Like many musicians from Chile, Mariana Montalvo was forced into exile when Augusto Pinochet took power in a military coup. Montalvo moved to Paris but keeps alive the nueva canción tradition—a South American musical movement that emerged in the 1960s and ’70s.
Piel de Aceituna, Montalvo’s September 14th release on World Village, mixes havaneras and brass band with adaptations of Chilean poems. Her new CD comes just in time for Putumayo Presents Latinas: Women of Latin America, a 28-city tour with Montalvo, Colombia’s Totó La Momposina, and Brazil’s Belo Vellôso, running from October 8 through November 23, 2004 (see attached tour dates). The tour coincides with the September 21st Putumayo release of Women of Latin America, featuring Montalvo, Momposina, Vellôso and eight other exceptional women artists.
Montalvo follows in the footsteps of such great Latin American singers as Mercedes Sosa—an Argentinean who boosted indigenous song forms and gave voice to the marginalized poor—and Victor Jara—a Chilean who was murdered at the hands of the Pinochet regime. These anchors of nueva canción were inspired by the tradition of payadores—itinerant rural poets—composing new songs in their style and using traditional Andean instruments such as the charango, a small guitar often made from the shell of an armadillo; the quena, a notched end-blown flute; and the zampoña, or pan pipes. The lyrical style frequently addressed an emerging Latin American identity, sometimes directly, but often poetically or through allegory.
Piel de Aceituna (Olive-Skinned) is based in this tradition but also combines other elements. The opening reggae track, Sud’ Americano, says, “Behind the beautiful jungles / Gorged like the full moon / With all the wisdom of the poor / Etched into his very bones / Sweats the South American sweats, sweats / Sweats the South American sweats, sweats.”
Montalvo continues the musical relationship between Chile and France that was born in 1965 in Santiago when the legendary Peña de los Parra modeled itself after a Paris chanson nightclub. You can hear the chanson elements of instrumentation and arrangement on the CD, and even an adaptation of Jacques Brel’s “La Canción de los Amantes (The Lover’s Song).” This French connection is rooted in Paris’ adoption of nueva canción predecessors Atahualpa Yupanqui and Violetta Parra.
On “Encuentro (The Meeting),” Montalvo is joined by Congolese singer Lokua Kanza for a cross-cultural encounter that says, “Black you / Like a moonless night/ White me / Like this same moon.” Throughout the album, the soul of the continent is exposed and a sense of humor represents the sweat and gold of South America. Montalvo’s singing—sometimes personal and often festive—is supported by music that rejects all tropicalisms and claims itself as clearly South American. Mariana Montalvo’s strength lies in the preservation of sounds and spirit, and her mix of modernity and tradition.
Montalvo’s Cantos del Alma was released on Putumayo in 2000. She is also featured on the Putumayo compilation Latinas.
A note to the press: Whenever possible please use the full title of the tour—“Putumayo Presents Latinas: Women of Latin America.” If you must shorten the name, please use “Putumayo Latinas.”