by Tony Maygarden

Illiapu Of Freedom and Love LP cover

Cover to the original 1984 French edition.

Not long ago I walked into a local used record store and found an American release of Illapu's Of Freedom and Love. I was familiar with the record, as I already had a French edition which I had found at a thrift store some months earlier. I told the sales clerk as I was purchasing it that it "was one of the greatest records ever made." He looked at me a little funny, so I explained to him that it was progressive Chilean folk music -- vibrant, strong and exciting utilizing traditional Andean instruments such as wood flutes and pan pipes. At this point he assumed the polite smile and deferring manner that one saves for the mentally impaired.
Illapu photo
Illapu photo

So what's the story behind Illapu and Of Freedom and Love? After all, any album good enough to be called "the greatest" has to have a story.

Illapu is a popular Chilean folk group. "Illapu" is either a native word that means "when lightning hits the ground" or is the Incan god of thunder, which I guess is kind of the same thing. In 1978 they went on a tour of Europe, and were told in 1981 that they would not be allowed to return to Chile. Dictator Pinochet apparently did not like their outspoken views, or perhaps their popularity. In exile, they made the album Of Freedom and Love.

Recorded in Paris in 1984, it is a brilliant album, full of magnificently performed and recorded songs, all recorded with traditional acoustic instruments and the group's strong and emotional voices and rich harmonies. Love those pan pipes!

Even when listening to the French edition, which had a lyric sheet in French and Spanish, I knew these songs were about something. I knew what "Liberacion" meant. I had to remind myself that this was folk music, but not the backward looking folk music you hear so often that sounds like an audio museum. This music was alive!

The main reason I bought the American copy is because it had English translations to the liner notes and lyrics.

Illapu photo
Illapu photo
From the liner notes: "Our role is, then, to sing with our feet on the ground; to motivate ourselves in the valiant confrontation against the swords; to search for the truth about those who were here and now are sing of the misery, blood, exploitation, sorrows, combats, happiness, hope, courage, future, childhood, unity, freedom and love."

Again from the liner notes: "The 'revolution of the artist' (wouldn't it be better to say: the contribution of the artist to the revolution?) is to do what we do better each day, with humble knowledge that our work is something that doesn't belong only to us." If you are a artist looking for inspiration or words to live by I can't think of any better.

So, do I stand by my statement that Of Freedom and Love is one of the greatest albums ever made? You bet I do.

In 1988 Illapu returned to Chile, where they remain immensely popular. Here's the link to the official Illapu web site (it's in Spanish, so you may want to go through Google and have it translated):

Official Illapu Web Site


Illapu photo