Inti Illimani celebrates 45 years of music and Day of Latin American Music and Roots

"We are free musicians, not court jesters," said Jorge Coulon during their performance at the Chan Centre. Inti Illimani (L-R) Sitting: Jorge Coulon, César Jara, Marcelo Coulon, Christian Gonzáles, (behind) Juan Florez. (L-R) Standing: Daniel Cantillana, Manuel Meriño and Efrén Viera.

Legendary and revolutionary folkloric Chilean group, Inti Illimani (Sun of the Illimani, a mountain in Bolivia) performed an unforgettable two-hour show in front of hundreds of people at UBC's Chan Centre for the Performing Arts last Tuesday.

This was the Intis’ fifth visit to the West Coast.

The Intis that started off as “underground” band in the Universidad Técnica del Estado in 1967, is now one of the powerhouses in Latin American music and expression of social justice and the reivindicacion of aboriginal peoples of America.

 The show comprised 21 songs and took the audience through an amazing journey through Latin America and Europe. They opened with  two Andean numbers Huajra and El Arado. Then, the leader and founding member of Inti Illimani, Jorge Coulon, shared with the audience Inti’s journey with anecdotes.

Coulon started the conversation in Spanish -- most of the audience was of Hispanic origin, from many parts of Latin America and followed for the "minority" English-speaking crowd for the rest of the night.

 “This is not necessarily chronological, but the history [of our journey]” Coulon said. The octet delivered a performance, which was a reflection of their fructiferous 45 year career since their beginnings until the present

They continued with Alturas, Lo que más quiero (by notable fellow Chilean musician, Violeta Parra) and a Bolivian tune with Quechua lyrics, El tinku.

When the Intis started, they found inspiration in Andean music. Their paths took a 180 degree on September 11, 1973, while touring  Europe: General Augusto Pinochet had throw from power democratic president, Salvador Allende, leading to the U.S-sponsored coup d'etat. They had a musician friend and political leftist activist, Victor Jara, who was tortured and murdered by the dictatorship that day.

Thus, the band decided to stay in Europe --what Coulon calls “the longest tour in history – for the next 15 years, and settled down in Italy. In 1988, the Intis did finally their triumphal homecoming, "rediscovering a new generation of musicians."

From their period "living in the exile" and feeling nostalgia while "discovering new music", the Intis followed with a medieval sound Danza di Calaluna -- an homage to Sardinia, Canción para matar una culebra, an imploring Vuelvo (I go back), El Mercado di Testaccio, and a song with Afro-Peruvian flavour, Samba Landó.

Choosing a set list from a repertoire that amasses 400 songs, Coulon confessed, wasn't easy. The Intis play in total 30 instruments (winds, string, and percussion) and the eight members are multi-instrumental, which allow them to rotate and experience with a different instrument in each song. And all of them are vocalists.

Since the coup d'etat, many of their songs reflects the clamour for human rights, to reinvindication of the native people of America and while in exile, they sang to their patria, Chile, then taken over by an ravenous dictatorship. 

They delivered a sensuous bolero, Medianoche and an old song Tarantella del 600,one of their “souvenirs” from Italy, from those days in Europe.

Coulon revealed they sang 100 tunes in eight and half hours marathon as to celebrate Allende's 100th birthday, in front of the Mint Palace in 2008. This was the place, where the late president gave his famous farewell speech before his death as the coup was taking place.

With the passing of time, the band has also welcomed new members--and along with Jorge Coulon and his brother Marcelo Inti's second longest standing member since 1970.

Over the years, new musicians have joined Inti Illimani. This new generation continues the Inti’s tradition and spirit, at the same to help shape the evolution of the legendary ensemble.

The current and very talented line-up is formed by Jorge and Marcelo Coulon, Daniel Cantillana, , Manuel Meriño (musical director), Christian Gonzáles, Juan Florez, César Jara and Cuban-born, Efrén Viera.

After the intermission, Negra Presuntuosa, Corrido de la Soberbia, and a sensuous bolero Medianoche and followed by a traditional Italian melody, Tarantella del 600.

The audience got up and dancing with a sizzling Cuban tune La tarde se ha puesto triste (The afternoon has turned sad), El Surco (a signature song by the great Peruvian musician, Chabuca Granda), A la caza del ñandú (a fusion of Andean and Caribbean sounds), a Mexican inspired melody, Malagueña, a splendid performance of Rondombé, another true fusion-music number.

A Colombian cumbia Sobre tu playa closed the show and got again the audience up and dancing.

“We are free musicians, we aren’t court jesters,” Coulon said, in a display of defiance against political oppression.

As the public demanded encore, the band came back to the stage and played their iconic tune “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido(The people united will never be defeated), captivating everyone, once again, in the theatre with the sentiment and sang along, raising their fists to the air. Inti finished off with an upbeat Bolivian saya “La fiesta de San Benito” (San Benito’s Party).

April 24 - Day of Latin American Music and Roots, celebrating the Inti Illimani

Before the end of the first play, City of Vancouver Councillor, Kerry Jang gave Inti Illimani leader's Jorge Coulon a framed proclamation of April 24 as the Day of Latin American Music and Roots, for their “outstanding involvement in and commitment to human rights and social justice causes around the world, widely recognized by governments, prestigious international institutions, civil society and the general public.”

The proclamation is one of the many musical initiatives of the local production companies: Brisa Productions, Ancient Cultures Productions and Caravan World Rythms with the support of the Chilean community in Vancouver and the General Consulate of Chile.

Finally, towards the end of the show, the Inti Illimani also received gifts by Granville Island-based artisan Karina Muenala, originally from Ecuador. Each member received wool scarves in recognition of their work in spreading Andean music around the world and for their incessant efforts to promote native people’s rights in Latin America.

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