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Boston Globe Music Review: Sergio Reyes. "A Tribute to Victor Jara"

The Boston Globe. Tuesday, September 16, 1997
Music Review: Sergio Reyes. "A Tribute to Victor Jara"
At: Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center
Friday night (9/12/97)

Reyes sings for a hero, and for the cause

By Alisa Valdes, Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE - He is a rare revolutionary flower, Cambridge's Sergio Reyes is. With his bell-clear voice and passionate way with the acoustic guitar, Reyes could perform often. But he does not, because he says he only feels the need to play at politically significant events -- at a picket line, on International Workers Day, or, as was the case Friday, in remembrance of a slain political hero.

Reyes, accompanied by Ruskin Vaughn on percussion and Meredith West on piano, performed a touching tribute to Victor Jara, a 35- year-old Chilean folk singer who died at the hand of the government of Augusto Pinochet when Pinochet took control of the country in September 1973.

Though the songs were all in Spanish, biographical notes and narration were included in English, between each song, poetically spoken by Luz Marina Tovar.

The three musicians and Tovar all dressed in black, and a black curtain provided the background. The only bit of color was a large banner of a block print featuring three workers, their fists raised defiantly.

Reyes grew up in rural Chile, and was inspired to learn guitar by Jara's visits to town. Years later, Reyes was imprisoned for his student activism. Unlike Jara, however, he was able to escape and has been living in exile here, where he works as an administrative manager.

As evidenced by his impassioned performance, Reyes has forgotten neither Chile nor Jara. Sitting on a chair, guitar in his lap, Reyes squeezed his eyes shut as he sang. At times his powerful voice fell to a quivering whisper. West listened attentively, dotting the sparse musical landscape with her delicate cadences. Some in the audience wept openly.

The show was standing room only. It began and ended with original compositions by Reyes, both dedicated to Jara, the last one an anguish ode to the limitations of words: "Song, how imperfect you are."

The other 18 songs were Jara's compositions, well received by the audience, many of whom were members of a local organization, Latinos for Social Change, the event's sponsors. At the end of the show, Reyes received a standing ovation with many fists raised in solidarity.

Most of the Jara songs were of similar tempo and mood -- slow and melancholy, in the "nueva cancion" tradition. One notable up- tempo exception was "A Cuba," a song Jara wrote to revolutionary Cubans.

Jara's version of "If I had a Hammer" details his impressions of the fledgling Chicano civil right movement in the United States. Tovar said Jara considered Latino political movements in the United States to be immature. "All over this country," the song goes, "beware of danger."

Reyes said that Jara's lyrics have little meaning unless they are heard by those who most need to hear them. He pointed out that many of the issued faced by today's urban poor are, in his opinion, not so different from those he and Jara addressed in Chile 20 years ago.