I began learning to play clarinet in a high school band. Instruction however was brutal, like the military men who had taken over the country. I came of age listening to the revolutionary songs of the New Chile under Allende, and drinking the bitter wine that destitute peasants drank as they marched on dusty streets chanting old Indian songs: Music became my weapon to resist and fight back.
I sang and played in a Chilean band in exile and when that went out of fashion I took my guitar to California to organize farm workers. Illiterate peasants taught me to write and to sleep in a hammock. They also taught me a bunch of songs I took to Nicaragua where, thanks to a dubious US education, I taught college during war time.
The world is a wonderful and horrible place and when David strikes Goliath one ought to cheer: I played my guitar at a small festival in Vieques, Puerto Rico, when the US Navy got kicked out of that small island. And I played it in New Orleans after long days of helping folks rebuild, a year after Katrina. Happily, after removing Katrina mud we also paraded through N’awlins streets singing ‘We got that Fire.’
Parading in New Orleans after Katrina was an affirmation of life and illustrated for me the possibility of living to build a better world. I met my current band mates at a demonstration demanding better wages and there and then decided I’d rather carry a musical instrument than a picket sign. Music for me is an affirmation of life and of our humanity. And yes, music is still my weapon to resist and fight back.
Photo by Leonardo March