Nicolas Jaar and the Powerful Complexities of Cultural Heritage

“You don’t look Chilean”

I have received that response from a lot of people when I say that I am Chilean-American, and I used to feel discomfort at such statements.  So much so that when people asked me where I grew up and where I am from, I would repress the Chile part of my answer and simply reply with “Frederick, Maryland.”  This is only half true, and a wholly unhealthy and poisonous answer.

While my response protected me short term from any inconvenient societal stigmas, I was slowly sinking into a depression by intentionally shutting away part of myself.  I slowly began to realize that I felt so disparaged by “you don’t look Chilean” because it is essentially policing my identity as well as an ignorant assumption that all Chileans are dark-skinned and people of color.

The last time I was in Chile, Nicolas Jaar released his debut album Space is Only Noise.  I was only ephemerally aware of it: I knew it was critically acclaimed and I knew it was made by a Chilean-American.  I listened to it twice, and dismissed it as too down-tempo, weird, and therefore boring and not worth my time.  Like my response to the conversation starter “where are you from?” I was in denial that Nicolas Jaar’s music was exactly what I needed to hear and accept as a part of me.

It was not until this time last year that it dawned on me that I had not been back to Chile in nearly five years.  Not by accident, I revisited Space is Only Noise, and fell in love.  It soothed my heartache for Chile, but only temporarily.  It acted as a balm, no more than a brief respite from the pain.

Time went on, and I slipped further into my crisis of identity.  Graduating college and trying to be an adult proved to be as difficult as everyone said it would be.  To exacerbate matters, this past summer was hell.  I suffered through a nasty breakup, barely socialized, and sank into the biggest rut of my life.  One that was so deep and confusing that I did not know what to do.  It took time and many conversations with friends and family to diagnose the root of the problem: It has been almost six years since I have returned.


I was eagerly awaiting Nicolas Jaar’s new album when my parents told me that they were flying out to Chile for two weeks.  Coincidently, the day they flew down was the same day that the album was released and the first time that I heard it.  As a result, the yearning I feel intensified exponentially.  Here I am, listening to a new Nico Jaar record while simultaneously looking at pictures on social media of my family in places that I long to visit so much that it causes me physical pain.

After the first few listens, I knew that this was a singular album, one that occupies a unique space in the music world.  I did not, however, think that the album would devastate me so much emotionally.  Analyzing every single one of those emotions, however, is exactly what makes Nico Jaar a preeminent DJ of his generation.

The artist and the music–they create a subtle yet expansive space where life is examined in a wholly provocative way.  They/it evokes sadness.  They/it evokes happiness.  They/it creates a safe space.  Nico the artist and the music itself….they create a vital lesson in duality.

While Space is Only Noise did a sublime job in emphatically filling a room with the powerful theme of duality, Sirens took that feeling and maximized it exponentially.  Standout “No” is the perfect example, and it is his best song to date.

Señor Alfredo Jaar – “Pongamos un poco de música y bailamos?
Para hacer la película más entretenida?”
Niño Nico – “Ya.”

 

Un día
De ventana abierta
Mi vecino vino a verme
Estaba lleno de desilusión
Me miró en los ojos
Y me dijo:

Ya dijimos No
Pero el Si está en todo
Lo de adentro y de afuera
Lo de lejos y de cerca
Lo que todos hemos visto
Y lo que ni siquiera dicen
Ya dijimos No!

Y fue ese día
Que yo me ví
A mi mismo
En veinte años

Y nada cambia
No nada cambia
Y nada cambia
No nada cambia
Por estos lados

No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
A pasar

Ya dijimos No
Pero el Si está en todo
Lo de adentro y de afuera
Lo de lejos y de cerca
Lo que todos hemos visto
Y lo que ni siquiera dicen
Ya dijimos No!
Pero el Si está en todo
Todo lo que hay

No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
No hay que ver el futuro
Para saber lo que va a pasar
A pasar

 

Señor Alfredo Jaar – “Quédate contra el muro.
Ponte contra el muro.
Anda para allá y cuenta otro.
El que a ti te guste, cuenta un cuento lindo.”

Niño Nico – “Había una vez un pajarito que estaba volando.
Y ahí, había un señor con una pistola muy grande e hizo así”

“Ya dijimos No, pero el Si esta en todo,” translates to “we already said no, but yes is in everything.”  When I first heard “No,” I trembled with deep chills running down my spine.  I could not for the life of me pinpoint the origin of such a feeling, but I continued to listen to Sirens in an effort to acknowledge and understand my emotions.  Repeat listen after repeat listen worked, but it was “No” that released the river.  After decades of repressing the Chilean in me–“ya dijimos no”–I could no longer ignore my Hispanic heritage (“pero el si esta en todo”).

One of my final papers in college was about non-violent protests during the devastating Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.  His brutal regime ended in a seemingly simple yes or no plebiscite on October 5, 1988.  For that paper I learned about members of my family who fled into exile or had been tortured as prisoners under that regime.  Not only is that “yes or no” vote floating through my mind when I hear Nico singing “No,” but I cannot help but think of my own unwillingness to fully accept que yo soy Chileno weon!

I still am not able to answer the “where are you from” question with complete conviction or with full Chileno pride, but like Nico Jaar’s music and the artist himself, I know that I can learn from my cultural duality and embrace myself.  Even though Nico’s music does not explicitly use traditional or culturally typical Chilean music, he is a musician that deftly blends old and new in such a way that is not directly in your face.  He masterfully proves through his art that the  importance of historical and cultural influence on the experience of today is mighty.  It may be subtle, but in the end it is so immensely evocative that it cannot be ignored.

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