Next Wednesday marks 40 years since the military coup in Chile and the murder of Victor Jara, the exceptional Chilean singer-songwriter who originally inspired the biennial El Sueno Existe festival.
While its focus was to gain a profounder understanding of Jara’s songs and the historical context in which they were written, there were some excellent political sessions too.
Victor Figueroa Clark, who’s just written a book on Allende and his Popular Unity government, along with academic Francisco Dominguez and other Chileans, painted a vivid picture of the excitement and optimism of the three years up to 1973 when so much changed for the better and ordinary people had a real chance to participate in creating a more just and happy society.
Although the military dictatorship of Pinochet destroyed all this and created misery and terror for 17 years, the positive experience of those Popular Unity years continues to inspire, as the festival title recognises.
The political sessions and music were more integrated than previously — the struggles of the indigenous Mapuche people were given voice, alongside the campaign against the cuts in Britain — and there was a real sense that the heart as well as the head must be engaged if political change is ever to be achieved.
Wonderful performances from Corina Piatti, the band Voces del Sur and many other musicians gave a chance for all to dance, sing and socialise.
The opportunity for Latins to meet up with friends from other parts of the country in such a beautiful place as Machynlleth in a relaxed family atmosphere is one of the great achievements of the festival.
As a stage for activists, historians, musicians, singers, writers, poets with their assorted energies, consciences, knowledges and skills — all committed to Jara’s vision acted out in those three short years — El Sueno is totally unique.
For some it’s history. For others a lesson.
But all had their say in this home-made fetival in a town of just over 2,000 souls.
“It’s a great mix of music, dance and politics, really powerful and important. Just what Victor Jara believed in,” one participant said. How right they were.
El Sueno Existe is one of many events commemorating the events of 1973 across Britain and next week there is a picket of the Chilean embassy in London on Wednesday September 11, the 40th anniversary of the coup, details available at www.chile40yearson.org.