translation & words//amanda finnegan photo//paz ramirez
At the beginning of this summer I was fortunate enough to spend a month in the strikingly beautiful and welcoming country of Chile. I went to Chile as a volunteer and spent two weeks assisting English teachers in the Hermanos Matte grade school in Santiago. The next two weeks I spent in Vina del Mar, teaching students in a technical college (DUOC) about American culture, or at least my understanding of American culture. But my goals abroad weren’t just to share American traditions with Chilean kids–I wanted to learn about Chilean culture as well.
I first met Álvaro Solar through the Internet, Gmail to be specific, in my quest to find bands to see during my time in Chile. Álvaro Solar, Francisco Marin, Andrés Acevedo, and Benjamín Varas form the band Protistas. Protistas are a garage rock, new wave, and psychedelic rock influenced four-piece based in Santiago, Chile. (Their new EP, Nortinas War, is available to download free.) Fortunately Protistas had a show scheduled at Club Batuta, located in the Plaza Nunoa area of Santiago, during my stay in the city.
With my host mother’s paper and marker map (as well as her umbrella) in hand, I set out to find Club Batuta, where Protistas were playing that night. Luckily my bus driver was kind enough to tell me when we had reached my destination. The doormen at Club Batuta were really excited to see my American passport.
Protistas kept the crowd engaged with their enthusiastic, energetic and at times comfortingly mellow, performance. After the show Alvaro and I made plans to meet the next day to have a more lengthy conversation and I walked into the rain, feeling warm and content from Protistas’s set.
The next day, while waiting for Alvaro to meet me at the cafe, all I could think about was how nervous I was to interview him in Spanish, something I’d never done before. The following words are the result of my first interview in Spanish (!) and I’ve tried my hardest to translate them in a way that best reflects Alvaro’s sentiments.
How did Protistas come into existence?
Well we’ve been friends for many years; in fact, we’ve known each other since childhood. We’ve all been in various bands with each other and with other people. Our drummer played guitar before he played the drums and, for that reason, doesn’t have a typical style of drumming. We’ve been playing together as Protistas for about 1.5 years.
How would you describe Protistas’s sound?
I think that Protistas has a simple and fundamental sound. We don’t want the songs to be hard or complicated to play so we can play and enjoy ourselves as if we were children. I think it’s music for doing things in the home (like washing dishes or making love) while the sun comes through the window and makes everything look prettier. This always presents the idea of refuge, a warm space, sensual and melancholy.
On your Myspace you have download links for two EPs (EP 1 and the Mi Pieza EP), have you released physical copies of either of these EPs?
We have not. We are working on another EP that will be released sometime in the fall. It is about twenty-seven minutes long. We also plan on releasing an LP sometime in the near future, hopefully before the end of this year.
Do you plan on self-releasing the EP or are you working with a record label?
We are on a label called Cazador. It’s independent and quite small; there are only 6 bands that make up the label.
Are there a lot of independent labels in Chile?
Big ones? No. Smaller ones, like Cazador, do exist but they are not that common. The market for independent/DIY labels and music just isn’t that large in Chile. In the United States, however, ‘hype’ forms around a lot of the independent bands. Here in Chile you don’t really get those ‘buzz bands’. Take Woods for example, a band that is relatively small, very ‘indie’. They’re small but they can make a living playing music and being on a small label just because there are a lot of people in the United States who enjoy and embrace ‘independent’ music. Chile has much less people than the United States so obviously there is a much smaller audience to appeal to. We don’t want to be only well known in Chile, instead we want to be well known in Latin America, to a larger audience. We want to be successful and respected not only within Chile but also within Mexico, Argentina etc.
Is it difficult to musically enter into other countries? Is there a music community that crosses country lines in Latin America?
It’s not that large, which makes becoming musically recognized in other countries more difficult, but it does exist. For example, we might go to Buenos Aires, Argentina at the end of the year to play. The internet definitely makes it easier for people to connect musically. The internet has made it possible for people in other countries, like Brazil for instance, to listen to our music. Ideally we’d like to establish in more countries, like Mexico and the United States. The music scene in Mexico is much stronger and has more of a presence than most music communities in Latin America. Another local band from Santiago, Astro, has begun to have a presence in the Mexican music scene and that is very exciting for us.
You’d previously spoken about various Chilean bands that are beginning to sing in English. Do you think that it’s easier for bands that sing in English to be successful in other countries? Do you, as Protistas, only want to sing in Spanish?
Many of the bands I like are from the US and they sing in English. Sometimes I don’t understand everything they want to say (sometimes I don’t understand what bands are trying to say in Spanish!) but I do recognize an idea that i Identify with or a sentence that I like a lot. For example, I really like Arcade Fire lyrics.
I think that language is quite important and directly affects the music. The English language is filled with monosyllables (seven is the only poly-syllable in the numbers one through ten) and I think this affects the melodies and the way of singing. I agree that the significance of the words in a song is secondary to the power of a melody. It’s true that here in Chile many bands have begun to favor singing in English over singing in their native tongue. In general, they explain this by stating that English is the language of all the bands they admire. There are Chileans who don’t like this; I think it’s good because it creates new forms of musical expression, and, like I said, the language determines the music.
I think it’s highly likely that songwriting in English helps expose songs to a greater number of people worldwide. (Exposure to songs in Mexican Spanish influenced the type of meter many Chilean bands use in their songwriting.) If you sing in English I think there are many more places that will be familiar with you. I wish it wasn’t like that and ‘globalization’ would consider languages other than English.
It’s strange but with Protistas it happened that at the beginning when we were working on a new song I created sentences in English only when I couldn’t think of anything in Spanish. I know how to speak English but at the same time I can disconnect my mind and use sentences without any real meaning in English to fill empty spaces in a song. Anyway the only songs in English we sing live are covers of songs we like. For example, we currently play ‘Strange’ by Galaxie 500 and we want to cover a song by Beat Happening called ‘Teenage Caveman’.
To learn more about Protistas, visit their MySpace page. The band’s latest EP, Nortinas War, is available as a free download at the Cazador website.