Violeta Parra Tribute Walt Disney Concert Hall 04/25/15
Violeta Parra, godmother of the New Chilean Song Movement, is almost too grand an artist for any homage show. The late musician, who spent the 1950s and 60s documenting folk culture in Chile's countryside while voicing political protest songs, has a lasting influence. It's one that crosses generations and genres. That point was driven home Saturday night at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
"Gracias a la Vida: The Rebel Spirit of Chile's Legendary Voice" brought together folk, hip-hop and Latin Alternative in paying tribute to Parra.
The homage started off with a short acoustic performance by Colombina Parra. She's the famed Chilean singer's niece and daughter of "anti-poet" Nicanor Parra. Colombina's first tour through the United States introduced the audience to her sultry vocals that broke away at times into a display of raspy range, one that evoked Violeta's own inflections. The bloodline and inheritance is definitely present.
San Francisco-born singer Francisca Valenzuela took to a grand piano next with her hot pink hair matching the lighting of the majestic venue. She began her set with "Run run se fue p'al norte," the first Violeta Parra cover song of the night. Valenzuela impressed with a sensuous performance. Not a pianist to keep a proper posture, she elected instead to fluidly commune with the melodies of the keys as she played them. Though Valenzuela noted with humility that it's difficult to offer a set of her own songs following Parra's music, she amazed with numbers like "Catedral."
The night still belonged to the new generation of Chilean music with Grammy-nominated rapper Ana Tijoux following. Like Valenzuela, she started off paying homage to Parra with a performance of "Arauco tiene una pena." Backed by a DJ and band, Tijoux's music held a different feel with her global hip-hop hits translating well. She peppered her insights into Parra's legacy while playing excerpts of her speaking in between songs. "Sacar la voz" struck harmonious notes while cuts off Vengo, her latest album, like "Somos Sur" and "Antipatriarca" brought an infectious energy to the tribute show--even if her rhymes got drowned out at times by the backing band.
After a brief intermission came Illapu, a group that formed during the heyday of the New Chilean Song Movement and sounded more like the music Parra helped popularize. Frizzy-haired founding member José Miguel Márquez said his band hadn't been in Los Angeles in 25 years. He noted that most groups don't last that long with Illapu counting 44 years of continued musical excellence. The Andean folk masters united generations with the Chilean flag waving from all sides of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
With quenas, zampoñas (pan flutes) and charangos, they traveled through decades of their deep catalog with songs like "Sincero positivo." Illapu paid tribute to Parra with a rendition of "La carta" while also performing a hauntingly beautiful version of "La partida," composed by Víctor Jara, an iconic figure who became the New Chilean Song Movement's martyr following the overthrow of Chilean socialist president Salvador Allende in 1973.
Márquez mentioned hope for ending the lingering legacy of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship that followed by finally casting off the constitution he left Chile with. Illapu was forced into exile during the dictatorship before returning to their homeland in 1988. The audience rejoiced when they came back after chants of "Otra! Otra!" to perform the perfectly timed "Vuelvo."
The night ended with a united front. Colombina Parra, Francisca Valenzuela and Ana Tijoux joined Illapu for a special set of Violeta Parra songs starting with her most revered, "Gracias a la vida." It sounded as a testament to the vitality of Chilean music across generations and genres. Though the crowd clamored for more covers--and the homage definitely would have been all the better by it--the grand finale spoke to the resounding relevance of Violeta Parra as anything else.
¡Viva Chile! ¡Viva Violeta Parra!
Critic's bias: This Mexican worships the New Chilean Song Movement.
Overheard:"Violeta Parra! Presente!"
The crowd: Multi-generational flag wavin' Chilenos.
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Violeta Parra Covers: Run run se fue p'al norte by Francisca Valenzuela Arauco tiene una pena by Ana Tijoux La carta by Illapu
Encore: Gracias a la vida Casamiento de negros Arriba quemando el sol