A choir with a political message

Issue 

By Bronwen Beechey MELBOURNE — In 1907, miners in the nitrate mines of northern Chile went on strike against their deplorable conditions. Eighteen thousand workers and their families marched to the port of Santa Maria de Iquique to seek support. On December 21, the army opened fire on the miners' encampment in the schoolyard, killing 2000 and injuring many more. This incident marked the beginning of the organised labour struggle in Chile. It has also provided the theme for the latest performance by a unique Australian choir. Canto Coro, a multilingual choir formed here two years ago, is currently performing Cantata Santa Maria de Iquique, written in 1970 by Luis Advis and subsequently popularised by the Chilean folk band Quilapayun. "As well as telling the story of the massacre, it also sounds a warning", said choir director Mark Dunbar. "It's saying that we need to be vigilant to prevent such things happening again. Despite its subject, it is a very optimistic work, reflecting the period it was written in — just after Allende's election, when everything seemed possible." Canto Coro's members come mainly from the Greek and Latin American communities. The choir was formed in 1993 to perform Canto General, which has music by the famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis and text by the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. After the first season of three sold-out performances, the choir decided to continue. It has since performed another major Theodorakis choral work, Axion Esti, and performed Canto General at the Brisbane Biennial this year. "Most of the choir members were not experienced singers previously, but everyone in the choir brings their skills and information to share", said Dunbar. "The Latin Americans help the Greeks with their Spanish pronunciation, and the Greeks help the Latin Americans when we sing in Greek." Dunbar believes the two communities have much in common. "Both have a history of coups and dictatorships, repression and resistance. There are also cultural parallels with attempts by people such as Theodorakis and the Chilean New Song movement to revive traditional musical forms and to make political statements with their music." Also being performed with Cantata Santa Maria de Iquique is a new work by Greek/Australian composer Irine Vela, Sono Forte (We Are Strong), which continues the powerful political message of the first piece. Canto Coro will be performing on December 2, 8pm at West Wyck Hall, 492 Victoria St, West Brunswick. Bookings: 9354 0579.

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