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Los Abandonded's Pilar Diaz pays tribute to a revolutionary Chilean icon
As the front woman for energetic bilingual group Los Abandoned, Pilar Díaz doesn't initially strike one as a folk-music aficionada, especially amid the DayGlo new-wave riffs of "Van Nuys (Es Very Nice)." But the hints are there if you know where to look for them. Onstage, Díaz likes to break out the ukulele for songs such as "Office Xmas Party." And if you listen closely enough, you can detect the rhythms of the Chilean cueca pulsating in the bridge section of the band's genre-mashing song "Me Quieren en Chile," before a pit-inducing punk frenzy finishes off the arrangement.
After working hard the past six years to achieve a respectable level of success with 2006's Mix Tape and extensive touring, the LA-based Latin alternative band Los Abandoned are now on break. "We noticed that after all the relentless work we've been doing," Díaz says, "we needed to gather up the inspiration and energy to begin writing the next album." During the band's downtime, Díaz keeps herself musically active singing and playing ukulele in a film and live-music project called F-Stop Serenade. She also aspires to be a film composer and has already written music for Ann Kaneko's upcoming documentary Against the Grain, about Peruvian visual artists.
To see Pilar Díaz's love for the folk music of her mother country in its fullest, she'll be headlining a tribute concert to Victor Jara, one of the most internationally recognized and revered musicians of Chile. The great singer/poet's story is tragic: Jara was murdered in the days following the U.S.-backed military coup in Chile on Sept. 11, 1973. In what is known by Chilenos as their 9/11, General Augusto Pinochet deposed the democratically elected Socialist president Salvador Allende on that day as he rounded up thousands of the government's supporters. Jara, then one of Chile's most prominent cultural political figures, was chief among them. As the story goes, Jara was tortured as soldiers broke his hands and taunted him to sing; Jara's voice allegedly soared one last time to sing the deposed government's hymn, "Venceremos," before being ruthlessly machine-gunned to death.
Although he's a legend in Latin America for his impassioned revolutionary songs, Jara's music remains relatively unknown in the United States. However, as Díaz notes, "He has meant so much to the Chilean people that experienced the coup d'état and beyond." Díaz's own inspiration to play the concert stems from what she calls his "great disposition to the poor. He was a hero to many people."
Díaz comes from a family of musicians, and Chilean folk music, popularized by Jara and the legendary Violeta Parra before him, played a central role in her musical upbringing. Pilar's father, Jaime Gerardo Díaz, participated in Santiago's burgeoning musical scene when the Chilean folk-music movement known as Nueva Canción took the country by storm. He played harmonica for Los Bi Bops and was a childhood friend of the masterful charango player Horacio Durán of Inti-Illimani Historico. Pilar's mother, also a musician, sang the sonorous songs of Chile's rich cultural heritage. Growing up in such a household obviously influenced Díaz to become a musician. Before bouncing around stage singing "I Didn't Mean to Stalk U" as a member of Los Abandoned, Díaz learned to sing, play and dance to Chile's rural folk songs. "It's the music that is at the root of my influence as a musician," she says.
At the tribute concert for Víctor Jara, Pilar's father will perform alongside her, but it won't be for the first time. As a student at Cal Arts in 2000, Díaz invited her father to accompany her as she sang the traditional compositions of Chile as part of her graduation recital. When pressed for a preview of the songs she would be playing at Sol Art, she revealed, "My dad and I just want to perform typical Chilean music that possibly not many people have heard. Violeta Parra is a favorite of mine, and we will be performing some of her songs, too. It will be a very relaxed performance and just a time to take in the music." Despite her promise of mellowness, just the thought of hearing Díaz sing timeless Violeta Parra songs gives me "Panic-Oh!"