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Soundtrack to the Start of Classes

March 13, 2019

One night I sat down to dinner, my host dad’s computer set up in front of us on the kitchen table. “Time to watch some Chilean music!” He exclaimed. Of course, the first videos on the queue showed my host mom, singing in front of a jazz quartet. Her full voice floated around us as we ate humitas (similar to tamales) and ensalada chilena (chopped tomatoes and onions with cilantro), and sipped Carmenere. Next up, Joe Vasconcellos’ Hijo del Sol Luminoso, Chico Trujillo’s playful cumbia Loca, and Movimiento Original’s hip-hop fusion Natural. Ana Tijoux’s Sacar la Voz now feels particularly relevant in light of the recent march for International Women’s Day, during which the city streets filled with jubilant women with face paint and bandanas covering their mouths, much like in Tijoux’s music video. Every musician seemed to remind my host dad of three more, and he would enthusiastically jump up after each to search another, encouraging me to listen closely to the lyrics.

Music is everywhere here. We arrived just before the start of the Viña del Mar music festival, which is a national sensation—Marc Anthony, Bad Bunny, the Backstreet Boys, and of course the performers that were boo’ed off of the stage were constant topics of conversation during the week of the festival. Walking home, I’m beginning to recognize the reggaetón around me, Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi playing through open car windows. I love stumbling upon musicians in the streets—on top of Cerro Santa Lucia, a guitar player with a harmonica alternated between Latin music and ACDC. On the painted streets of Santiago Centro, six violinists made up a mini orchestra. In an alley in the coastal town of Valparaíso, a trio played among the brilliantly colored street art. And I know my Spanish is improving when I can understand the performers in my metro car!

I’ve been able to see my host mom perform live twice so far. First, at the Santiago Club de Jazz, and second, on top of Cerro San Cristobal. On Sundays, many main roads in the city close for bikers and joggers, so my walk from the metro to the hill was peaceful. I hiked with friends up the small mountain and followed the sound of my host mom’s voice to a beautiful wood-paneled center looking out on the city. She ended her set with the classic Quizás, and the audience got up to dance. Afterward, we basked in the sun and ate a picnic lunch before taking the cable car down to enjoy the panoramic view.

Even at the campus of the Universidad Católica, groups perform in the grass as students lounge, eat, and read around them. The campus where I am taking classes, San Joaquin, is sprawling and magnificent, filled with sculptures, parks, and fountains. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve discovered new buildings! My first day, I took the wrong express train and arrived fifteen minutes late to the class, Music in Chile and Latin America. Despite the stress, when the professor called on me to describe a painting of indigenous instruments, I was somehow able to do so with my limited vocabulary. At the UC nursing school, I attended my first day of Intercultural Health, and presented for myself and two Chilean students as to what we hoped to get out of the class. Sitting among students chatting in Spanish is exciting and challenging, and my ear is adapting and memorizing just as it does when learning music.

My dinner of musical education ended with a proclamation from my host dad: “But above all of these, the real base of music, my absolute favorite…is this.” I waited, ready to discover the best Chilean artist of all time.

Janis Joplin filled the screen.

“Claro,” I responded. Of course. Music always seems to transcend language, generation, and culture. We watched together as she belted out Summertime.

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