Tales from Valparaiso No. 2

Here's Robert's second installment from Valparaiso, Chile:

Went to a large-scale open-air rock concert on Friday night down in the harbour – by Los Haivas – massive speaker stacks and lighting rigs hanging from cranes. Somewhere between Bay City Rollers, Chilean folk music and Carmina Burana (they were actually really good). There was a very glamorous girl drummer – I gather she's yet another member of the Parra dynasty. They were performing their settings of Pablo Neruda's “Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu”. Everyone around us was singing along – obviously a very popular album. Hard to think of a UK poet of the last hundred years who has the status Neruda has here. Ann and I left after five or six songs – we were cold and hungry – we'd only planned to stay a little while – it was a free event. As we left, hordes of people – mostly young, but certainly not all so – were still arriving.

The previous evening we went to a really lovely club called “La Piedra Feliz” (“The Happy Stone”), also down near the port, and heard Inti Illimani. Turns out this was the same line-up we'd heard at the concert at the Municipal Theatre a few nights before – for some reason we'd got it into our heads that the folk playing at the theatre were the Santiago version of Inti Illimani – but no, we still have Horacio Salinas' “Inti Illimani Historico” or, more simply, “Inti Historico” to experience. This Valparaiso lot, however, are amazing – versatile musicians all, switching instruments all the time – it's hard to think of any instrument which wasn't played by all the musicians at one point or another of the set – guitars, charanga, bass guitar, percussion, pipes. Really impressive music-making incorporating, as well as Chilean folk music, Cuban, Colombian and jazz influences.

The whole National Day celebrations, which have been happening over the weekend and are still going on today, had us hearing hours and hours of Cueca music at various large-scale gatherings, or “ramadas” – usually pumped out at maximum volume from slightly battered PA s. Anyone who is a Facebook friend of my wife Ann's can see a couple of clips on her site.

Meanwhile Dexter and I have started playing Irish music together – I've so far learned three reels – Lucy Campbell's, Captain Kelly and The Maids of Montcisco. It was very sweet, because there's very little sound insulation in our flat and Dexter has the room next door. He had said to me that whenever I felt a bit more secure with the tunes I should play them through with him. I started to notice, however, at one point, that he was playing along with me on his flute as I practised, but stopping every time I stopped – ghosting me. Eventually I went next door - “Oh, did you hear me playing along?”; “Yes, of course I did!” We played the reels to Ann and Adriana when they came in soon after. I think I've passed the audition, and soon we're going to start playing with Dexter's friends – two bodhran players and a guitarist. They usually rehearse here at the flat, but, sound insulation being as it is, they sometimes rehearse in the little park down the hill.

Today I'm ill – as is Adriana – I think the air, cold as it often still is at this time of year, is often so damp off the Pacific that it really gets into your bones. We had two really hot days and otherwise a lot of cold. I'm sitting in bed as I write.

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