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FOLK : Uraco: Chileans Make Music Their Battlefield

February 20, 1992|MARY ANNE PEREZ | Mary Anne Perez is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

Their musical instruments--the charango, the zampona, the quena and the tiple-- are symbols of a culture and history that emanate from the sounds of Latin America.

Under the Chilean military regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the instruments also represented a cultural era that officials wanted to leave in the past. They were a direct connection to a time when music and art flourished, before the military coup in 1973 that led to 16 1/2 years of brutal rule by death squads, when the term "desaparecidos," or the disappeared, became familiar. More than 2,000 deaths or disappearances have been documented as occurring during this time.

By merely playing these wind and string instruments in public, members of the group Uraco possibly risked their lives and livelihoods (while not exactly illegal, playing the instruments was strongly frowned upon by officials). Although they have come out of the Pinochet era physically unscathed, members incorporate music and lyrics into their performances that are more than tinged with the memories of recent years.

They will be at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library on Friday for two performances in a tour that marks their first visit to the United States. The six-member group was brought here by the Latin American Cultural Center in San Diego, which is hosting its performances throughout Southern California.

The musicians said that the brutality of the Pinochet regime actually served to inspire them. "It acted as a source of motivation in a way," said Miguel Ibarra.

Ibarra plays the charango, a small guitar originally built on the shell of an armadillo with 10 double strings, and the tiple, another guitar that has four strings with three strands each. "Sometimes we included in our repertoire some songs that were well-known of groups that were in exile," he explained. "We were really motivated to try harder."

Their songs also include lines from poets then in exile, and they dedicate performances to Victor Jara, a well-known musician and playwright who was assassinated. One of their compositions, "Ausente" (Absent), weaves in one of Jara's songs.

The group, which has been together 11 years, also gives thanks to its former director, Nelson (Pirincho) Vergara, who was incarcerated and tortured under the military regime and who died in 1990 of heart problems.

"In general, all of the people involved in cultural activities were targeted--poets, musicians. Many were arrested and many took asylum in foreign embassies while the military promoted their own culture of fantasy," Ibarra said.

"The important thing is we are here, and we are making music," said director Sergio Oyarce, who plays a more conventional guitar and the tiple. "Each person can make this world better, and music is our turf, our battlefield. We are there. We are doing our job."

Pinochet stepped down as president in 1990 after Patricio Aylwin's civilian administration was voted in. Pinochet remains as the commander in chief of Chile's army.

What: Uraco.

When: Friday, Feb. 21, at 7 and 9 p.m.

Where: San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano.

Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway south to Ortega Highway, turn right (west) to El Camino Real and another right (north) to the library.

Wherewithal: $2 donation.

Where to Call: (714) 493-1752.

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