The sound of the sea was carried over the cabins of the Ritoque Prison Camp by the wind. It was the daily music given to us as gift by the ocean. Gone were the torture centres, the cruellest torments seemed distant, and that perception helped us to reconstruct ourselves. Ritoque, Puchuncaví, Tres Álamos and other mass prisoner centres were seething places of activity. Despite the shortcomings and the actual fact of being in prison, movement was gushing from everywhere: courses, crafts, sports, debates, chess, theatre, literature, songs… life was throbbing after we’d lived through the worst nightmares. To go back to them was always a possibility, so much so that some of us did have to go back to the DINA's torture centres.
That month in the summer of 1975, not so far off, the Viña del Mar Song Festival was taking place. Our prison camp, resembling a coastal village, decided to follow suit. That was how the prisoners organised the Ritoque Song Festival. My family had sent me a guitar. Improvising, I came across a few chords that sounded good to me, and I used them to create a melody. It was starting material. Armando, a medical student who was a good guitarist, contributed arpeggios and musical phrases with a nod to jazz. Manuel chipped in on his recorder with an arrangement that sounded interesting. Pedro, who was very experienced in percussion on his bongo, provided the rhythm. Jaime wrote the lyrics of the song. At length, he and I produced the vocals.
'Se escucha muy lejos' (You Hear It from Far Away), was the title of the song. The lyrics and the music, driven by the instruments, gave life to a song that departed from the traditional music of the Chilean left of the time. Not meaning to equate us to them, I would say that our song was closer to the vanguard represented by bands such as Los Blops or Los Jaivas. The group we formed needed a name, which we borrowed from a star in the constellation of Orion, which glowed imposingly in the celestial equator on those summer nights. The group had a name: Bellatrix.
When the day arrived, before the audience, this music sounded innovative. When we finished our turn on stage, there was a massive applause and the jury decided that 'Se escucha muy lejos' should be the winner of the prize in the International Category. I can't quite remember - was it perhaps Luis Corvalán? At any rate, one of the miscreants, as we called the 'UP hierarchy' (Unidad Popular, that is, People's Unity), who were separated from us in the concentration camp but were allowed to take part in the cultural activities, was the person who presented us with the award: a medal made from a coin and displaying a seagull, Ritoque's Seagull.
Our group continued to add new songs to its repertoire, including some by one Silvio Rodríguez, then not very well known. A few days later, while I was washing in the camp bathroom, a political leader, whom I respected and still do, said to me in a solemn tone: "Comrade Puelma, with that music you can’t put up resistance." I felt then that our song may be captive, but the fact that it aroused suspicion revealed it was also captivating.
Published on: 04 October 2015
Recording made in 2015 by Ignacio Puelma (piano) and family. Drawing by Miguel Lawner, 1975.
of thick walls, wires and bars.
I wish I could sing to the children that run and sleep
who laughing kick over sand castles.
There is always an "I wish I could" trying to fly,
always a bubble to chain it.
Two voices wish they could sing to life
it's only they wish they could, they can’t be able to.
From a distance you can hear the sound of a child,
the cry of a dream, you can hear from a distance.
You are left with hope, a hot kiss
in the midst of abysses, pain and sweat
you are left with memories, pale smile
amid voices that command silence
there are many who wish they could, so much hope
so many fears, kisses in the air
that a very hoarse cry from many throats
breaks the bubbles, soars through the spaces.
From a distance you can hear the cry and the children
you can hear very far away
the sound of the dreams, you can hear it very far away.
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