The pub is filled with the raucous laughter and banter of friends, who are enjoying a pint before the weekend. The focus is on each other, and not on the musicians who take the stage and are entering the cacophony with their Latin jams. These performers include band backing Canadian-Chilean Marco Claveria, whose Cuban-inspired songs blending his experiences in Canada and Chile fill the Irish pub. One might call these songs Latin music or world music, the latter a term Claveria dislikes since it assumes the homogeneity of music that is not mainstream. He echoes Lark Clark, a CKUA host, in asserting “it’s not world music, it’s music.” Though the assumptions of the word are inadequate, “world music” is sort of fitting for Claveria because he uses his own multinational interactions to bring forth music that transcends traditional boundaries of nation and state.
A Chilean-Canadian musician, Claveria’s first instrument was the bombo legüero, a traditional Argentinian drum. From there, he moved to the guitar, taking private lessons while learning about traditional Chilean musical styles. Upon coming to Canada, he increased his musical repertoire by purchasing an electric guitar, something very expensive in Chile at the time. He played his electric guitar in many Canadian bands and during his time at Grant MacEwan.
As a boy, Claveria was exposed to Nueva Cancion, a music movement in Chile that emerged in the 1960s, dedicated to developing music that incorporated Chilean folklore and traditional styles with politically and socially relevant lyrics. This music was particularly popular among university students including Claveria’s older brothers, also guitarists. However, after the military coup in 1973, the music was driven underground. Nueva Cancion was headed by Violeta Parra, a musician who travelled around Chile recording folk songs and writing powerful socially-charged songs about Chile.
Claveria’s lyrical style is different than Parra’s, but their common technique of writing about issues that matter to them are elaborated in a way to have relevance to many people.
Claveria sees Parra as “a woman that really suffered and was really saddened by… life, injustice, and she didn’t get the world… But everything she sang about were experiences that she [had].”
While he is concerned about social injustice around the world as well as within Canada, Claveria struggles with how to address that in his music. He doesn’t write about the struggles of Syrian refugees or Native American women in Canada because these are not experiences which he has had – how can he properly represent them? He prefers to address injustice through his actions, like buying a homeless person lunch. These decisions are reflected in his songs, such as “Marginal,” a song that was written after he spoke with a homeless boy in Edmonton to find out how his life turned into begging for money. Claveria wants to know what happens to people who are marginalized by society because, he says, “in a certain way, we are responsible for them being in that situation.” However, he wonders if it is his job to make music that expresses these concerns.
Latin America has had music at the heart of many revolutions and social controversies – Nueva Cancion in Chile, Tropicalia and MPB in Brazil in the 1960s, and narcocorridos in Mexico addressing the drug trade. Claveria sees poverty level as a major factor in uniting people for social change that differs from Chile to Canada.
“In Latin American societies, the struggles that people go through affect [many] more people than it does [in Canada]. There are many more poor people so of course they will unite. The New Song [Nueva Cancion] is so popular in Chile because the issues are relevant to more people.”
Claveria says that he prefers to write about life questions that he feels people from anywhere can relate to. He has always written in Spanish, but is considering singing a few songs in English on his next album. A friend told Claveria that his music was great, but he couldn’t understand anything. Claveria is a bit skeptical towards this claim because he knows that you can understand the emotional aspect of a song without speaking the same language as the artist. However, he wants people everywhere to be able to identify with the intended messages of his music.
Claveria is currently working on a “Canadianized” album that fuses Latin and Celtic music. Though it may seem strange geographically to work these traditions together, there are many bands, such as Salsa Celtica, who have recognized this mix. Claveria says the time signatures are compatible with his style of Chilean influenced Cuban music, but what he really likes about Celtic music is the storytelling aspect. Especially with politically-charged songs, musicians often write music full of metaphors and allegories. This was particularly the case during Latin American dictatorships where music was censored and people could not criticize the government outright. Claveria sees Celtic lyrics as being “right to the point,” something that works for his style and intention to relate to as many people as possible. In this Celtic-Latin music, Claveria is planning to sing a few songs in English, though he jokes that if he sings in English he will have to sing in Mandarin, French, Italian and Hindi as well.
He strives to write about experiences and struggles that people can feel regardless of space or time.
In one of his songs, “Patria Mía, Patria Vieja” (“My Fatherland, Old Country”), Claveria describes his feelings upon returning to Chile after 20 years and realizing that even though he felt Canadian, his roots still have a big influence on who he identifies as today. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, the music has a sort of nostalgic yet peaceful quality: a quiet afternoon as you sit with a cup of tea remembering the daily life of your childhood neither sorrowfully nor joyfully, but acknowledging what it was.
This sort of musical experience is not isolated to the struggles of a Chilean in Edmonton; it’s something that everyone can identify with – realizing the ties to your past. This sort of lyrical quality is something that Claveria strives for: articulating an experience that he’s had in such a way that others can appropriate that musical emotion onto their own experiences to connect with the song. In this way, music becomes a communal voice, a heteroglossic form birthed by a musician but imbued with different people’s experiences, coming to have many meanings through its appropriation in many ways.
Claveria wears a Che Guevara necklace made by his uncle, which is “a reminder that it’s about more than just me.” The necklace signifies him as someone who cares about humanity, but is also a reminder of his Chilean history and specifically his family. It is a symbol that has international significance, but also personal meaning. These levels of signification are reminiscent of the music Claveria creates; both his music and the necklace have what seems to be a specific message, but are recreated through individual experiences and the ideas invoked by it, not just a reminder of a single man.
Claveria often performs in Edmonton, particularly at O’Byrnes Irish Pub on Whyte Ave. I saw him performing with a group on piano, congas, maracas and bass with Claveria singing and alternating between the Cuban tres (a small guitar with a more metallic sound and strings arranged in pairs) and the güiro (a cylindrical percussion instrument with grooves on the sides that are rubbed with a stick). In addition to his own compositions, Claveria tries to reach a broader audience through renditions of well-known Latin American songs such as “The Girl from Ipanema.” While the music fits in the Irish pub that attracts a variety of live music, it will be interesting to see if people respond differently to any of the Latin-Celtic fusions that Claveria is working on. I feel this artist represents a positive image of our country as a medley of nationalities and musical styles blended to create a unique, yet practical and relevant repertoire.
Claveria will be playing again at O’Byrnes on December 18th — please go out and listen to this World Music Awards Winner!
Photography courtesy of Wanderer Online Marketing Director Jeff Tao.