Music of the Sun God, Inti Illimani

Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I present to you, Inti Illimani, a group of Chilean engineering students and part-time musicians who became their country’s de facto musical ambassadors and spokespersons when their country entered a dark period of its history. The group was established in 1967, consisting of students from Universidad Técnica del Estado in Santiago, Chile and will celebrate 40 amazing years in 2007. They were on tour in Europe in 1973 when President Allende was deposed by General Pinochet. In the subsequent chaos, many of the members had friends and relatives who were arrested and some were never seen again including their friend and national musical icon Victor Jara. (It is reported that Victor Jara was executed in the stadium that today bears his name. He was machine-gunned and had over 70 bullets in his body).

In fear of their own lives, they lived in exile in Italy but continued to develop their music and to rally for a return to democracy in Chile. They rapidly gained recognition for both. To this end, Horacio Salinas was the group’s musical director while the political compass was provided by Jorge Coulon. Sadly, after all these years, the group split in 2001, Salinas and two others left and started another band while the two Coulon brothers remained and rebuild their band. Unfortunately, both continue to call themselves Inti Illimani but most fans recognise Salinas’ band as the historical band.

The name means “Sun of the Mountain” or “Sun God” and is actually a Bolivian name. This was an early indication that they musically were not going to be bound by Chilean music traditions only. Indeed these engineer-musicians, have combined their different disciplines and experimented with the physics of sound and were even awarded honorary degrees in music for their efforts. They also sought to combine instruments from different traditions to create new sounds. For example, in one of their pieces, they combine a Persian instrument with the African colimba and an antique Andean flute. They were the forerunners of World Music before it became fashionable.

I was first exposed to the group when they recorded the soundtrack for a BBC documentary entitled the “Flight of the Condor” way back in 1982. That was the first time I had listened to the use of Andean pan flutes in an haunting and evocative orchestral arrangement. Over the years, I occasionally got to hear one or other of their projects but for the most part, I had little access to their music.

Then in 1992, they came to Ottawa while I was a student there. I was ecstatic. Future wife and I went to see them in concert. It was a cold winter’s night and the journey to the venue was far but it was entirely worth it. Seeing them in person made me realize that they were more than musicians but musical scholars. We were treated not just to a concert but a laboratory of sound. There was one song performed entirely out of the beating of ordinary packing crates. There was another in which the band faded off by a deliberate and measured drop in sound level carried out in unison. Sure, fade outs are done all the time with the help of electronic equipment but when you hear it done manually, you know you are in the presence of extraordinary musicians. They also dazzled us with an array of over 30 wind, string and percussion instruments from around the world.

Once again, I have used too many words when I should let the music speak for itself. Enjoy the videos and the music tracks. Illi Intimani, congratulations on 40 years and may your tradition of music scholarship continue to another generation.

Song with African Kalimba

A modern song with traditional Andean instruments

Beautiful vocals – one of their big hits and one of my favorites


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