By clothing-bag, 04/10/2022

The unknown notebooks of Violeta Parra

Manuel Meriño, musician, composer and musical director of Inti-Illimani, was working on Tu geografía, the album with which he debuted his solo career in December of last year. It was the summer of 2021 when the project began to take shape. His friends, the musicians José Luis Ubiergo and Isabel Parra, were close lyrical collaborators on the songs on his new album. The national artist, icon of the New Chilean Song movement, shared two of her poems for her to put to music and include them on the album, entitled Del aire de mayo and Where love begins.The Unknown Notebooks of Violeta Parra The Unknown Notebooks of Violeta Parra

On the afternoon of January 4, Isabel tells you that there is another text she would like to share with you. An unpublished poem by her mother, Violeta Parra , originally titled Primera tonada de Violeta, and which is part of the handwritten notebooks that the artist keeps in her house.

In its first lines, it says: “The sun that populates the heavens/ and all the horizons/ Valleys, ravines and mountains/ have no owner or owner/ Of the water that my God made/ for those who want to drink/ D 'This world is fleeting/ it comes and goes like love”.

“Every time they ask me it makes me laugh, because I remember that I had a kind of nervous attack because, like any musician, being told something like that... it's true that they make you nervous. A poem by La Violeta, at this point, is almost a monument”, confesses Meriño.

The musician says that, upon reading it, his first impression was that it was a beautiful poem. “I kept it, I didn't say much. And one day in the morning I sat down, I started to read it without instruments and I immediately felt the rhythm. Then the melody began to appear. I finally picked up the guitar and realized that the harmony was implicit in the text. I didn't have to work on it very much. That has to do, first, with Isabel's affection, the confidence to send it to me. And second, with the musicality of Violeta's words”.

The relationship between the two began quite some time ago, when Isabel sang with the Inti-Illimani led by Jorge Coulon, although it became closer when Meriño began working directly on the musicalization of Isabel's songs for the album Saludos a todos (2019 ). “I always admired how he played, without even telling him. How did he make this music for the entire Inti-Illimani repertoire. It is very powerful: the person responsible for what we hear when we go to see the Inti is Manuel”, says the artist, whose bond with Meriño has strengthened over the years.

So much so, that Isabel is blunt: “Don't think that I go around giving Violeta Parra texts to just anyone. No way! On the contrary, I am quite stingy about it, because, ayayay... You have to be very careful. In addition, I find that the work that Luis Advis did for the tenths of the Song for a Seed is complete perfection”.

However, the work and talent of Manuel Meriño awakened in her the confidence to share what is now the most recent posthumous musicalization of a text by Violeta Parra. The writing worked by Meriño is a poem that is titled in one of Violeta's notebooks as Primera tonada. Isabel's initial idea was to set it to music herself.

The unknown notebooks of Violeta Parra

“I had that sheet, The sun that fills the skies –phrase with which the text begins– in my songbook for a long time. And there it was, no music. I read it again, I found it beautiful, wonderful again. I loved it and kept it again. When Manuel was in the process of making his record, suddenly this page appeared again in my life, in my songbook. The only thing I thought was 'I'm going to send this tune to Manuel for his album'. And ready. That was it,” recalls Parra.

Regarding the content of the tune, Meriño perceives it as a poem “that turned out to be very current, that has to do with today's ecology, with climate change. I continued to be surprised by the genius of Violeta, that she continues to write for the future.”

La Primera tonada de Violeta is one of the many writings that Isabel keeps from her mother. Strictly speaking, and in addition to the songs found in the trunk of Violeta Parra's tent –where the lyrics of What I Love Most, If I Fall Prisoner, Solitary Alone and At the Center of Injustice were, set to music by Isabel and Luis Advis–, the older sister of the Parras keeps two notebooks written in the artist's own handwriting.

“The ones in the trunk are the last. The notebook, for its part, was already written between 1958 and 1959. Complete these two notebooks and stop writing, because then he went on to something else. But there he managed to consign his first trip to Europe. Describe the boat trip, what happened in Poland… They are super cute. In those tenths, the history of Violeta's journey is read, with details, with very tasty things. There is also a lot of sadness, because during that period our little sister died”, says Isabel.

As he describes, it is possible to look at one of these notebooks as a life journal. The other, she affirms, is “younger, from school, on arithmetic sheets, as they said at that time. There are writings with ink pencil, very like 'past in fair'. On the other hand, the previous sheets were also used to write down other things.”

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Names of people, appointment reminders and addresses are some of the things contained in the booklet. "It's so beautiful, it was an agenda, a songbook, a travel diary... Everything tucked into those pages." Inside is the phrase “This notebook belongs to Violeta Parra. If you find it, go to Segovia 7366, without a telephone number, because we didn't have it”, says the artist.

Songs such as El santo padre and Yo canto a la chillaneja, recorded in Paris in 1963, are written in the smallest notebook. “There is even a text by my little sister, who wrote some fabulous stories,” Parra says.

He has not yet been able to remember how these notebooks came into his hands again. “Another thing that happened with my mom was that she could write and then give away what she wrote. For example, they have given me several times a little leaf that they have given me as the greatest treasure, from when my mother was in the San Juan de Dios hospital”.

“I think he was there because he had something in his stomach. So, she did quatrains to the doctors who treated her. And it's really fun, because it's as if she had twenty doctors at her service. Talk about this doctor, this other doctor... She was a very entertaining person, sick and all. They must have had a lot of fun with Violeta Parra”, says Isabel.

For this reason, he explains that there are many things about his mother that are found not only in Chile, but throughout the world. “La Violeta was that surprising. Suddenly, if he was with you, he would make you a mask because he liked you. At the shot, on the spot. Or a little painting, which he gave you and talked to you. That's why his things are so scattered. They always were, and to make the museum we had to search the places, both in Europe and in Chile. And things that Violeta left behind, that she sent or that she gave away, still keep appearing. And some loving and generous people have brought those things to the museum.”

For her, all this represents a treasure. “It is a jewel to have them. Every once in a while I check them and of course, life comes upon me”, he confesses.

Although there are some tenths and writings that have been shared by the Parra family, several of these still remain unpublished. But Isabel hopes to be able to share them in the future.

“My mother has a lot of love poetry. The theme of love is a constant in her writing. Suddenly, it crossed my mind and my heart to gather all that love poetry and make a play out of it. I have thought about it, in those moments when I approach the notebook and start to leaf through it... Thousands of things come to mind, because they are very attractive. Reading that also puts you in a wonderful world. So, in that sense, you never have to say no,” says Parra, who was also in charge of erecting and maintaining the Museo Violeta Parra, whose building suffered several fires as a result of the social outbreak.

The idea of ​​making a new set of music with these writings seems more distant. For Manuel Meriño, the only possibility of carrying out a new project is that it represents a great leap, that it has a great scope that does justice to the milestone reached by Advis in Canto for a seed and, of course, to Parra's own work. “But if one is going to do something medium, to be criticized in a medium like ours, which is sometimes so charcha… These are all the things that one tends to consider when wanting to jump into the pool. For what, how What to have, where to do it. There are a thousand things ”, he reflects. And Isabel Parra shares his vision.

“Finding the appropriate voices for this type of musical printing I think is the most difficult, because we live in a time when female singing in Latin America is very superficial. There is an industry that requires the singer to do this and not the other. Let him take off his clothes and not put them on, show legs, be attractive, because that's what sells. I don't think so, but that's how things work. Normally, the girls, the women, are getting trapped in that violence and demands of the music producers, who are the ones who earn money for it”, reflects Parra.

However, it is not closed to the possibility of setting new verses to music. "You never have to say 'I won't drink this water,'" she says.

Regarding Tu geografía, Meriño affirms that the most likely thing is that soon there will be a concert to play the album live. And Isabel suggested that they present themselves to sing it together. At the moment there are no defined dates, but the time will come when Manuel and Isabel will interpret together, for the first time, the tune of El sol que puebla los cielos.


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