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Voces de la Rebeldía and Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara: Remembering Chile’s Violent Past through Music and Dance

Katia Chornik
avril 2019

DOI : https://dx.doi.org/10.56698/filigrane.887



Cet article analyse deux initiatives fortes au Chili qui sont apparues séparément pour commémorer la dictature de Pinochet : le chœur d’anciens détenus politiques Voces de la Rebeldía (Voix de la rébellion), recréé après plusieurs décennies d’inactivité – il avait été fondé dans le centre de torture et d’interrogatoire Villa Grimaldi ; la troupe de performance de rue Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara (les diables rouges de Víctor Jara ), formée de jeunes musiciens et danseurs pour honorer le musicien et directeur de théâtre assassiné. Tandis que le chœur s’est efforcé de garder vivante une activité qui fut cruciale à la survie spirituelle de ses membres en tant que prisonniers politiques et de transmettre à des publics contemporains les mémoires du contexte brutal où il est né, Los Diablos Rojos ont pris une direction de transformation esthétique, renouvelant l’héritage musical et politique de Víctor Jara, non seulement en gardant vivante la mémoire des victimes de l’époque de Pinochet, mais aussi en défiant les tentatives de criminaliser la contestation sociale.


This article discusses two powerful initiatives in Chile that have emerged separately to commemorate the Pinochet dictatorship: the choir of former political prisoners Voces de la Rebeldía (Voices of Rebellion), re-created after four decades of inactivity since it was first founded in the torture and extermination centre Villa Grimaldi, and the street performance troupe Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara (The Red Devils of Víctor Jara), formed by young musicians and dancers to honour the assassinated musician and theatre director. While the choir has focused on keeping alive an activity that was crucial to their spiritual survival as political prisoners and on transmitting to contemporary audiences the memories of the brutal background against which the original group was born, Los Diablos Rojos have taken a direction of aesthetic transformation, renewing Víctor Jara’s music and political legacy, not only keeping alive the memory of victims of the Pinochet era but also challenging attempts to criminalise social protests.


Texte intégral   

This article was delivered as a paper twice, firstly at the conference Musical and Other Cultural Responses to Political Violence in Latin America (University of Manchester, December 2013) and secondly at the forum The Ethics of Sound: Music and Dictatorship (Athens, April 2017). The latter event commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the coup in Greece and was organised by the Σύλλογος Φυλακισθέντων και Εξορισθέντων 1967-1974 (Association of Prisoners and Exiles 1967-1974), an organisation campaigning for the recognition of the Junta crimes.

1On 11 September 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led a coup that overthrew the socialist President Salvador Allende, who had been elected in 1970 with the support of the Unidad Popular coalition.1 Pinochet subordinated civil, political and personal rights to the State. There was a permanent state of siege. Opposition parties and many local, regional and national organisations were banned. The military exerted total control over the unions, the education system and the media. There were massive dismissals, strike actions were banned, and military discipline was imposed in workplaces and schools. The regime set up over a thousand centres for political detention, in which torture was a central pillar.2

2Mounting international pressure and violent protests forced Pinochet to hold a referendum in October 1988, to decide whether his rule would be extended for another eight years. The « No » side won, and thus democratic elections were held the following year. A decade later, in October 1998, Pinochet travelled to London where he was arrested by the Metropolitan Police after an international warrant had been issued for extradition to Spain, indicting him for human rights violations. After 503 days under arrest, the Government of the United Kingdom released Pinochet on the grounds of alleged fragile health. He died in Chile in 2006, without having served a day in prison.

3 The fortieth anniversary of Pinochet’s coup was a momentous occasion in Chile. Unlike previous anniversaries, public discussions of the dictatorship’s dire record of human rights violations involved broad sectors of society. There was extensive media coverage, including special reports and interviews with survivors and perpetrators.3 The body representing Chilean judges made an unprecedented apology for the actions of its members under military rule, admitting that they had abandoned their role as protectors of fundamental rights.4 Even the right-wing President Sebastián Piñera (serving in 2010-2014 and again since 2018), who in 2012 authorised the first public homage to Pinochet, spoke about the need to condemn human rights violations during the dictatorship in “a firm, clear and permanent way”.5 However, around the time of the anniversary, public expressions of dissatisfaction with justice processes were met with harsh repression. For instance, the police dismantled banners demanding justice for the thousands who had been executed or made to disappear, and they used tear gas against people commemorating the anniversary of the coup.6 Much controversy was generated in October 2018, when Piñera hosted an official ceremony celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the referendum that put an end to the dictatorship. This was despite most of his current ministers being public figures of the « Yes » side, which supported the continuation of Pinochet’s rule.7

4This article explores two commemorative events I attended in September 2013 in Santiago, Chile, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the coup. One event was the first public performance of a choir of ex-political prisoners Voces de la Rebeldía (Voices of Rebellion) at a memorial held at Villa Grimaldi, also known as Cuartel Terranova during the dictatorship. Until 1978, Villa Grimaldi was the main centre for kidnapping, torture and extermination of the first secret police of the dictatorship, the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA).8 The other event I attended in September 2013 was a street performance of Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara (The Red Devils of Víctor Jara), a troupe of approximately fifty dancers and twenty musicians. Their performance took place at a rally that extended close to four kilometres and ended at the Cementerio General de Santiago, the oldest and largest cemetery in Chile.9 Through multiple layers of alterations of distant and recent traditions, these groups exemplify a process of decontextualisation, re-coding and transvaluation, which Owe Ronström identifies as defining features not only of music revivals but also of preservation and memory production in general.10

5In what follows, I will draw mostly on my observations and interviews with members and former members of Voces de la Rebeldía and Los Diablos Rojos (Ana María Jiménez, Lucrecia Brito, Carena Pérez and Bárbara López), conducted face-to-face, by email, telephone and social media. I shall say a few words about the context of this piece and my positionality. On and off since the early 2000s, I have been researching music and human rights, with a focus on music in political detention centres under Pinochet.11 As a Chilean and as the daughter of former political prisoners, I am an insider. On the other hand, I have lived abroad for many years but I travel to Chile at least once a year and maintain strong professional and personal links with Chilean individuals and human rights organisations in Chile and the diaspora. Former political prisoners have been very willing to share their music memories relating to their time under detention. With Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara, however, things have been different. Some of their leaders have warned me that any researcher seeking to write about them must first actively participate in and support their group. While there is undoubtedly value in researchers gaining knowledge from the inside, there are obvious issues with becoming too personally involved, which can bias how researchers collect information and participants react to researchers. It can also produce conflicts of interest, particularly if material support is demanded from researchers.

6 Among the few existing studies on Los Diablos Rojos is a chapter of Javiera Benavente Leiva’s unpublished MA dissertation « De los Andes al margen: disidencia y transgresión en manifestaciones andinas en Santiago de Chile », which partly draws on, and uses the theoretical framework of, a conference paper I first delivered in 2013, on which this article is based.12 Alongside Los Diablos Rojos, Benavente Leiva studies performances of the macha caporal (a dancing female character originally from Bolivia, who impersonates a man) and the tinku dance (also from Bolivia), taking place in Santiago, Chile. On Los Diablos Rojos, there are also two writings authored by dancers of this group: Isabel Núñez’s undergraduate dissertation « La danza de la memoria en los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara », and Lucía Puime’s blog piece « Resistir bailando: una lectura biopolítica sobre la intervención urbana Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara ». Whilst Núñez views Los Diablos Rojos as a rite of resistance and an educational resource, Puime offers a bio-political reading of the group.13

7Over 140 testimonies on music activities in political detention centres in Chile are found in the Cantos Cautivos / Captive Songs digital project (www.cantoscautivos.org), created and directed by me. References to music in these centres are also found in books authored by former political prisoners of the Pinochet regime, for example Hernán Valdés, Rolando Carrasco, Sheila Cassidy and Claudio Durán Pardo.14 In my latest scholarly article, I have analysed former political prisoners’ memories of musical experiences in direct relation to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and have discussed some of the ethical issues involved in this research.15 Music in political detention under Pinochet is also discussed by the cultural studies scholar and writer Jorge Montealegre, himself a former political detainee. Drawing on cases from various centres in Chile and Uruguay, he focuses on positive experiences that allowed prisoners to put in motion a psychological escape from confinement and torture via happy memories, writing, reading, music, drawing, crafts and comedy.16

Voces de la Rebeldía

8The choir Voces de la Rebeldía, founded and directed by Ana María Jiménez – or Anita, as she is commonly known – is in several aspects a sequel to the musical activities carried out by political prisoners four decades ago in Tres Álamos camp (Santiago). Ana María and I meet for the first time in her home in the south of Santiago, in late August 2013. It is only a couple of weeks before the first performance of Voces de la Rebeldía, and her enthusiasm is evident.

9In 1973, she was in her final year of a degree course in music pedagogy at the University of Chile. She also ran a weekly music workshop, founded by her, at an industrial school in the neighbourhood of San Miguel (south of Santiago). In this workshop, she would teach music theory, solfege and music history. The repertoire of her workshop included Handel, Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg, alongside The Beatles, Víctor Jara and Patricio Manns.17
With the coup, Ana María gave up her studies and her school workshop, and had to go underground. She was detained in 1975 and spent a total of eighteen months imprisoned in Santiago, first in the secret torture and extermination centre Villa Grimaldi and then in the camp of Tres Álamos. She reflects on Pinochet’s treatment of musicians and on the assassination of Víctor Jara, which took place days after the coup:

From the first days after the coup, the dictatorship raged against musicians. The torture and crime on Víctor Jara was not only the work of some crazy guards: it corresponded to a political decision of the new government. Víctor’s work was a much more dangerous weapon than rifles. Music has always been a tool of struggle and resistance among those fighting the dictatorship, and thanks to its universality, it could denounce the horrors that were happening. It is much more possible to do this with music than with any other tool.

10When Ana María arrived in Tres Álamos, she was pleased to find that several songs were sung by fellow prisoners. As she remembers, the most common song was « Palabras para Julia » (« Words for Julia »), a musicalisation of José Agustín Goytisolo’s homonymous poem by Spanish singer-songwriter Paco Ibáñez. She also remembers songs by Violeta Parra (Chile), Daniel Viglietti (Uruguay), Juan Manuel Serrat (Spain) and Chabela Vargas (Costa Rica).

11Soon afterwards, Ana María started a music workshop for fellow prisoners. Once or twice a week, she would teach guitar, recorder and singing, using the repertoire that circulated among prisoners already. There was a variety of workshops run by political prisoners, which included creative writing, history, foreign languages, dance, embroidery, carpentry, chess and science. First permitted by the camp authorities, workshops were suddenly forbidden when an inspection of the Organisation of American States was announced. An upsurge of repression against prisoners followed the ban on workshops. Ana María believes that the military were afraid that prisoners would use the workshops to write messages and pass them on to the Organisation of American States.

12Following the workshop ban, Ana María came up with the idea of forming a large choir, which would allow prisoners to spend time in the courtyard and communicate with each other. She presented the plan to the authorities, ensuring that the project would appear apolitical and claiming that a choir could improve the camp’s image when the Organisation of American States came to visit. To her surprise, the authorities agreed but on the condition that she had to show them all song lyrics beforehand, and that the choir would sing only those approved.

13The choir was formed. It had approximately eighty members and rehearsed twice a week. Ana María recounts:

Many participants did not know how to sing or sang really badly. But it didn’t matter: the important thing was not to sing well. It was a form of resistance and defiance, a way of reasserting solidarity. It was joy in the midst of so much pain. Singing had a therapeutic function, after having lived episodes so terrible and traumatic. It was healing to prepare and participate in an activity, for instance for Christmas, New Year, birthdays, or when someone arrived or was released. It was notorious how resilience increased, as well as empathy, faith, self-esteem, confidence and reconciliation with oneself. Everybody integrated, even those who were in separated factions. We were happy singing, it was a breath of life.

14The positive effects of singing described by Ana María are in consonance with the views of Montealegre, who sees agential uses of music and other cultural expressions as crucial factors in the development of communal resilience, which, he claims, emerged when prisoners recognised a common socio-cultural heritage, valued creativity and developed playful and humorous expressions within a mourning process.18

15Selected by Ana María, the initial repertoire of the Tres Álamos choir consisted of three songs: « Palabras para Julia » (« Words for Julia »), « No volveré » (« I won’t come back », a Mexican love song) and « Ya te vas » (« You’re leaving now », a school canon in three parts) – all « very innocent » in her eyes. They later added « Candombe para José » (by the Argentine singer-songwriter Roberto Ternán, and popularised in Chile by the group Illapu), the famous tango « Volver » (« To Return» , by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera) and « Valparaíso » (by Gitano Rodríguez).19 The choir lasted five months, until September 1976 when all but six prisoners were freed or exiled.

16Former prisoners who had been part of the choir did not reconvene to sing for nearly four decades. However, early in 2013 and in preparation for the activities commemorating the coup’s fortieth anniversary, Ana María began to plan a revival of the choir. She contacted many survivors who used to sing in Tres Álamos, one by one, but only a handful responded. « There are people who could not be bothered, others smoked too much and lost their voices. Forty years have passed: those who are eighty now aren’t able to stand and sing. They are tired, or ill. »

17Lucrecia Brito, a former member of the choir in Tres Álamos, was also involved in the recruitment of members for the new choir, Voces de la Rebeldía. She told me that many members of the original choir ridiculed the project of the new group, calling it « pathetic ». For her, this kind of reaction was « an attack to our self-esteem ». Despite these criticisms, four members of the original choir went ahead and recruited relatives and friends of survivors, of the executed and the disappeared. Ana María makes it clear that Voces de la Rebeldía « is not for anyone who just wants to sing».20

18The new choir selects members via auditions. Although according to Ana María no one who has applied has been left out, it is possible that some potential members have been put off by the idea of having an audition and have decided not to try. Moreover, some former prisoners who could not attend all the rehearsals were not allowed to perform in the event commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the coup. In contrast, the original choir was wholly inclusive not only of people who had poor or no musical skills but also of members of political parties that were in tension with each other.  

19I attended a rehearsal of Voces de la Rebeldía, on a Saturday morning, four days before their debut21. Members beamed of enthusiasm and happiness, laughing in between songs. They appeared to have a fair degree of autonomy from the director, with some people starting on their own before everyone else was ready.

20Participants of Voces de la Rebeldía looked forward to their debut at Villa Grimaldi. For Lucrecia Brito, it was about remembering the past, « commemorating life despite torture, a homage to all those who went through Villa Grimaldi and other detention and torture centres ». For others, like Carena Pérez, it was about the future: she would sing for those who did not live through the events « because there are still people who do not know what happened, and singing is our way of denouncing it ».

21The performance of Voces de la Rebeldía was part of the traditional candlelight memorial held every 11 September. It took place at the event area, a large open round tent. Several hundred people of all ages were in the audience. Fifteen singers, two percussionists, a guitarist and a flautist made their way to the stage. Dressed in black, almost all performers wore coloured scarfs, mainly red. One may suggest that the black-and-red clothing was a reference to the flag of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), which had substantial representation in the old choir.

22Ana María gave a short speech in which she honoured those tortured and murdered in Villa Grimaldi, the disappeared, and two former political prisoners who died within a week before the performance. She stated: « Let us sing then to remember our comrades, to put life and its sacredness at the centre of our interest, to reaffirm the value of solidarity and affectivity, to continue fighting for justice and truth, [and] to keep screaming, always at the top of the lungs: Never Again. » Singers and instrumentalists seemed closely connected to each other. The performance was powerful and phenomenally emotive. When « Candombe para José » began, the majority of the audience stood up and clapped the beat throughout the song, building up to an exalted ovation to shouts demanding an encore.   

23After the event commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the coup, Voces de la Rebeldía has continued rehearsing and performing in Santiago and surrounding cities, most frequently in memory sites. To their core repertoire, based on the song selection of the Tres Álamos choir, they have added new songs, including « A mi ciudad », « El cautivo de Til Til », « Qué pena siente el alma », « El cigarrito », « El regalo », « Todavía cantamos », « No volveré » and « El chilote marino ».

Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara

24As their name suggests, Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara pay homage to the Chilean musician and theatre director Víctor Jara (1932-1973), the most famous political prisoner of the Pinochet regime. Born into a peasant family in the south of Chile in 1932, Víctor and his family moved to the outskirts of Santiago when he was a young child. On 11 September 1973, the day of the coup, Víctor was due to sing at the opening of an exhibition about the horrors of civil war and fascism at the Technical University of Santiago. He was trapped inside along with thousands of students and staff as the military surrounded the building, and was later taken to the Estadio Chile (Chile Stadium), where he was tortured and executed. Shortly before his tragic death, Víctor left a moving testimony of his captivity through an untitled poem known as « Estadio Chile », which reads: « There are five thousand of us here / in this small part of the city / […] How much humanity / exposed to hunger, cold, panic, pain / moral pressure, terror and insanity? ».22

25The origin of Los Diablos Rojos traces back to the year 2009, when the body of Víctor Jara was exhumed so that a court could clarify the circumstances of his death thirty-six years earlier. Thousands of people were present at his funeral and reburial in December that year at the Cementerio General de Santiago (General Cemetery of Santiago), in which Los Diablos Rojos made their first appearance.23 24

26Bárbara López, trumpeter and musical director of Los Diablos Rojos from 2009 to 2011, recalls how the group was formed:

The leaders of Los Diablos Rojos were quite selective because it was difficult to bring people together. Band members were summoned by word of mouth among acquaintances, friends, university classmates and work colleagues. I then started to write very simple arrangements of Víctor Jara songs.  Friends brought other arrangements, and we assembled the repertoire with the choreography. We had our rehearsals in the street, behind Estación Mapocho. Something very beautiful and unforgettable was created, after a long and exhausting journey. The day of the funeral was something magical and exciting.25

27Choreographer Lucía Puime indicates that dancers are tasked to learn the choreographies at home using videos uploaded on YouTube, and that few rehearsals take place before performances.26 I would suggest that the flexibility of practising at home allows the possibility of involving a broader community of members over the future.

28After their debut in 2009, Los Diablos Rojos have taken part in most marches commemorating Pinochet’s coup, usually occurring at weekends on or around the anniversary on 11 September.27 The march in 2013, marking the fortieth anniversary, attracted huge crowds of all ages28. Many marchers carried placards showing photos of the disappeared and the executed. Powerful loudspeakers amplified recordings of « El pueblo unido jamás será vencido » and « Venceremos », two iconic anthems of the Unidad Popular period, first recorded by the band Quilapayún, with whom Víctor Jara worked as an artistic director between 1966 and 1969. Although Bárbara López had left Los Diablos Rojos in 2011, she returned to take part in the 2013 performance. For her, « that march was very beautiful, very massive, very emotional. Los Diablos Rojos gave a different energy to the march. After 2013 I felt that I had already fulfilled my mission. I did not return. »

29The band of Los Diablos Rojos is made up of around twenty players of percussion, wind and brass instruments. Both musicians and dancers wear red balaclava masks as well as red tops and red bottoms, sometimes adorned with yellow, green, blue or black strips, or with metal ornaments; several carry red umbrellas or flowers. Some Diablos Rojos wear tatters, others wear highly sophisticated garments. Among the dancers are children; some she-devils carry infants on their backs.

30 Los Diablos Rojos draw heavily on La Fiesta de La Tirana, a religious festivity honouring Our Lady of Mount Carmel that takes places every year in mid-July in La Tirana, a village located approximately 1,800 kilometres north of Santiago. Through choreographed squad dances accompanied by brass bands and percussion, people atone for their sins and thank the Virgin for favours granted.29 30 Los Diablos Rojos incorporate several dance rhythms from La Tirana into well-known compositions by Víctor Jara: diablada into « El aparecido », sambo into « La partida », gitano into « Plegaria de un labrador »31. Part of their repertoire is also Víctor Jara’s « Angelita Huenumán », which Los Diablos Rojos perform in purrún rhythm. Purrún originates in the ritual choike purrún of the Mapuche people, from central and southern Chile and southern Argentina. In employing dances from various zones of the country, Los Diablos Rojos have widened their territory of belonging, as Benavente Leiva notes.32

31As one can observe in the videos, Los Diablos Rojos’ dances are less disciplined than those of the religious associations of La Tirana. There appears substantial independent dancing and improvisation within the choreographies of Los Diablos Rojos. Although not explicitly mentioned by members of the troupe, to my eye they share some commonalities with the diablos sueltos (loose devils) of La Tirana. These are independent dancers who do not belong to the religious associations leading the festivity. As Alberto Díaz Araya has observed, the diablos sueltos alter the imposed social order of the associations.33 I shall show later that Los Diablos Rojos challenge norms imposed by the political class.

32Lucía Puime34, choreographer of Los Diablos Rojos, traces the discursive genesis of the group to research on Andean masks undertaken by her and three other Santiago-based artists, explaining that creating Los Diablos Rojos’ balaclava involved mixing elements of masks of pre-Hispanic and colonial origin that are still in use in religious festivities, including those of the diablada of La Tirana, the aya huma of Ecuador, the ukuku of Peru, and the kusillo of Bolivia.35 Bárbara López points out that their balaclavas were inspired by a mask developed and worn by the actor Eduardo Irrazábal, a member of Banda Conmoción, a fusion band founded in 2001 in Santiago. Banda Conmoción combines stage and street performances, mixing musical genres from La Tirana and surrounding areas (saltos, tinkus and morenada), elsewhere in Latin America (cumbia, mambo, cha-cha-cha and bolero, among others) and further away (including music from the Balkans). Their latest album is titled Tiraneño (2016), the band’s homage to musicians of La Tirana.36

33Bárbara López, who was also a member of Banda Conmoción, explains that the balaclava-making technique is the same in Banda Conmoción and Los Diablos Rojos: old sweaters are cut and sewn in the shape of masks, and embroidered by the performers themselves. Bárbara and six other brass musicians from Banda Conmoción who joined Los Diablos Rojos were key to the transference from the former band’s balaclava-making practices.37 While only one performer of Banda Conmoción usually wears the balaclava, all performers of Los Diablos Rojos are masked.

34Lucía Puime indicates that dancers include members of political parties, associations of relatives of victims of Pinochet’s dictatorship, trade unions and hard-line football supporters.

35However, as they are masked, it is not known who they are:

Each one renounces their presence and hides their face behind another identity, transforms themselves, entering the ambiguity of the mask game. Anonymity is then established as opposed to the overexploitation of individual identities in our time, from ID photos to virtual profiles.38

36In wearing masks in public, Los Diablos Rojos defy recent attempts to pass laws that have sought to detain, prosecute and fine individuals who conceal their faces during marches and protests.39 It is clear, then, that Los Diablos Rojos renovate note only Andean traditions and Víctor Jara’s music and homage the memory of the dictatorship’s victims but also apply the singer’s political legacy, recoding and updating it in the context of contemporary circumstances. They appear to be following Víctor’s views on the social role that artists should play: « the artist being another worker, he must put the weapon of his talent at the service of the process we are living. [...] [Revolutionary artists] belong to the great majorities, and their responsibility will be to work so that these majorities also express themselves artistically, [and] to build solid foundations of a new culture, belonging to all, and for all. »40


37Voces de la Rebeldía and Los Diablos Rojos of Víctor Jara have emerged separately to remember specific events related to Pinochet’s dictatorship, making important contributions to the recuperation and transmission of memories from Chile’s violent past.
The choir has focused on keeping alive an activity that was crucial to their spiritual survival as political prisoners, and on transmitting to contemporary audiences the memories of the brutal background against which the original group was born. Four decades after the coup, many members are affected by the physical and psychological effects of the imprisonment and torture they suffered, by the grief of having lost their relatives, comrades and friends, and by the feelings of injustice produced by large numbers of human rights crimes remaining unpunished. In this context of trauma and long-term health effects, as the original choir, the new one has the power to play a therapeutic function.

38Los Diablos Rojos have taken a direction of aesthetic transformation, renewing Víctor Jara’s music and political legacy, not only keeping alive the memory of victims of the Pinochet era but also challenging attempts to criminalise social protests. Los Diablos Rojos borrow various elements from rural religious festivities yet they do not perform for religious reasons or are associated with religious organisations. Furthermore, Los Diablos Rojos play songs by Víctor Jara that are not used in La Tirana, on instruments that were not employed by the singer-songwriter. As Benavente Leiva notes, Los Diablos Rojos apply reconstructed codes of andinidad (Andeanness) in the city of Santiago, and make them functional in respect of the memory of the victims of the dictatorship, utilising Víctor Jara as a recognisable face.41 In Los Diablos Rojos, the figure of the devil, through time and cultures seen as a representation of evil, embraces that of Víctor Jara, who has become an idol and a quasi-saint for thousands across the world over the last forty-five years. There is a certain subversion in the association of devils with Víctor Jara, as in the party-like manner in which Los Diablos Rojos mark the day that brought so many human casualties, including Víctor Jara’s.42

39Performances of Voces de la Rebeldía and Los Diablos Rojos have produced a powerful impact, highlighting how significant a role music can play concerning to cultural memory, human rights, social activism and commemoration.


1  Unidad Popular was formed in 1969 by the following parties: Partido Radical, Partido Socialista, Partido Comunista, Movimiento de Acción Popular Unitario, Partido de Izquierda Radical and Acción Popular Independiente. In 1973, Izquierda Cristiana and MAPU Obrero y Campesino joined the coalition.  Pinochet’s coup took place two months before the Athens Polytechnic uprising at the National (Metsovian) Technical University of Athens (NTUA; Greek: Εθνικό Μετσόβιο Πολυτεχνείο), a massive protest against the military regime that ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974.

2  For an overview of human rights violations during the dictatorship, see José Zalaquett’s introduction to the English edition of the 1991 national truth commission Comisión Nacional de Verdad y Reconciliación, « Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation », trans. United States Institute of Peace, 1993, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/collections/truth_commissions/Chile90-Report/Chile90-Report.pdf pp. 6-17, accessed December 2017. See also Comisión Nacional sobre Prisión Política y Tortura I [aka Comisión Valech], Informe, Santiago de Chile, Ministerio del Interior, 2004, https://bibliotecadigital.indh.cl/handle/123456789/455, accessed November 2017; and Alicia del Campo, Michael J. Lazzara, Heidi Tinsman, and Angela Vergara, eds., special issue The Other 9/11: Chile, 1973—Memory, Resistance, and Democratization, Radical History Review vol. 124, 2016.

3  See for instance Oriana Miranda, « Violencia sexual contra mujeres en dictadura: un crimen invisibilizado », Diario Universidad de Chile, 3 September 2013, accessed March 2018, http://radio.uchile.cl/2013/09/03/violencia-sexual-contra-mujeres-en-dictadura-un-crimen-invisibilizado; « Manuel Contreras: “Los detenidos desaparecidos están en el Cementerio General” », CNN Chile, 10 September 2013, accessed March 2018, http://www.cnnchile.com/noticia/2013/09/10/manuel-contreras-los-detenidos-desaparecidos-estan-en-el-cementerio-general.

4  « Jueces piden perdón por sus “acciones y omisiones” durante la dictadura militar », Emol, 11 September 2013, accessed on 28 January 2018, http://www.emol.com/noticias/nacional/2013/09/04/618067/jueces-piden-perdon-por-el-rol-que-cumplieron-durante-el-regimen-militar.html.

5  « en forma firme, clara y permanente ». « Piñera reafirma críticas a la prensa y al Poder Judicial por su actuación durante la dictadura militar », El Mostrador, 31 August 2013, accessed January 2018, http://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2013/08/31/pinera-reafirma-criticas-a-la-prensa-y-al-poder-judicial-por-su-actuacion-durante-la-dictadura-militar. This and subsequent translations are my own.

6  « Tohá exigió que Carabineros explique retiro de lienzos sobre detenidos desaparecidos »,  Cooperativa, 9 September 2013, accessed January 2018, http://www.cooperativa.cl/noticias/pais/dd-hh/toha-exigio-que-carabineros-explique-retiro-de-lienzos-sobre-detenidos-desaparecidos/2013-09-09/081412.html; « Quema de micros y barricadas abren víspera del 11 de septiembre en Santiago », Biobío Chile, 10 September 2013, accessed January 2018, http://www.biobiochile.cl/noticias/2013/09/10/serie-de-incidentes-se-registran-en-santiago-en-la-jornada-previa-al-11-de-septiembre.shtml.

7  Hernán Leighton, « 5 de octubre en La Moneda: por el ancho camino del medio, Piñera trata de instalar la idea de una segunda transición », El Mostrador, 5 October 2018, accessed October 2018, http://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2018/10/05/5-de-octubre-en-la-moneda-por-el-ancho-camino-del-medio-pinera-trata-de-instalar-la-idea-de-una-segunda-transicion/; Catalina Hernández, « Ojo: los muchachos del Sí », El Mostrador, 5 October 2018, accessed October 2018, http://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2018/10/05/ojo-los-muchachos-del-si/

8  The buildings of Villa Grimaldi were demolished by the military in 1989 just before the first democratic government took office. Since 1997, it has been a Park for Peace and, since 2004, a National Monument.  

9  More specifically, the rally ended at Patio 102, which is the Memorial of the Detained-Disappeared and Politically-Executed. See also « Marcha de la AFDD busca mostrar a los “chilenos que no están, que fueron desaparecidos o ejecutados” », El Mostrador, 8 September 2013, accessed May 2018,http://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2013/09/08/marcha-de-la-afdd-busca-mostrar-a-los-chilenos-que-no-estan-que-fueron-desaparecidos-o-ejecutados.

10  Owe Ronström, « Traditional Music, Heritage Music », in Caroline Bithell and Juniper Hill, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Music Revival, New York, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 43-59 (p. 45).

11  The most substantial part of this research was part of the project « Sounds of Memory: Music and Political Captivity in Pinochet’s Chile (1973-1990) », conducted at the University of Manchester in 2013-16 and funded by the Leverhulme Trust. My research methods were overseen by the University of Manchester’s Research Ethics Committee (UREC) and adhere to the ethics statements of the Society for Ethnomusicology and the British Forum for Ethnomusicology.

12  Javiera Benavente Leiva, « De los Andes al margen: disidencia y transgresión en manifestaciones andinas en Santiago de Chile », unpublished MA dissertation, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2017.

13  Isabel Núñez Valdés, « La danza de la memoria en los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara », unpublished undergraduate dissertation, Universidad Academia de Humanismo Cristiano, 2017 (note: only the abstract of Núñez’s dissertation is publicly available); Lucía Puime, « Resistir bailando: una lectura biopolítica sobre la intervención urbana Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara » in La tierra purpúrea,2013, https://latierrapurpurea.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/resistir-bailando-una-lectura-biopolitica-sobre-la-intervencion-urbana-los-diablos-rojos-de-victor-jara, accessed April 2018.

14  Hernán Valdés, Tejas Verdes: diario de un campo de concentración en Chile, Barcelona, Ariel, 1974; Rolando Carrasco, Prigué, Moscow, Novosti Press, 1977; Sheila Cassidy, Audacity to Believe, Cleveland, OH, Collins World, 1977; Claudio Durán Pardo, Autobiografía de un ex-jugador de ajedrez. Santiago de Chile, Lom Ediciones, 2003.

15  Katia Chornik, « Memories of Music in Political Detention in Chile under Pinochet », in Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies vol. 27 nº 2, 2018, pp. 157-173.

16  Jorge Montealegre, Derecho a fuga: una extraña felicidad compartida, Santiago, Asterión, 2018. See also Marcy Campos and Javier Rodríguez, « Reconstruir el acontecimiento: la muerte de Víctor Jara en las representaciones audiovisuales y sonoras sobre la dictadura de Pinochet, in Marco Kunz et al., eds., Acontecimientos históricos y su productividad cultural en el mundo hispánico, Zürich, Lit, 2016, pp. 171-182. Studies dealing with music in detention centres outside Latin America from the 1970s onwards include Anna Papaeti, « Music, Torture, Testimony: Reopening the Case of the Greek Military Junta (1967-1974)», in The World of Music (New Series) vol. 2 nº  1, 2013, pp. 67-89, and Suzanne G. Cusick, « Music as Torture / Music as Weapon » in Trans: Revista Transcultural de Música vol. 10, 2006, http://www.sibetrans.com/trans/a152/music-as-torture-music-as-weapon, accessed September 2018, and « You Are In a Place That is Out of the World...”: Music In the Detention Camps of the Global War on Terror », in Journal of the Society for American Music vol. 2 nº 1, 2008, pp. 1-26.

17  Jara and Manns were founding pillars of Nueva Canción Chilena (Chilean New Song), a cultural and political movement born in the 1960s that has been highly influential throughout Latin America to the present day. For studies on this movement, see Rodrigo Torres, Perfil de la creación musical en la Nueva Canción Chilena desde sus orígenes hasta 1973, Santiago, CENECA, 1980; Eduardo Carrasco, La Nueva Canción en América Latina, Santiago, CENECA, 1982; Osvaldo Rodríguez Musso, La Nueva Canción Chilena: continuidad y reflejo, Havana, Casa de las Américas, 1988; and J. Patrice McSherry, Chilean New Song: The Political Power of Music, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 2015.

18  Not specific to context of political detention, recurring social and psychological benefits associated with communal singing include comfort and uplift, increased self-esteem, sense of purpose and general wellbeing, as noted by Caroline Bithell, A Different Voice, A Different Song: Reclaiming Community Through the Natural Voice and World Song, New York, Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 224. Those interested in therapeutic uses of music among trauma survivors may consult studies by music therapists such as Julie Sutton, Jude Boyles, Christine Adcock, Atarah Fisher, Avi Gilboa and Susanne Bauer.

19  The Cantos Cautivos / Captive Songs archive (http://www.cantoscautivos.org) contains testimonies that mention other songs sung by women prisoners in Tres Álamos, including « Himno a la alegría » (a Spanish language free version of Beethoven and von Schiller’s « Ode to Joy »), « Las mañanitas » (by Mexican composer Manuel M. Ponce) and « El barco de papel » (« The Paper Boat », by Chilean singer-songwriter Julio Numhauser).

20  Similarly, in Argentina, former political prisoners and relatives of the disappeared have formed a choir called Coro Quiero Retruco. See documentary Todavía Cantamos: Coro Quiero Retruco, dir. Modesto López, 2012.

21  Voces de la Rebeldía rehearsing « Candombe para José » in Villa Grimaldi, Santiago, September 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwupTZJNGKE&feature=youtu.be

22  Joan Jara, Victor: An Unfinished Song, London, Bloomsbury, 1998, p. 242. The poem became well known after being smuggled to the UK, where his British widow had gone to. It was later set to music by the Chilean musician Isabel Parra who, during her exile in France, sang it extensively during campaigns in defence of human rights.

23  Los Diablos Rojos during the funeral of Víctor Jara, Santiago, 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PIxZHZXLv8

24  When Víctor Jara was assassinated in September 1973, a semi-clandestine funeral was held by his widow Joan Jara and two other people. Manuel Délano, « El cantautor Víctor Jara recibirá un funeral 36 años después de su muerte », El País, 28 November 2009, accessed July 2018, https://elpais.com/internacional/2009/11/28/actualidad/1259362801_850215.html.

25  Estación Mapocho, formerly a train station, is a cultural centre located in a historical area of the capital. Interviews with Bárbara López were conducted in March-August 2018.

26  Puime, op. cit.

27  To my knowledge, in 2018 Los Diablos Rojos did not participate in the march commemorating the forty-fifth anniversary of the coup. Instead, they played and sang at a memorial at the National Stadium of Chile. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6UljfSGhEw

28  Los Diablos Rojos re-interpreting Víctor Jara’s « La partida » during the march commemmorating the coup, Santiago, 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p_1NeZ7SuQ

29  A diablada dance, La Tirana, 2017 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5DguBjZy7I

30  The Fiesta de La Tirana is heavily influenced by the Carnaval de Oruro, in west-central Bolivia. For studies on La Tirana, see Alberto Díaz Araya, « En la pampa los diablos andan sueltos: demonios danzantes de la fiesta del Santuario de La Tirana », Revista Musical Chilena vol. 216 (July-December), 2011, pp. 58-97; Luis Campos, Rosa Jiménez, and Tomás Tellez, Cuyacas: música, danza y cultura en una sociedad religiosa en la fiesta de la Tirana, Santiago, Consejo de la Cultura y las Artes, 2009; Sergio González, « La presencia indígena en el enclave salitrero de Tarapacá: una reflexión en torno a la Fiesta de la Tirana », Chungará: Revista de Antropología Chilena vol. 38 nº 1, 2006, pp. 35-49; Juan B. Van Kessel, « Los bailes religiosos del Norte Chileno como herencia cultural andina », Chungará: Revista de Antropología Chilena vol. 12, 1984, pp. 125-134.

31  Los Diablos Rojos during the march commemorating the coup, Santiago, 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdvPF8IsHBA

32  Benavente Leiva, op. cit., p. 17.

33  Alberto Díaz Araya, « En la pampa los diablos andan sueltos: demonios danzantes de la fiesta del Santuario de La Tirana », Revista Musical Chilena vol. 216 (July-December), 2011, pp. 58-97.

34  Lucía Puime, op. cit.

35  For information on devils in various Latin American countries, see « Diablos » in Devils of the Americas: A Comparative Study on Devils in Popular Fiesta and Religious Manifestations in the Americas,

36  « Tiraneño », in Banda Conmoción, http://www.bandaconmocion.com/tiraneno/ accessed August 2018.

37  Other founding members of Los Diablos Rojos were previously at the Teatro Mendicantes, specialising in street theatre. See Teatro Mendicantes,http://teatromendicantes.blogspot.com/, accessed August 2018.

38  « Cada uno renuncia a su presencia y esconde su rostro detrás de otra identidad, se transforma, entrando en la ambigüedad del juego de la máscara. El anonimato se establece entonces como opuesto a la sobre explotación de las identidades individuales en nuestro tiempo, desde la foto del carné de identidad hasta los perfiles virtuales. » Puime, op. cit.

39 The first anti-mask law, called « Ley de Resguardo del Orden Público » (also known as « Ley Hinzpeter »), was proposed by the then Minister of Home Affairs and Public Security Rodrigo Hinzpeter in 2011 but was rejected by the lower chamber of Chile’s National Congress in December 2013. The Congress’s rejection occurred after much international criticism of the proposed law’s excessive restrictions to the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and the criminalisation of people exercising these rights. The second attempt to pass an anti-mask law, known as « Ley Anti-Encapuchados », was approved by the lower chamber of Chile’s Congress in July 2016 and is awaiting discussion by the upper chamber. « A Comisión Mixta proyecto de ley antiencapuchados », in Senado, República de Chile, 30 October 2013.

40  « [S]iendo el artista un trabajador más, deberá poner el arma de su talento al servicio del proceso que vivimos. […] [Los artistas revolucionarios] pertenecen a las grandes mayorías y su responsabilidad será trabajar para que estas mayorías también se expresen artísticamente, para construir los cimientos sólidos de una nueva cultura, de todos y para todos. » « Una canción vale más que diez discursos », El Siglo, 1972[?], Santiago, pp. 11-12.

41  Benavente Leiva, op. cit., pp. 41-42.

42  In this respect, Los Diablos Rojos may find parallel with a project created by the Mexican actor Claudia Bernardi Pompa, who linked traditional Mexican practices celebrating death with current-day memory practices around the Patio 29 of Santiago General Cemetery, a common grave where political prisoners were made to « disappear » and were buried anonymously. Bernardi Pompa incarnated the iconic Mexican character of La Catrina of the Day of the Dead, and made five interventions in Patio 29 and surrounding areas. See her MA dissertation, Claudia Bernardi Pompa, « La Catrina al patio 29: estrategias performativas de conmemoración en espacios de memoria chilena », Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2016, https://repositorio.uc.cl/handle/11534/21246, accessed April 2018.


Katia Chornik, «Voces de la Rebeldía and Los Diablos Rojos de Víctor Jara: Remembering Chile’s Violent Past through Music and Dance », Filigrane. Musique, esthétique, sciences, société. [En ligne], Situations de violence extrême, L'éthique de la musique et du son, Numéros de la revue, mis à  jour le : 02/04/2019, URL : https://revues.mshparisnord.fr:443/filigrane/index.php?id=887.


Quelques mots à propos de :  Katia Chornik

Katia Chornik is a music scholar, cultural historian and qualitative researcher working across government and academia. In her current research post at Surrey County Council, she has worked on cultural strategy, research ethics, and unaccompanied refugee children. She previously held academic posts at the Universities of Manchester, Salford and the Open University, and worked as a violinist with the Santiago Philharmonic Orchestra (Chile). She directs the testimonial digital project Cantos Cautivos (Captive Songs, part of her research on music in political detention centres in Pinochet's Chile, and currently featured in the British Museum's I Object exhibition. She is the author of the books Alejo Carpentier and the Musical Text (MHRA / Maney, 2015; republ. Routledge, 2017) and Cantos Cautivos: Music in Political Detention Centres in Pinochet’s Chile (forthcoming with Oxford University Press). Katia is also a keen freelance journalist, having worked for various sections of the BBC, The Guardian and The Economist, among other media outlets.