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World Music Features

Francesca Ancarola

By Jim Bessman
Published July 19, 2007

True justice evaded Victor Jara in life, but thanks to Chilean songstress Francesca Ancarola’s latest album Lonquén, poetic justice has at least been rendered. The album, the award-winning singer’s fifth, serves as a tribute to the leader of the “Nueva canción Chilena” movement.

True justice evaded Victor Jara in life, but thanks to Chilean songstress Francesca Ancarola’s latest album Lonquén, poetic justice has at least been rendered. The album, the award-winning singer’s fifth, serves as a tribute to Jara, one of the leaders of the “Nueva canción Chilena” (New Chilean Song) movement—the Chilean variation of the mid-’60s trend in Latin American music that mixed traditional folk styles with rock influences. Also an educator, theatre director, poet and political activist, Jara saw his music as an instrument of social change, and was a major supporter of socialist Salvador Allende’s successful presidential campaign.

But Allende was opposed by the U.S., and died in a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973. The next morning, Jara was arrested at his teaching job at the State Technical University in Santiago and confined with thousands of other political prisoners in the Stadium of Chile (now the Estadio Victor Jara). He was beaten, tortured, and finally machine-gunned to death on September 15, his body dumped on a road on the outskirts of town.

Lonquén, named after the small village where Jara grew up, was heralded by a press release issued the day before Pinochet, who left the presidency in 1990 but remained commander-in-chief of the army until 1998, finally died on December 10, 2006.

“Everybody went ‘Hah!’ when he died, but the big story is the meaning of his death,” says Ancarola over lunch in New York, where she attended the Manhattan School of Music as a Fulbright scholar and earned a Masters Degree in Voice. “He was a criminal for human rights, but he also cut our culture. So it’s very symbolic that we’re releasing this album at the moment. CNN asked me how [Pinochet] should be remembered—despot or savior, for bringing wealth to Chile—but it’s important to bring Jara’s story in comparison, as a man who suffered in the earliest days of the dictatorship.”

She’s not alone in doing so. Jara has been referenced by numerous artists in songs like U2’s “One Tree Hill,” the Clash’s “Washington Bullets” and Arlo Guthrie’s “Victor Jara.”

“There are lots of tributes to him in Chile besides mine,” Ancarola admits, “but it’s important in this country—and this city, especially, where arts are so important—the legacy of Victor.”

Born in Santiago in 1968, Ancarola began composing music when she was nine. Accomplished in jazz guitar, cello and piano, she was performing professionally by 19 and started a jazz-rock group while studying music at the University of Chile, composing chamber music and electro-acoustical music there as well. She won awards for her singing and toured with various theater and musical groups, and has also sung commercial jingles and operas.

Lonquén follows Sons Of The Same Sun, her first album for the Taos, New Mexico-based Petroglyph Records, which specializes in contemporary Chilean music. Sons was released in 2004 and fused Chilean-flavored music and language with English and American smooth jazz. Her first solo album, Que El Canto Tiene Sentido, was nominated for the prestigious Chilean Altazor Award in 1999, while her second, Pasaje De Ida Y Vuelta, won both the Chilean Fondart and Altazor Awards in 2000, while also bringing her an Apes Award nomination for best female singer.

“There was a law that you couldn’t sing anything against the government, so I received plenty of American music influence,” says the cherubic Ancarola, her bright eyes sparkling beneath her close-cropped, ponytailed hair. Stumbling occasionally to search for the right word in English, she is aided by Petroglyph consultant Billy Truitt, onetime keyboardist for Jack Ely and vocalist on the Kingsmen’s legendary garage rock hit “Louie, Louie.”

“I admired Joni Mitchell, Dianne Reeves and Pat Metheny especially, because he took Argentinian vocalist Pe