Joan Baez – Gracias a la Vida (1974): Forgotten Series

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In September 1973, Chilean folk singer Victor Jara was brutally murdered, along with more than 3,000 others, by the military uprising against Allende’s government. Now, more than four decades later, some of the officers who participated in the atrocities are finally brought to justice.

In the year following Jara’s death, Joan Baez recorded and released Gracias a la Vida. Named after a famous song by Chilean singer Violeta Parra, the all-Spanish album also contains a beautiful cover of Jara’s “Te Recuerdo Amanda.” The latter song tells the story of a love cruelly cut short when Amanda’s lover is called away to the mountains, never to return. Its tale seems to mirror Jara’s fate.

In fact, the whole album can be seen as a final homage and farewell to Victor Jara. It concludes with a setting of a poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who had won the Nobel Prize just a few years earlier. This poem, a selection from his book Alturas de Macchu Picchu, is a lament for the passing of the Inca’s. In Joan Baez’ version it is also a moving elegy for Victor Parra:

Rise and be born with me brother.
Give me your hand from the depths of your disseminated sorrow.
You will not return from the roots of the rocks.
You will not return from subterranean time.
Your hardened voice will not return,
Nor will your hollowed eyes.

I come to speak for your dead mouth.
Give me silence, water, hope.
Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.
Join me in my veins and in my mouth.
Speak through my words and my blood.

The poem is followed by a rousing version of “No Nos Moverán,” Joan Baez’ Spanish setting of the folk standard “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the melody of which was humming in the background all along. It’s a moving tribute to Jara and a powerful call to continue fighting for the causes he died for: liberty, equality, justice.

For there may be some measure of legal justice now that Jara’s murderers are finally brought to trial, but any chance at true justice was destroyed on that dismal day 42 years ago.

Kasper Nijsen

Kasper Nijsen

When not submerged in translator's duties both tedious and necessary, Kasper Nijsen enjoys exploring the less-visited shores of popular music and writing about his exploits for various online magazines. Though born at the tail-end of the 1980s, his musical interests are often found to have strong links with '60s and '70s rock and pop music. Contact Something Else! at
Kasper Nijsen
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