Today I Sing for the Sake of Singing (Hoy canto por cantar)

Music piece by:
Nydia Caro and Riccardo Ceratto
Testimony by:
Beatriz Bataszew Contreras
Experience in:

I have never been a great music listener. Nevertheless, before the coup I used to listen to Nueva Canción‘New Song’, both a social and musical movement that began in 1960s Chile and spread to other Spanish-speaking countries., especially Quilapayún and Rolando Alarcón. I also liked cumbiasColombian music genre and dance, with roots in European, Indigenous and African music traditions., to fool around. We would dance and have fun.

On the other hand, and this is more due to my family, I have always liked classical music, particularly Tchaikovsky(1840-1893) Russian composer from the Romanticism period.. It stirs important things in me. It moves me.

When they detained me I was 20 years old and studying forest engineering. The first detention centre they took me to was Venda Sexy. Many of my comrades were there.

There was a lot of music at Venda, and very loud too. For me this was noise, except for one song that is engraved in my mind; it’s by Nydia Caro: 'Hoy canto por cantar' (Today I sing just for the sake of singing).

Why is it in my mind? Because the dinosAgents of the DINA (National Intelligence Directorate), the secret police of Pinochet’s dictatorship between 1974 and 1977. amused themselves with it. They would say to us “sing”, because singing also means grassing on someone. For me, this was fresh aggression, because whenever they played this song, and they would put it on very loud, it was to pressure you to collaborate.

This is the song I remember from Venda Sexy. I have listened to it a number of times since and it is the only thing I remember as music.

The rest was noise for me because I was concentrating on other things. When I concentrate, I concentrate in silence. I manufacture the silence: I close the door, I shut myself in.

But during that period my isolation was within myself. I was concentrating on what I was going to say, what I was not going to say. That was a period when you were always alert to what could happen, and this was my main focus. What could happen in the interrogations, what happened when people arrived. I concentrated on that.

The noise was loud but I was doing my own thing. The only thing that would change the noise to music for me was this song. I have no idea how many times I listened to it. For me it was reiterative.

I knew the song from before, maybe I had heard it somewhere, perhaps in a television series, I don’t remember well. But at the Venda, it had a different meaning: the guards would sing it, they would sneer, they would jeer at the situation we were in. So that stayed with me. It is possible that I have heard that song since.

The music had the purpose of covering the screams and the hubbub. Anyone in the vicinity would have taken notice of this music playing all day.

Because we also have to remember that the culture of the time was quite respectful of neighbours: no one would think of blasting out music.

Nowadays this does happen. I think that it DINA's legacy to society and to its successors. It’s a paradox because you would make a horrible noise during the day but perhaps you were giving signals of something different to what our culture was at the time in our country.

The history of the female political prisoners was different from that of the men because it heavily emphasised sexual violence and sexual torture. Up until now, this has been denied and looked upon with indolence, from institutions to human rights organisations. We women never achieved justice and never will.


Published on: 13 September 2016

I'm empty
I feel nothing
I don’t even want to talk
and I'm singing
I’m too weary
to open my mouth
to say the same
that so many others have said
how stupid
to sing to the world
asking for love and peace
if nobody listens
to what we say
what we singers ask for
verse by verse.

So today I sing just for the sake of singing
without a reason to worry
since the problems
are each person's problems
and each one already has their song.
Today I sing just for the sake of singing
to sing, even though it hurts my heart
To me, the river or the sea are all the same
the north, the south, the cold, the warmth.

I'm empty
I feel nothing
I don’t even want to talk
and I'm singing
I’m too weary
to open my mouth
to say the same
that so many others have said
people want
to hear songs
to forget
the pain of our land,
what use are
our dreams
if a song
can never stop the war.