“I have never been in London before”, stated Pascuala Ilabaca, but she quickly fell in love with the ‘Big Smoke’. “I really like the taxis – the black cabs. Also the weather is not bad as they say. It rains a lot I know, but it reminds me of Valparaiso [Pascuala’s home coastal city in Chile], windy and unstable, always changing”.
Walking just few metres next to Pascuala I see her continuous state of revelation at being in a different country. Each time she glances around she sees the extraordinary in the ordinary, finding joy in the smallest things.
Pascuala and her band Fauna are one of the most interesting new acts from the prolific but still remote (for a European audience) Chilean new generation of singer-songwriters.
“We have played together for more than ten years now and have become a family. Jaime, who is the drummer of the band, is also my husband, but I have a wonderful relationship with everyone”
Despite their youth the band is already enjoying a Golden Era in Chile, but they are also ready to invade the world music scene.
“They gave us the title of world beat, but I don’t know if that is the best way to reflect my music. For me, what we play is more like fusion because there are a lot of elements from world traditional music mixed with all the music we like”.
Undoubtedly they are one of the most interesting groups amongst, as Pascuala likes to call it “the generation of ’85, a group of Chilean artists born around 1985”.
That was a period during which Chileans no longer had to fear, when they could eventually start to think and dream freely without the dictatorship scarecrow breathing down their neck. Despite the vitality of her spirit and magnetic gift of gab, the subject of a troubled Chile is indeed the one that lies at Pascuala’s heart, and this topic is where we started our chat. Her country and its recent history are one of the starting points when it comes to her inspiration.
“The period in which we are living in Chile is really crucial for the development of the country. After years of dictatorship, we have finally been able to develop our culture freely, with no enforcements”.
Her voice is earnest and open to a hopeful feeling.
“Chileans finally can fear no more. I remember when I was a child that people were still talking about the miedo (fear) they felt, about the miedo they experienced: it was an ordinary, habitual feeling for them during the Pinochet dictatorship. But today it belongs to the past. We have finally overcome it!”
Music has intensely helped and facilitated this transition. But as people suffered, music suffered also during those decades.
“my country has always been really musical. Chileans love music. You can walk down the street in any city and see that everybody listens to music with headphones. But until ten years ago it wasn’t like this. People couldn’t listen to Chilean music”.
She remembers everything as if it was yesterday.
“People couldn’t listen to Inti Illimani, to Violeta Parra, to Victor Jara because they were banned by the dictatorship. Young people didn’t listen to the old musicians too because the only music allowed was the one approved by the government”.
But, as Pascuala proudly affirms, Chile is recently ‘born again’.
“A lot of things are changing nowadays. For example, if you look at the music charts and the most played artists by Chilean radios you will find that between the first five positions, three of them are usually Chilean artists”.
So music in Chile is livelier than ever.
“There are a lot of new bands and many young musicians who are becoming really famous among Chileans. People are starting to listen to Chilean music more and more, and that’s really important because we have a really interesting scene. I’m talking about artists like Chinoy, Damien Rodriguez, Camila Moreno, Anita Tijoux or older ones like Congreso. I mentioned Congreso because I think that they are a very important band for Chile. I feel like a flower bud from their tree myself since they come from Valparaiso too”.
As well as being Chilean Pascuala Ilabaca is a reflection on her hometown too.
“Valparaiso is a city that loves to explore and experiment. It is also alternative and underground. For example there are two electronic music festivals there. It is very different from Santiago [the capital] because Santiago is more centralizing. Santiago is where all the producers, labels and studios are, so musicians always tend to end up there. But ‘Valpa’ is livelier and there is also an important and varied independent music scene”.
Pascuala took her first musical steps in Valpa. She started playing in a local punk band there and studied music at the Conservatory and the Catholic University. Then the world unfolded before her eyes. She initially looked to India to develop her musicianship.
“I moved there for the first time with my family. I was eleven years old and I was literally charmed by that country. So years later I decided to go back with Jaime, my husband. We spent one year in Varanasi where I explored and learnt the many faces of Indian improvisation. When I was in Chile I felt trapped by Western music education – too serious, ruled and balanced, with no room for free-spirited arrangements. But once in India I finally realized that it was possible to learn music in a different way, with different names, using different paths. That has really helped me develop my music”.
Today Pascuala’s an accomplished singer, songwriter, pianist and accordion player, but singing is her main thing.
“I feel that I can express myself better though my voice. When I sing I can interpret my lyrics and in this way send messages to my audience. With my voice I can also try to reflect the soul of other artists who have influenced me, like Violeta Parra, Alvaro Peña and Victor Jara”.
They are artists who have deeply touched Pascuala Ilabaca’s music. Her more recent work ‘Me Saco el Sombrero’ pays homage to these musicians and the poetess Gabriela Mistral. However, it is probably Violeta Parra with whom Pascuala feels most connected.
“The memory and legacy of Violeta is like a nest for young Chilean musicians. Her figure is still like that of a mother, a presence to whom we can go back to and feel safe and who can inspire our music. She was a really strong and complex character and I think of her as a patron saint”.
But Pascuala’s influences go beyond the musical sphere.
“My parents are visual artists and I’m the only musician in my family. Because of this I’ve always felt connected with other artistic disciplines. I’ve always tried to use sparks coming from different disciplines and convert them into music. I think that we are surrounded by dancing ghosts that can be sound images, mirroring other images. I’m thinking about the image of Frida Kalho, who has always deeply influenced me. She has a visual image but no music, so every time I see her image I offer her music and sound too”.
Meanwhile, in Pascuala’s next album project ‘Reloj’, she introduces other two crucial themes: time and memory.
“Reloj is a record composed of original songs which talks about the concept of time and its interpretations. I gave it this title [‘the clock’] because most of the songs talk about it: an artifact handmade by men that we put on top of towers, like here in London. From on top of these towers it rules the life of men. On the other hand, men also have an inner rhythm that doesn’t fit with the one imposed by society. Hence, on the album there are a lot of different perceptions of time and memory. There are three songs that talk about what remains of other eras found in the Atacama Desert, the mummies they found there for instance, or the bodies of the miners who died in the desert, or those of the desaparecidos that were buried there. There are also many songs which sing about memories which are buried, but which we have to unearth, to rediscover them”.
Unfortunately time has been a tyranny on this occasion. Pascuala Ilabaca and her band Fauna have to leave, heading to Manchester for their first UK gig and leaving us with captivating images of an evolving influential artist and an anticipation of their imminent concert in London.