Speech by Mr. Miguel Angel Estrella, at the 1st Freemuse World conference in 1998
Many artists and intellectuals throughout all times, believing that culture and art were a privileged way of transmitting aesthetic beauty, have asked themselves how to implicate their profession within the socio-political reality in which they lived. Following different ways, but each achieving a capital impact, musicians such as Bach, Händel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Moussorgsky, Bartok, writers such as Machado, Unamuno, Zola, Victor Hugo, Goethe… have done so, and with them, all those who have understood that, without liberty, there is no art but that without art there can be no liberty.
In order to speak of what I know best, I should say that South American military dictatorships have always considered artists and intellectuals as a potential danger.
At the end of the fifties and beginning of the sixties, I used to be one of the students member of the National Conservatory of Buenos Aires who were asking themselves a number of questions:
Why were the programs we had at the time the exact replica of the Paris conservatory from the 1920?
Why would music be divided into either popular or so called classical, and the first one was considered as a third class inferior product, or in any case of mediocre origin?
Why, if Mozart or Stravinsky were universal, did the greatest part of the population, that is to say the poor, have no right to listen to them?
Such questions were enough to get us accused, in spite of the fact that the majority of us were actually Christians; we got branded as communists and started to be the object of surveillance.
Fifteen years later, in the south cone of Latin America, military rules have imposed their dictatorships. Many young artists and intellectuals had set up some kind of cultural programs for the benefit of the whole population, but while doing so, they had focused their attention mainly on the poor. We were the Vatican’s children and we were trying to implement its teachings with our own actions.
Very soon, we became the object of searches and arrests as subversive elements. The south cone secret police had a model: It was designed like in the Soviet Union and it applied the same methods. Actually, we have to admit that the south cone police force had set up a most efficient cooperation. Argentineans would “vanish” into Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia or Paraguay or Chile and vice versa.
My torturers were in the habit of telling me: “We know that you are not a member of the guerrilla… but you are worst, because with your piano, your ‘charisma’, you can put the ‘negrada’ working class into your pocket. Over here, we are the Gods and we are wagging an anti-communist, anti-catholic crusade in the south cone. You, you could be rich, but you have chosen the ‘shit’ society, the negro workers, the peasants, the Indians, the poor populace… and much more of the same kind.”
To be “worst” for them was to fight against their ideology with words, music, art and culture Weapon less, but relying on the example of a life totally devoid of compromise. This meant that our battle was more a matter of contributing to the people’s education so that they could themselves hold their own destiny into their hands.
I remain convinced, as I was at the beginning of my socio-musical involvement, in the middle of the sixties, that music and art in general, that is to say culture, can bring a fundamental contribution to society.
Today, we do not have to face any more any military junta capable of bygone cruelty, fine, yet it may just depend on where you happen to be. Anyway, it does not happen any more in the vast majority of Latin American countries.
In order to serve our socio-cultural cause, we need to meet head on and tackle a number of crucial issues. In spite of the fact that “Musique Espérance” (Music Hope) – the non-governmental organisation (N.G.O.), I had created those fifteen years ago – has been able to prove that it is possible to unite art and culture in a number of development programs, which aim at a higher quality of life, I shall mention a few of the negative tendencies or drawbacks with which we have been confronted and against which we ought to be fighting.
The invasion of ephmerous subcultures of consummation, which are totally rootless and designed solely for moneymaking purposes – subcultures which propagate violence, bad taste and the objective of which is to unify thoughts so as to mondialise them by cramming down minds with an unsavoury fast-food which of course sells very well. This kind of “integration” of profitability is apparent in the music field, and signals itself by such catch words as “the look” or by “integrals” which commercial marketing laws force down onto us. Pseudo-music is being globalised according to criteria of a strictly mercantile nature, in just the same way as bad taste, alienation, poverty, indigence are mondialised.
The lack of understanding of the political class which persists into looking upon art as just a decoration, an ornament, a privilege, and not an all consuming passion. To re-gilt “the look” of a political figure, prestige campaigns are launched and fortunes are spent. But when you talk to those same politicians about any long-term social program, they grow reluctant. It does not hold any interest for them. What does hold their interest on the other hand, is what can be seen, what will come out through the television screen and have a bold impact.
Social life is in constant regression, on account of the problems inherent to the present society of our times, which generate the continuous expansion of a highly dangerous individualism. The lack of communications between neighbours and within one’s own family – there are places where couples do not even dance together any more, but each for himself or herself, locked up into a kind of autism… I mention this just to give an example of the kind of deterioration which is taking place on the level of social and familial relations.
The most powerful among the communication media do not display the interest they should for the initiatives developed by the civil society. They demonstrate or evince a morbid complicity by dealing with taboos and displaying the sores of society. Such information is occasionally broadcasted in a libertine manner which amounts more to a kind of disinformation of the public whilst diverting its attention to totally different topics. For example Clinton’s fly, the fact that Pavarotti or Placido Domingo earn millions by singing just “boleros”, or that Julio Iglesias has devalorised tango… or the issue of Michael Jackson’s fatherhood, are considered more important by such medias . But it is difficult, even practically impossible to broadcast a letter from Yehudi Menuhin addressed to President Clinton and to Saddam Hussein enjoining them to avoid war.
In this kind of political invasion of the “show business world”, it is extremely difficult to find a space in order to say that Musique Espérance and UNESCO are working together in order to create an Andin Indian culture centre which will be open to the influences of all the various cultures deeply rooted into the local history… or to find a space in order to say that, with the intervention of culture, such NGO as Musique Espérance are likely to be able to set up and implement whole development programs, or to invent some new North-South and East-West relations… or to suggest in which manner musicians could help the Chernobyl victims or participate in the rebuilding of Lebanon or other countries which have suffered wars and whose populations have been massacred.
How are the news broadcasted by those medias being selected? I shall give a single example: When democracy was re-conquered in Argentina, we were subjected to some systematic bashing up of the military dictatorships by the media. Information was essentially focused upon the morbidity and perversity of the tortures… but it was not focused on the attempted aim of the military junta. In my opinion, this information was demobilising, for one did not know how to, nor did one want to put in evidence the deep hatred of the military party, not only against the workers, the peasants and the natives indigenes, but as well against the whole fabric of the civil society.
There are integrations of all kinds racial, musical, political. In other words, intolerance, such as we can see displayed in front of our eyes every day. Even a democracy like France with the human rights tradition of that country, has fallen into the trap of extreme right.
Preconceived ideas such as: Poor are uncultured, what is the point of playing any Beethoven or Fauré to them since they will not be able to understand anything? We have been working for many years in order to flood the places where we hold our concerts with good jazz music, rock, so called classical music, rural folklore, Tango.
We want to establish a dialogue with the young people, get to know their medium of expression, try to establish with them a musical and cultural dialogue which helps them regain a sense of their own value, and create with them some long lasting links.
WHAT WE HAVE NOT YET BEEN ABLE TO DO