jara, Quilapayún,
Inti-Illimani, Patricio Manns, Illapu, Ángel Parra, Isabel Parra, Roberto Parra, Sergio Ortega, Margot Loyola, Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Soledad Bravo, Daniel Viglietti, Mercedes Sosa, Joan Baez, Holly Near, Elis Regina, Dean Reed, Silvio Rodríguez
Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval (4 October 1917 – 5 February 1967) was a Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist. She set the basis for "Chilean' New Song", the Nueva canción chilena, a renewal and a reinvention of Chilean folk music which would extend its sphere of influence outside Chile. In 2011 Andrés Wood directed a biopic about her, titled Violeta Went to Heaven.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Discography
- 3 Further reading
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Parra was born in San Fabián de Alico, near San Carlos, Ñuble Province, a small town in southern Chile on 4 October 1917, as Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval. Violeta Parra was a member of the prolific Parra family. Among her brothers were the notable modern poet, better known as the "anti-poet", Nicanor Parra and fellow folklorist Roberto Parra. Her son, Ángel Parra, and her daughter, Isabel Parra, are also important figures in the development of the Nueva Canción Chilena. Their children have also mostly maintained the family's artistic traditions.
Her father was a music teacher and her mother worked in a farm, but sang and played the guitar in her spare time. Two years after Violeta's birth, the family moved to Santiago, then two years later to Lautaro and finally, in 1927, Chillán. It was there that Violetta started singing and playing the guitar, together with her siblings Hilda, Eduardo and Roberto; soon composing traditional Chilean music.
After her dad died in the year 1929, the life-circumstances of the Parras greatly deteriorated, so Violeta and her siblings had to help to feed the family. In 1932, at the insistence of her brother Nicanor,she moved to Santiago to attend the Normal School, staying with relatives. Later, she moved back with her mother and siblings to the Edison street, Quinta Normal district.
First appearances, marriages
The Parras performed in nightclubs of the Mapocho district, such "El Tordo Azul” and the “El Popular”, interpreting boleros, rancheras, Mexican corridos and other styles. In 1934 she met Luis Cereceda, railway driver, whom she married four years later and with whom she had two children. Her husband was a militant communist, and at his side, she was involved in the progressive movement and the Communist Party of Chile, taking part in the presidential campaign of Gabriel González Videla in 1944. She started singing songs of Spanish origin, of the repertoire of the famous Argentinian singers Lolita Torres and Imperio Argentina. She sang in restaurants and also in theatres, calling herself Violeta de Mayo. In 1945 she appeared with her children Isabel and Angel, in a Spanish show, in the Casanova confectionery. In 1948, after ten years of marriage, she separated from her husband. She sang with her sister Hilda (as "The Parra Sisters"): they also made some recordings on RCA VICTOR. In the same year, Violeta met Luis Arce and contracted a second marriage: the couple had a daughter Carmen Luisa, born in 1949. Violeta appeared in circuses and toured, with Hilda and with her children, throughout the country and around Santiago.
In 1952 her daughter Rosita Clara was born. Since that year, driven by her brother Nicanor, Violeta began to recover, collect and collate the authentic Chilean folk music, all over the country. She abandoned her old repertoire for folk songs and started composing her own songs based on traditional folk forms. She gave recitals at universities, presented by man of letters Enrique Bello Cruz, founder of cultural magazines and publications. She was invited to the "Summer School" at the University of Concepción and to teach courses in folklore at the University of Iquique. In Valparaiso, she was presented at the Chilean-French Institute. She bought land and built a small house in Los Manzanares de San Carlos, now Reina, a district in the periphery of Santiago. Violeta recorded two singles for EMI-Odeon label, the first included “Que pena siente el alma” and “Verso por el fin del mundo” and the second “Casamiento de negros” y “Verso por padecimiento”, songs which placed her in the forefront of popularity.
Don Isaiah Angulo, tenant of the farm El Porvenir, taught her to play the guitarrón, a Chilean original guitar with 25 strings. She met Pablo Neruda introduced her to his friends at home. In 1970 he would dedicate to her the poem "Elegia para cantar"
Between January and September 1954 she lead the immensely successful radio program "Sing Violeta Parra" for Radio Chilena. Usually they recorded outdoors, in places where folk music was performed, as, for example, the restaurant owned by her mother, Clarissa Sandoval, in Barrancas. At the end of the year she took part in another folkloric programme, for Radio Agriculture.
First Europe trip and height of career
Violeta was invited to the "World Festival of Youth and Students", in Warsaw, Poland, in July 1955. She then moved to Paris, France, where she performed at the nightclub "L'Escale" in the Quartier Latin. Meanwhile, back in Santiago her daughter Rosita Clara died. Violeta made contacts with European artists and intellectuals. Through the intervention of the anthropologist Paul Rivet she recorded at the National Sound Archive of the "Musée de l'Homme" La Sorbonne in Paris, where she left a guitarrón and tapes of her collections of Chilean folklore. She travelled to London to make recordings for EMI-Odeon and radio broadcasts from the BBC. Back in Paris, in March 1956, she recorded 16 songs for the French label "Chant du Monde" which launches its first two records with 8 songs each.
In November 1956, Violeta returned to Chile, and recorded the first LP of the series "The folklore of Chile" for the EMI Odeon label: "Violeta Parra and her guitar" which included three of her own compositions. In 1957 she followed with "La cueca” and “La tonada” (EMI Odeón)and “Composiciones de Violeta Parra” In the following years she built her house “Casa de Palos” on Segovia Street, in the municipality of La Reina She continued giving recitals in major cultural centers in Santiago, travelling all over the country to research, organize concerts and give lectures and workshops about folklore. She travelled north to investigate and record the pagan religious festival "La Tirana". Violeta Perra exerted a significant influence on Héctor Pavez and Gabriela Pizarro, who would become great performers and researchers in their own right. The product of this collaboration is evident in the play “La Celebración de la Minga” staged at the Teatro Municipal de Santiago.
She composed the music for the documentary "Wicker" and "Trilla", contributed to the film “Casamiento de negros”, performed by Sergio Bravo.
She wrote the book "Cantos Foklóricos Chilean" which gathered all the research conducted so far, with photographs by Sergio Larraín and musical scores performed by Soublette Gaston (Santiago, Nascimento, 1979). She also wrote the “Décimas autobiográficas”, work in verse recounting her from her childhood to her trip to Europe.
She started a serious interest in ceramics, painting and arpillera embroidery As a result of a severe hepatitis in 1959 that forced her to stay in bed, her work as a painter and arpillerista was developed greatly, so much so that the same year she exhibited her oil paintings and arpilleras at the First and also the Second Outdoor Exhibition of Fine Arts of the Forest Park. On October 4, 1960, the day of her birthday, she met Swiss flautist Gilbert Favre with whom she became romantically involved. In 1961 she traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she exhibited her paintings, appearing in TV, giving recitals at the Teatro IFT and recording an album of original songs for EMI Odeon - which was banned.
Second trip to Europe and relationship with Favre
In June 1962 she returned to Santiago. With her children Isabel and Angel, and her granddaughter Tita, she embarked, with the Chilean delegation, for Finland to participate in the 8th "World Festival of Youth and Students" held in Helsinki. After touring the Soviet Union, Germany, Italy and France, Violeta Parra moved to Paris, where she performed at La Candelaria and L'Escale, in the Latin Quarter, gave recitals at the "Théâtre Des Nations" of UNESCO and performed on radio and television with her children. Then she started living with Gilbert Favre in Geneva, dividing her time between France and Switzerland, where she also gave concerts, appeared in TV and exhibited her art.
In 1963 she recorded in Paris, revolutionary and peasant songs, which would be published in 1971 under the title "Songs rediscovered in Paris" She wrote the book "Popular Poetry of the Andes". The Parras took part in the concert of "L'Humanité" (official newspaper of the French Communist Party). An Argentine musician friend recorded at her home a version of “El Gavilán” ("The Hawk"),interpreted by Violeta Parra accompanied by her granddaughter on percussion. Violeta accompanied her children in the LP "Los Parra de Chillán" for the Barclay label. She began playing the cuatro, an instrument of Venezuelan origin, and the charango, an instrument of the high plateaus.
In April 1964 she did an exhibition of her arpilleras, oil paintings and wire sculptures in the Museum of Decorative Arts of the Louvre - the first solo exhibition of a Latin American artist at the museum. In 1965, the publisher François Maspero, Paris, published her book "Poésie Populaire des Andes". In Geneva, Swiss television made a documentary about the artist and her work, "Violeta Parra, Chilean Embroiderer".
Return to South America
Favre and Parra returned to South America, in June 1965. Violeta recorded two 45s, one with her daughter Isabel and another to instrumental music for cuatro and quena with Gilbert Favre, whom she christened “El Tocador Afuerino” (The outsider musician) Her music now incorporated the Venezuelan cuatro and the charango from the plateaus of the northern. The EMI Odeon circulated the LP "Remembering Chile (a Chilean in Paris)," whose cover was illustrated with her own arpilleras. However, Favre and Parra broke up, provoked by his desire to live in Bolivia where he was part of a successful Bolivian music act, Los Jairas.
Parra’s energy was invested in reviving a unique version of the Peña (now known as La Peña de Los Parra), a community center for the arts and for political activism. Some have stated she established the first 'peña', but as said by the RAE, places such as these had been called that since 1936.
She sang with her children at the "Peña de Los Parra" Parra’s Peña was a tent (somewhat similar looking to a circus tent) that she set up on a 30 x 30 meter piece of land in the Parque La Quintrala, at number 340 Carmen Street, in today’s La Reina municipality of Santiago, in the area once known as la Cañada. Her tent hosted musical spectacles and she and her children also lived on the same land. In La Reina, at number 7200 Street La Cañada, she also established a cultural center called "La Carpa de la Reina" inaugurated on December 17, 1965. She also installed a folk peña in the International Fair of Santiago (FISA), where she was invited. On the same year, she participated in numerous national television programs and signed a contract with Radio Minería which would be the last radio station to be used as a platform for her work.
In 1966 was released the LP "La Carpa de La Reina"(EMI Odeón) including three songs performed by Violeta Parra and nine by artists whom Violeta presented in the carpa. She travelled to La Paz, Bolivia, to meet with Gilbert Favre, where she regularly appeared in La Peña Naira.Back to Chile with highland groups, presenting them in her carpa, on television and in her children's Peña. She also performed in concert in the extreme south of Chile, Osorno and Punta Arenas, invited by René Largo Farias, under the “Chile Ríe y Canta” ("Chile Laughs and Sings") program. Accompanied by her children and Uruguayan Alberto Zapicán, she recorded for RCA Victor the LP "The Last Compositions of Violeta Parra" In that year, Favre returned briefly to Chile with his group, but declined to stay, because in the meantime he had established a life and married in Bolivia.
Gracias a la Vida
Her most renowned song, Gracias a la Vida (Thanks to Life), was popularized throughout Latin America by Mercedes Sosa, in Brazil by Elis Regina and later in the US by Joan Baez. It remains one of the most covered Latin American songs in history. Other notable covers of this tragic, but widely beloved, folk anthem include the Italian guitar-vocal solo of Adriana Mezzadri and La Oreja de Van Gogh at the 2005 Viña del Mar International Song Festival.
"Gracias a la vida" was written and recorded in 1964-65  following Parra's separation with her long-time partner. It was released in Las Últimas Composiciones (1966), the last album Parra published before committing suicide in 1967.
Parra's lyricism is ambiguous; at face value, the song may be read as a romantic celebration of life and individual experience, however the circumstances surrounding the song suggest that Parra also intended the song as a sort of suicide note, thanking life for all it has given her. It may even be read as ironic, pointing out that a life full of good health, opportunity and worldly experience may not offer any consolation to grief and the contradictory nature of the human condition.
- Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
- Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro
- Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco
- Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado
- Y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo
Translated into English:
- Thanks to life, which has given me so much
- It gave me two bright stars that when I open them,
- I perfectly distinguish the black from white
- And in the sky above, her starry backdrop
- And within the multitudes the man I love
"Volver a los Diecisiete"
Another highly regarded original, the last song she wrote, "Volver a los Diecisiete" ("Being Seventeen Again") similarly celebrates the themes of youthful life, in tragic contrast to her biography. Unlike much popular music, it moves through minor key progression creating an introspective if not melancholy mood and thus has lent itself to classical treatment  as well as popular music.
Despite its originality, Parra's music was deeply rooted in folk song traditions, as is the case with Nueva Canción in general.
Death and beyond
After her death a lot of memorial-events and concerts were held, in Chile and abroad. She was an inspiration for a great many Latin-American artists, such Victor Jara and the musical movement of the "Nueva Cancion Chilena", which renewed the Chilean folklore. In the year 1992 the foundation "Violeta Parra" was founded, after the initiative of her children, with the aim of grouping, organizing and disseminating her still unpublished work. In 1997, with the participation of Violeta Parra Foundation and the Department of Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile, her visual work is again exhibited in the Museum of Decorative Arts of the Louvre Museum, Paris. In 2007, the 90th anniversary of her birth was commemorated with an exhibition of her visual work was presented at the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda, and a book, "Visual Work of Violeta Parra", collecting all her art work.
Violeta Went to Heaven (Spanish: Violeta se fue a los cielos) is a 2011 Chilean biopic about singer and folklorist Violeta Parra, directed by Andrés Wood. The film is based on an eponymous book, a biography, written by Ángel Parra, Violeta's son with Luis Cereceda Arenas. Parra collaborated on the film, The film was selected as the Chilean entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards, but it did not make the final shortlist. It was awarded the World Cinema Jury Prize (Dramatic) at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and had good reviews.Jeannette Catsoulis, in The New York Times, wrote:
By turns charming, selfish, passionate and dismissive, Parra (beautifully played by Francisca Gavilán) poured herself into her songs, emotionally resonant wails of romantic pain and social injustice. (...) [and] bulldozed all obstacles.
(...)“Violeta” has a wild, impressionistic tone that prizes emotion over fact. Skipping around in time, the director, Andrés Wood, skates over Parra’s involvement with Communism to focus on a personality awash in contradictions. Husbands and children appear as mere adjuncts to her art, whether dragged around the countryside while she collects traditional songs or abandoned for years while she frolics in Europe with her young lover, the Swiss flautist Gilbert Favre (Thomas Durand).
(...)Mr. Wood has created a poignant portrait of an artist unable to escape the stamp of her class or the burdens of aging. The grand exhibition tent she erects on a hilltop becomes, in the end, an apt metaphor for dashed dreams, its canvas unable to keep out the rain and its empty seats unable to turn back time.''
- Chants et danses du chili. Vol. 1 (1956)
- Chants et danses du chili. Vol. 2 (1956)
- Violeta Parra, Canto y guitarra. El Folklore de Chile, Vol. I (1956)
- Violeta Parra, acompañada de guitarra. El Folklore de Chile, Vol. II (1958)
- La cueca presentada por Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. III. (1958)
- La tonada presentada por Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. IV. (1958)
- Toda Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. VIII (1960)
- Violeta Parra, guitare et chant: Chants et danses du Chili. (1963)
- Recordandeo a Chile (Una Chilena en París). (1965)
- Carpa de la Reina (1966)
- Las últimas composiciones de Violeta Parra (1967)
- Violeta Parra y sus canciones reencontradas en París (1971)
- Canciones de Violeta Parra (1971)
- Le Chili de Violeta Parra (1974)
- Un río de sangre (1975)
- Presente / Ausente (1975)
- Décimas (1976)
- Chants & rythmes du Chili (1991)
- El hombre con su razón (1992)
- Décimas y Centésimas (1993)
- El folklore y la pasión (1994)
- Haciendo Historia: La jardinera y su canto (1997)
- Violeta Parra: Antología (1998)
- Canciones reencontradas en París (1999)
- Composiciones para guitarra (1999)
- Violeta Parra - En Ginebra, En Vivo, 1965 (1999)
- Violeta Parra: Cantos Campesinos (1999)
- Moreno, Albrecht: "Violeta Parra and 'La Nueva Canción Chilena." Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 5 (1986): 108—26.
- Alcalde, Alfonso: Toda Violeta Parra (biography plus anthology of songs and poems) Ediciones de la Flor. Buenos Aires 1974
- "La Oreja de Van Gogh - La playa & Gracias a la vida". YouTube. 2006-07-17. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- "Alberto Cortéz". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- "Gracias a la vida". Voces unidas por Chile. 2010-12-31. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- "Joan Baez - Gracias A La Vida Lyrics". Metrolyrics.com. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- http://www.violetaparra.cl/sitio/cancionero. Missing or empty
- "Violeta Parra – Volver A Los 17 – Video, Musik hören & Statistiken bei Last.fm". Lastfm.de. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- Mena, Rosario. "Eduardo Parra: My Sister Violetta Parra". Nuestro.cl. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
- Official site of the Violeta Parra Foundation
- Discography and lyrics
- Issac 2001 Triptych version of Gracias A la Vida
- Violeta Parra's gravesite