Chilean Popular Poetry and Biblical Psalms

Martinez, Chile, Santiago Figueroa
Santiago Figueroa. Folklorist, researcher and expert in popular music.

by Fernanda Martinez Varela, MA scholar at MFA in Creative Writing in Spanish. 

Shortly after arriving in Chile, I went to the public library of Doñihue in order to search for bibliographic material and, fortunately, there I met Santiago Figueroa Torres; a folklorist, researcher and expert in popular music. Talking informally while drinking coffee, I explained to him my thoughts about this investigation and he gave me his vision as an expert on the subject. Consequently, aided by this chance, his insights have served me as a guide for reading the bibliographic material found and redefining my research question.

What similarities exist between the Cantus to the divine cultivated in Chile and the Christian psalms in the Latin American version of the Catholic Bible? This is the question the present research will try to answer. For this purpose, in addition to ponder on some similarities, I will analyze and contrast two songs by the Chilean musician Violeta Parra (Maldigo del alto cielo and Volver a los 17) with the psalms 143 and 148.

From a general overview, the Cantus to the divine and the biblical psalms are poems composed to be sung, as the word psalms indicates (heb. Mizmôr). The song is accompanied with string instruments (guitarrón in the Cantus to the divine; lyre, harp and zither in the biblical psalms), these being mentioned in the sacred scripture (Ps. : 33, 43 and 57). Moreover, unlike the Cantus to the divine, wind and percussion instruments are integrated in the psalms.

On the other hand, if we consider the word as creator of reality, we can observe that in both types of discourse the language has a functionality. According to speech acts, in the declaration a reality is created through language. For religious people, prayer is the instrument to establish a direct dialogue with the creator. For ancient cultures, it is necessary to invoke rain to ensure a healthy agriculture. For the psalms, words are vehicles to transmit human experiences so that others, in the same situation, can use them. However, for Violeta Parra, the power of the word as a creator of reality also had a more practical and urgent sense. She takes the guitar and sings through the streets to earn her daily livelihood in a context of economic scarcity. For this reason, it is necessary to deepen the functionality of the discourse present in the Cantus to the divine and in the biblical psalms as a starting point for the analysis.

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