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Song of the week: Gracias a la vida

Secondary Categories: ChileFeature

US readers will probably associate this seminal Latin American anthem with Joan Baez, who brought it to America in 1974. But the song was actually written by the legendary Chilean songwriter and ethnomusicologist Violeta Parra in 1966.

Parra was at the forefront of the musical movement known as Nueva Cancion. Far more than just a musical genre, Nueva Cancion was committed to social good and it became a powerful political force in its own right. Parra dedicated her life to rediscovering Chile’s ancient indigenous traditions and was very involved in left wing politics of the day. Neuva Cancion has been credited with toppling dictatorships throughout Latin America and also in Spain and Portugal, and although this may be a bit of a stretch there is no doubt that it played a significant role in shifting people’s mindsets.

Although Parra did regularly perform the song herself, the version here is sung by the Argentine Mercedes Sosa, fondly known as “the voice of the voiceless ones.” And what a voice it was… The combination of Parra’s life-affirming lyrics and Sosa’s seismic voice never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

Every single word drips with poignant meaning, but I’ll leave you with my favorite verse.

Gracias a la Vida que me ha dado tanto me ha dado la marcha de mis pies cansados con ellos anduve ciudades y charcos, playas y desiertos montaсas y llanos y la casa tuya, tu calle y tu patio.

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