The bill at Red Bull Sound Select's show this Thursday at Multiply L.A. doesn't appear to be at all political at first glance. The event, which is part of Red Bull's annual 30 Days in L.A. series, features a trio of Chilean pop and indie artists. Javiera Mena will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her debut album, Esquemas Juveniles, alongside her countrywomen Francisca Valenzuela and Marineros (the duo of Constanza Espina and Soledad Puentes). While none of them place their politics on their sleeve in the vein of Rage Against the Machine, The Clash or Propagandhi, their careers have served as an open challenge to long-standing sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination in their home country.
“Political parties, of course, have appropriated the word 'politics,' but politics is also opinion,” says Mena via Skype when asked why she considers herself a political artist, despite not writing overtly political music. “In that sense, politics has more to do with questioning your surroundings. … Ultimately, a political opinion is a desire for one's surroundings to have some type of order, and that's not something that only politicians can or should do.
“I think that despite not talking specifically about left-wing or right-wing parties, I as a woman who speaks her mind about love, specifically same-sex relationships between women like me, in Chile and Latin America, is a very political act that relates to freedom,” she continues. “Neither women, nor gays, nor even many men can be free to be themselves. In that sense, I consider my art to be very political.”
Valenzuela has a more direct approach with her nonmusical political output. Earlier this year, she partnered with Zancada, a Chilean collective for female bloggers, and launched Ruidosa, a two-day music festival in Santiago, Chile, that featured only women artists as well as a pair of discussion forums that addressed sexism in the music industry. Like Mena, Valenzuela's music isn't overtly political (with a couple of notable exceptions), but she is very outspoken in her views, such as her criticisms of Chile's strict abortion laws and her support for gender equality.
Meanwhile, Espina and Puentes of Marineros performed earlier this year at the Marcha por la Diversidad, curated by the Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual, an organization that has fought for equal rights for the Chilean LGBTQ community since 1991.
It's probably impossible to be Chilean and not hold some strong political opinions. The country transitioned to a representative democratic republic in 1990 when the election of Patricio Aylwin ended 27 years of authoritarian rule by Augusto Pinochet, who came to power after he and the military deposed Salvador Allende in 1973. Pinochet's junta had dissolved Congress, limited freedom of speech and systematically suppressed all forms of political dissent.
The end of the dictatorship created a new era in Chilean society, which was met by a wave of creativity from Chilean artists thanks to a combination of foreign musical influences and the return of political exiles living abroad. The '90s saw a rise in various rock genres, hip-hop (which first appeared in the '80s), pop and electronic music.
The turn of the century proved even more creative and experimental for a wave of recording artists supported by independent labels who gave them free reign to do as they wished. It was the precursor for what would later be labeled Chile's pop paradise, which coincided with a perfect storm of social change in the country.
“Since I began in 2006, being an artist in Santiago, Chile, wasn't easy,” Mena recalls. “There were a lot of obstacles, but also a lot of desire as it was virgin territory as far as independent music was concerned. I did see a shift … with more bands, with music that was more self-reflective than what was on the radio at the time.”
Mena released her debut album that same year — which began with the election of Chile's first female president, Michelle Bachelet, and ended with the death of Pinochet, by then indicted for several major crimes.
Other artists such as Adrianigual, Gepe, Fakuta, Astro, Dënver, Pedropiedra and Alex Anwandter made their mark on the Chilean pop landscape during the same time. One major part of their success was their popularity in the blogosphere. The internet and globalization provided them with tools and opportunities generations of musicians before them could have only dreamed of.
“We were very lucky to be born during a time when the internet connected us to the world,” Mena says. “Chile has always had great music but, now more than ever, that music can reach out to far-off places like Mexico or Los Angeles where music in Spanish is very popular.”
More importantly, Chile's new connection to the world continues to change the country, pushing it away from the old regime's culture of oppression to an open and accepting one.
“[Chile] was a very closed-off country during the dictatorship,” Mena says. “Diversity wasn't respected but, over time, we've had immigrants from Colombia and Haiti and it's wonderful because they create this diversity beyond sexual orientation. There are many changes happening in Chile thanks to immigration and a growing acceptance for homosexuality. Even I as a cynic will tell you that there have been many positive changes in the country despite there being a large opposition against it.”
Viva presents Javiera Mena, Francisca Valenzuela and Marineros at Multiply L.A. on Thursday, Nov. 3, as part of Red Bull Sound Select's 30 Days in L.A. More info.