Pinochet's 'soundtrack to torture' made available to the public

January 5, 2015 by Kath Paddison, University of Manchester

A digital archive documenting music from the torture chambers, concentration camps and prisons of the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet is available to the public for the first time.

The online 'torture soundtrack', launching on 8 January 2015, is called Cantos Cautivos (Captive Songs) and includes songs written, sung and listened to in political detention – and the stories behind them.

It is the brainchild of Dr Katia Chornik - who herself is from Chile - a researcher at The University of Manchester's Music Department and the first scholar to investigate music under political detention in Chile.

When Pinochet seized power in 1973, the majority of the almost 40,000 political opponents imprisoned in over 1,000 detention centres suffered gruesome physical and psychological torture. Some of Pinochet's torture practices employed music and relate to CIA techniques.

Prisoners often used music as a means to cope with the harsh conditions and the uncertainty of not knowing if they would live or die. Survivors are being encouraged to upload their stories and songs to the Captive Songs website.

Some of the material on the archive are songs penned by the prisoners themselves, and in some cases recorded clandestinely in a concentration camp, like El puntúo (Cheeky Devil) and El suertúo (Lucky Devil) – all of the recordings are available to listen to.

Other stories deal with songs from the outside world. Some refer to songs sung as part of Christmas and New Year celebrations, including the traditional African-American anthem We Shall Overcome, The Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and El cigarrito by Víctor Jara, the most famous musician killed by the Pinochet regime in a detention centre.

Other titles include the renaissance Spanish madrigal De los álamos vengo, madre, the Ukranian anarchist anthem Makhnovtchina, Answer Me (popularised by the US singer Frankie Laine), Run Run se fue pa'l norte by Violeta Parra (founder of the New Song movement) and many well-known Latin American songs.

On the site the public can also read accounts of music being used as a form of torture by Pinochet's agents, such as forced singing of the Chilean National Anthem and Zamba para no morir (popularised by the Argentine icon Mercedes Sosa).

The archive will be launched at the Chilean Museum of Memory and Human Rights during an event featuring live music performed by former inmates including a choir originally founded in a detention centre and other musicians who composed and performed extensively whilst imprisoned.

Dr Chornik, whose work is funded by the Leverhulme Trust (one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK), says it is really important that the public contribute to the archive.

She said: "It's been over 40 years since the onset of the dictatorship, so the time to collect this valuable material is very limited indeed. I make an urgent appeal to witnesses scattered around the world to share their experiences in detention via the Captive Songs archive.

"I anticipate that Cantos Cautivos will grow rapidly after its launch and in the forthcoming years. It is the only archive of this kind that relates to Latin America. Only a handful of online resources on music in detention from all historical and geographical contexts currently exist."

One of the contributors is Dr Luis Cifuentes who wrote and performed extensively whilst in detention. In the 1980s he went on to complete a PhD at The University of Manchester.

He said: "This archive is of great importance because it reflects not only a very rich cultural heritage but also the ways in which the victims used their own cultural identity to overcome horrific moments."

Explore further: Google launches 'scan and match' music service

More information: The archive can be viewed at . Song entries at include inmates' accounts, lyrics and audio.

Related Stories

Pop music heritage contributes to the formation of identity

November 28, 2014

The musical rebels of the past are today's museum pieces. Pop music is increasingly penetrating heritage institutions such as museums and archives. That is apparent from the PhD research of Arno van der Hoeven. On Thursday ...

New digital music store to cater to theater fans

June 2, 2014

The digital age virtually wiped out specialty theater record stores where show-tune lovers could browse aisles bursting with cast albums and sheet music. Now some entrepreneurs are hoping to bring back such an experience—online, ...

Amazon offers digital songs to vinyl record buyers

April 3, 2013

(AP)—In an odd combination of old and new, Amazon says that every time a person buys a vinyl record from its online store, it will give that customer a digital version of the songs for free.

Recommended for you

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 05, 2015
Conservatives will love this. Both US and UK right wingers.

Both Reagan and Thatcher supported Pinochet and his murderous, fascist regime.

The biggest mistake the IRA made was failing to kill Thatcher when they had the chance. As for Reagan, he could claim he didn't know what was going on because of dementia and an IQ of around 90.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.