I first laid my hands on a quena (Andean flute) when I was nine years old. It was resplendently fragile and lyrical. My passion for this instrument was immediate, or rather, the quena chose me. Five years later, aged 14, I had already become the quena player of a quartet in San Antonio.
When I was 16 years old, the Chilean Armed Forces, violating the Constitution, took possession of the country, and with it, the music and instruments – particularly that which had been symbolic of the Salvador Allende presidency. Panpipes, charangos and quenas went from being from the "sonorous trinity" into the void of oblivion, prohibited for being subversive.
At 18, and still legally a minor, I was kidnapped, tortured in Villa Grimaldi, and then thrown into the illegal detention camps run by Pinochet’s military dictatorship.
There were four pavillions In the Tres Álamos concentration camp in Santiago: "Pavilion A", "Pavilion B", the "Women’s Pavilion" and the section called "Cuatro Álamos".
During my incarceration in the "Pavilion A" of Tres Álamos, a quena landed in my hands. I don’t remember how.
I had been kidnapped and imprisoned for at least eight months when the following occurred. Bored and desolate, I’d go out onto the narrow courtyard in the afternoon and play the quena, always improvising melodies: long notes, silences. . . staccato notes and then longer notes. . . perhaps a huayno (Quechuan dance), more typical of the quena.
It was already late spring in Santiago and the dry, translucent, warm air made the melodies travel far beyond "Pavilion A" without me noticing. I don’t know how the message reached me from the Women’s Pavilion, which was considerably removed from where I was. The message more or less said the following: "Tell the man who’s playing the quena, which from here can be heard clearly. . . to continue playing".
Perhaps some of those who were with me will remember that, in the evening, almost at sunset, I made the quena sing in the Tres Álamos concentration camp. The laconic guards who watched me from the towers were unable to decipher the contraband of symbols which, driven by the wind, flew freely to the captive ears of the "Women’s Pavilion".
Published on: 06 January 2015
Quique Cruz. Launch of Cantos Cautivos, Museum of Memory, 2015.
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