QUILAPAYÚN - RETRATO DE SANDINO CON SOMBRERO [CHILE IN EXILE, 1982]
"Cuentan que fueron miles entonces, los que se alzaron del miedo al ver pasar su perfil: así, Sandino entró a la memoria de América, la morena; quiero decir, mí país."
This is one of my favorite songs for the past couple of months, basically since I downloaded the album, so I thought I’d share it with you all for today’s nueva canción feature. We have listened to Quilapayún a few times on this site, so some of you might be familiar with them already. I posted Yo Te Nombro Libertad a few weeks back, La Paloma before that, plus a couple of videos not too long ago. This group is really essential listening for any fans of Latin American folk music (and Chilean folk more specifically), and I encourage you to dig into their discography on PERRERAC.
Fun fact: their name means “Three Beards” in the Mapuche language, although the ensemble has grown significantly since its original founding and they don’t all have beards anymore.
This is a particularly special song, because it extols one of the virtues I find most important in the nueva canción movement: internationalism. At the time of the release of Quilapayún’s album La Revolución y las Estrellas (The Revolution and the Stars) in 1982, the Chilean left was marking the 9th anniversary of the military dictatorship that overthrew Salvador Allende in 1973. After years of defeat and frustration in the struggle against Augusto Pinochet’s repressive apparatus, there was finally a new ray of light on the continent, a country that could possibly inspire a new wave of popular militancy throughout the region: Nicaragua.
In that same year, the small Central American country of three million was celebrating the third anniversary of the FSLN’s (Sandinista National Liberation Front) insurrection that overthrew Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In the midst of this, however, the new government was struggling to rebuild a country destroyed by natural disaster and conflict; downtown Managua was still in shambles from the 1972 earthquake, and Somoza’s desperate attempt to quell the 1979 insurrection resulted in his bombing of a number of population centers. Before fleeing to Miami on July 17th, 1979, Somoza, along with his goons, looted the reserves of Nicaragua’s Central Bank, leaving only $3 million for the new government to work with. To add insult to injury, the Reagan administration had come to power the previous year, imposing sanctions and proxy war on a country historically dependent on trade with, and aid from, the United States. The only thing the country had in its advantage at the time, it would seem, was an impressive solidarity movement of artists, activists and intellectuals throughout the world that would defend the gains of the revolution.
What ties existed between the Chilean experiment and the Nicaraguan Revolution? There are a few things to consider here: first, Sandinista comandante Jaime Wheelock, leader of the proletario faction of the FSLN, had been in Chile in the early 1970s as a university student and, in the process, learned from the workers movement underway there; second, the quick consolidation of revolutionary power in the early 1980s showed that the FSLN had learned some of the lessons of the failed Chilean experiment: without state power (as opposed to merely governmental power), the movement would be paralyzed by the limitations set by the bourgeoisie; third, music and culture, like in Chile, were cornerstones of the Nicaraguan Revolution. So even beyond the mere timeline of events, it is apparent that there was a certain continuity between the two projects.
We will notice from this song that there is no mention of the then-existing situation in Nicaragua, but rather a mythologizing of its inspirational figure. Latin American history, however, shows the importance that historical mythology plays in revolutionary movements. Cuba has Jose Marti, Uruguay has Tupac Amaru, Bolivia has Tupac Katari, El Salvador has Farabundo Marti, Nicaragua has Augusto Sandino, and Venezuela has Simon Bolivar. The process of historical continuity of struggle can be an extremely powerful one, if done correctly. Successful movements have been able to “brand” themselves with the image of a historical figure to the point that negation of that link—the disassociation of the figure from the movement—seems absurd. In 1982, therefore, to express adoration for a mythologized Sandino meant nothing less than a poetic act of solidarity for its historical extension: the Sandinista National Liberation Front.
One trademark of Quilapayún was the often-choral style of singing, which is very apparent in this song. We can also hear the bombo legüero drum (which comes in during the hook), a steel-string acoustic, an electric bass, maracas, and what sounds like a pair of quenas. It’s played in triple meter, which is common of Chilean folk although this song doesn’t adhere to any traditional style.
Anyway that’s about all I have to say here, I was going to write more but I’ll leave it at that. Below are the lyrics with my English translation for your convenience. ENJOY!
Cuentan que taciturno y oscuro,
como tallado en madera,
como fundido en volcán,
era Sandino y que de lejos
a veces se confundía
con la quietud del breñal.
Cuentan que se educó en la intemperie
y que a las bestias del monte
copió su forma de andar;
ahí fue que ejercitó la mirada,
la calma, la ligereza,
la agilidad del jaguar.
Allá va el general,
rayo de luz sobre el trigal.
Allá va el general
como una estrella sobre el mar.
Hosco como la greda reseca,
como una piedra oxidada,
huraño como el carbón,
así creció Sandino en la lluvia,
templando en la tierra antigua
sus dedos de labrador.
Supo que aquellas tierras que hería
con sus dos manos hermosas
y aladas de sembrador
eran un territorio cerrado,
la jaula donde dormía
gorriona con su gorrión.
Viendo que el monte no se movía,
partió Sandino hacia el monte
una mañana de abril.
Desde las minas de San Albino,
su azada de hierro dulce
se convirtió en un fusil.
Cuentan que fueron miles entonces
los que se alzaron del miedo
al ver pasar su perfil:
así, Sandino entró a la memoria
de América, la morena
quiero decir, mí país.
They say that he was moody and dark,
as if carved in wood,
as if molten lava in a volcano,
such was Sandino and from afar
sometimes he was mistook
for the tranquility of the thicket.
They say that he was educated in the open
and that by studying the beasts of the mountain,
he copied their ways of moving;
That’s where he practiced his gaze,
his calm, his lightness,
his agility of a jaguar.
There goes the general,
a ray of light over the wheat.
There goes the general,
like a star over the sea.
Sullen like dry clay,
like a rusty stone,
shy as if he were coal,
that’s how Sandino grew in the rain,
digging his peasant hands
into the ancient earth.
He knew that those lands which he …….
with his two hands,
beautiful and winged like a planter,
were a closed-off territory,
the cage where a sparrow slept
with her mate.
Seeing that the mountain would not move,
Sandino left toward the mountain
one April morning.
From the mines of San Albino,
his hoe of wrought iron
turned into a rifle.
They say that there were thousands then
who rose up above their fear
upon seeing the passing of his shadow:
and that’s how Sandino entered the memory
of America, the dark-skinned beauty,
that is to say, my country.