By Pete Godfrey and Tim Hollins
In August, from the 5th to the 7th, Wales will reverberate to the unlikely sounds of Latin American music with a distinctly political twist as the El Sueño Existe festival – ‘The Dream Lives on’ – is celebrated among the green hillsides of Machynlleth (SY20 8ER).
The festival, inspired by the music and political vision of legendary Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara, is back after two years of Covid, and has become something of a fixture in the calendar of folk music and progressive ideas. This year’s festival, which runs over the weekend of August 5th – 7th, features a wealth of musical acts headlined by Lokandes – driving Andean rhythms to get you dancing. Alongside them will be the customary colourful array of Latin dancers and theatre performers, and a wide-ranging series of political and cultural workshops.
Each edition of the festival focuses on specific issues, and this year’s themes are El Salvador, especially the communities who returned from exile after the Civil War to rebuild their lives, and Peace and Climate Justice. Workshops will include a focus on human rights in El Salvador, the struggles against water-polluting gold mining, and the Music for Hope youth music project in campesino (peasant farming) communities. There is also a resurgence of the left to celebrate, with recent election victories in Bolivia, Peru, Honduras and of course Chile.
Jeremy Corbyn will be reporting back to the festival on his recent visit for the presidential inauguration of former student leader Gabriel Boric in Chile. And new for this year is the wholehearted support of the Corbyn Peace and Justice Project bringing their energy and radical take on the world to the festival.
Further afield, there’ll be sessions on indigenous resistance to deforestation of the Amazon and the prospects for the return of Lula after the dark times of Bolsonaro in Brazil. You’ll also be able to sample Mayan Cosmovisions from pre-Columbus times and celebrate the history of maize (corn on the cob) – the staple that is used for many dishes, from tortillas to the iconic pupusas – filled maize griddle cakes. The festival is also family-friendly, with a full programme of games, stories and activities for children.
The visual arts are always well represented at the festival, and this year we will welcome exhibitions from two extraordinary Latin American women painters – Gisella Stapleton who is making waves in the Fine Art world with her portraits of icons and workers, especially women. And Myra Barraza is a renowned artist from El Salvador now resident in the UK, who will be exhibiting works on themes of human rights and social justice, as well as talking about art movements in El Salvador. It’s a feast for the eyes, as well as for the ears – and above all for the spirit!
With the spotlight on El Salvador, author and academic Adam Feinstein will provide an insight into the country’s 20th century hero poet, Roque Dalton, sadly assassinated by his own comrades for murky reasons in the pre-civil war times. He left behind an extraordinary body of work for us to appreciate.
El Sueño Existe attracts a vibrant mix of Chileans who found a haven in Britain in the 1970s, veterans of solidarity campaigns here, and the younger generations who have inherited the wealth of both Latin American and British cultural traditions. The touchstone is Victor Jara himself, a Communist and passionate supporter of Allende’s government, who was among the thousands of Pinochet’s victims, tortured and savagely murdered at the age of 39 – for being a voice of the people. Unlike his tormentors, his legacy has become recognised as being artistically unique – an eloquent testimony of the flagrant injustices in Chilean society, and a call to arms to remedy them. This is the huge task facing the fledgling government of President Boric.
One of Victor Jara’s musical collaborators, Alejandro Reyes, who came to Britain as an exile, will be among those playing at the festival. Although he describes himself self-effacingly as ‘a relic’, he is more a part of the living history of a cultural inheritance that remains astonishingly robust and all too relevant. But it is a musical tradition that is evolving all the time, with new generations finding their own forms of “New Song”. As Victor Jara sang, in ‘Manifiesto’, one of the last songs he wrote before the 1973 coup : “Songs which are brave, will always be New Songs.”
Visitors to the festival can expect the unexpected, whether it is an early morning ceremony to honour Pachamama – Mother Earth – or a lyrical poetry performance from Latin American women’s writers’ group Las Juanas, a Liberation Theology participatory mass, all with a splash of colour and a strong dose of progressive politics. And rumour has it that a soon to be erected ‘statue’ of Christopher Columbus, courtesy of Infamous Community Arts, will meet a suitable end, via the energetic crowd – and a long rope!
Perhaps the last word should go to one of the Chileans, Idulia, exiled here since 1975 who has attended several El Sueño Existe festivals: “The festival is the one place in Britain where I really feel I belong.” It’s Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite festival, so if you only have spare cash for one festival this summer, make sure it is this one!
Weekend ticket £50/£65/£80 + camping, campervans + programme updates, information on volunteering (8 hrs volunteering for a free weekend ticket) local accommodation etc. all via the festival website: www.elsuenoexiste.com. To contact the festival by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pete Godfrey and Tim Hollins are part of the festival organising team
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