Music Interviews
2:21 pm
Sat June 28, 2014

Ani Cordero Pays Tribute To The History Of Latin Protest Music

Originally published on Sat June 28, 2014 3:22 pm

New York's Ani Cordero was one of the founding members of the Latin rock band Pistolera. On her new solo album, she's unplugged — but no less powerful.

Recordar is a kind of tribute album: a tribute to voices of dissent. The songs are her takes on some of Latin America's classic protest anthems.

"They represent a period in Latin American and Caribbean history when the political climate was a bit difficult," she says.

Cordero became interested in this music while she was taking a college course taught by Dr. Juan Allende — "who happened to be the nephew of Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by Pinochet," she notes. That's how she learned about one of Allende's supporters: singer-songwriter and activist Victor Jara.

Jara was an ally of Allende, but once Augusto Pinochet took over, Jara's outspoken support for the former socialist government made him a threat. He was hunted down, captured and tortured.

"They took him to a stadium and killed him rather violently," Cordero says. "And that stadium now bears his name."

Recordar begins with Cordero's version of Jara's song "Deja La Vida Volar."

"The words are about being in the moment and letting fear escape for a while, and being in love despite the fear," she says. "In the end, it's saying that you might experience darkness, but the sun will return."

Even out of context, "Deja La Vida Volar" is a beautiful, haunting love song. But it has a different feeling, Cordero says, when you know the political situation in Chile and what happened to Jara: "It's very intense. It's one of the most direct and horrifying stories of retribution against musicians for being part of a political cause."

The full title of Cordero's album is Recordar: Latin American Songs Of Love and Protest, and on it the personal and political are presented as inextricable. Take the song "Macorina," originally by Mexico's Chavela Vargas, which at face value reads as a simple love song.

"She came out as a lesbian when she was 80. I don't think anybody was totally shocked. But still, in the time that she was singing 'Macorina,' it wasn't really acceptable in Mexico or Latin America to be gay," Cordero explains. "And so to sing this passionate love song about your female lover as a woman, I think, is incredibly brave. It's ultimately just a very sweet song as well — a little bit sad because, at the end, her lover leaves so nobody will know."

Recordar's songs are reminiscent of those from the Civil Rights era in the United States. While they're born out of struggle and suffering, there's joy and beauty at the same time.

"I think that's one of the roles of music making," Cordero says: "to find a way to make beauty out of difficult situations."

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Again, you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

ANI CORDERO: (Singing in Spanish).

RATH: That voice is New York's Ani Cordero. She was one of the founding members of the The Latin Rock band, Pistolera. On her new solo album, she's unplugged, but no less powerful. "Recordar" is a kind of tribute album - a tribute to the voices of dissent. These are her takes on some of Latin America's classic protest song.

CORDERO: They represent a period in Latin America and Caribbean history, when the political climate was a bit difficult.

RATH: Ani Cordero became interested in this music while she was taking a college course taught by Dr. Juan Allende.

CORDERO: Who happened to be the nephew of Chilean president, Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by Pinochet.

RATH: And that's how she learned about one of Allende's supporters - singer, songwriter and activist Victor Jara.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEJA LA VIDA VOLAR")

VICTOR JARA: (Singing in Spanish).

RATH: Jara was an ally of Allende's. But once Augusto Pinochet took over, Jara's outspoken support for the former socialist government made him a threat. He was hunted down, captured and tortured.

CORDERO: They took him to a stadium and killed him rather violently. And that stadium now bears his name.

RATH: Ani Cordero starts the album with her version of Jara's song, "Deja La Vida Volar."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEJA LA VIDA VOLAR")

CORDERO: (Singing in Spanish).

CORDERO: The words are about being in the moment and letting fear escape for a while and being in love, despite the fear. In the end, it's saying that you might experience darkness, but the sun will return.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEJA LA VIDA VOLAR")

CORDERO: (Singing in Spanish).

RATH: It's a powerful song, even knowing nothing about the context. It's a beautiful, powerful, haunting love song. But man, does it have a different feeling to it, when you know about the political context in Chile and what happened with Victor Jara.

CORDERO: Yes, it's very intense. It's one of the most direct and horrifying stories of retribution against musicians for being part of a political cause.

RATH: Were most of these songs - all of the songs - were they really dangerous for these artists to perform?

CORDERO: Yes, and I think that we, here in the states, take for granted that at the moment we're able to sing critical songs, you know. But imagine if Bruce Springsteen, when he sang that song about the New Jersey governor, got arrested and tortured for saying something against the politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACORINA")

RATH: The full title of Ani Cordero's album is "Recordar: Latin American Songs Of Love And Protest." You can't separate the personal from the political. Take the song "Macorina" - at face value, it doesn't hint protest at all. It's a love song - originally by Mexico's singer, Chavela Vargas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACORINA")

CHAVELA VARGAS: (Singing in Spanish).

CORDERO: She came out as a lesbian, when she was 80. I don't think anybody was totally shocked. But still, in the time that she was singing the "Macorina," it wasn't really acceptable in Mexico or Latin America to be gay and so to sing this passionate love song about your female lover, as a woman, I think is incredibly brave.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACORINA")

CORDERO: (Singing in Spanish).

CORDERO: It's ultimately just a very sweet song, as well. A little bit sad, because at the end her lover leaves. So nobody will know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACORINA")

CORDERO: (Singing in Spanish).

RATH: It's one of the remarkable things about this music and reminds me, in some ways, that people said the same thing about music from the Civil Rights era in the United States. That while it's born out of struggle and suffering, there's joy in this. There's so much beauty at the same time.

CORDERO: Well, I think that's one of the roles of music making is to find a way to make beauty out of difficult situations.

RATH: That's Ani Cordero, talking about her new album, "Recordar: Latin American Songs Of Love And Protest."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CORDERO: (Singing in Spanish).

RATH: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Follow us on Twitter @nprwatc and follow me. I'm @ArunRath. Tomorrow, millions of restaurant workers rely on tips for their livelihood. Is it enough?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You never know how many tips are going come in hour-to-hour, week to week month to month, day to day. And your rent and your bills don't go up and down but your tips do.

RATH: While lawmakers debate increasing the minimum wage for tipped workers, a few restaurants are doing away with tips entirely.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A person wants to go to a restaurant and drop $100 to impact someone, whether it is to praise them or to humiliate them, has no place in this restaurant because that power is taken away from them.

RATH: Working for tips in America. That's on the show tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.