Healing music, the band created by people blinded in Chile’s social protests

By Maria M. Mur

Santiago, Mar 27 (EFE).- Their lives made a 180-degree turn during the 2019 protests when they partially or fully lost their sight amid the police repression. Four years later, eight blinded individuals have found in music a way to “heal” and to play and sing about the unrest that changed Chile.

“He fought for his people, he yearned for dignity. / He used only stones, they were the real weapons,” recites the band Toward Victory in the song “It’s a terrible story.”

Elsewhere in the song, the group – which on Thursday will hold its first recorded session online – appeals directly to former Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, who was heavily criticized for his handling of the marches.

“Sir, give me back my son, you’re the criminal with a tie and freedom. / Today your hands have the blood from the eyes of your people,” the tune goes.

The bandmembers say they’re making music “as a protest song” and that they write their numbers to “better understand what happened to (us),” defining their style as “Latin American experimental punk rock” although many of them didn’t even play musical instruments before the protests.

That’s the case with Gustavo Gatica, the best-known member of the group and the person who became the first demonstrator to be fully blinded after he was hit with shotgun pellets in November 2019 near the Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the protests.

“The first times that we performed were very emotional. I thought ‘Wow! When did I sit down at these drums? It’s crazy, how much my life has changed!'” the young man told EFE, adding that his brother gave him a drum set when he returned home after spending three weeks in the hospital after being injured.

“I feel very proud to belong to an artistic project that’s able to produce so much emotion in people: tears, anger, nostalgia…” he added.

Gatica, who was finishing up a degree in psychology when he was blinded and now practices in an office in Santiago, not only had to learn how to play the cymbals but also how to do “simple” things like “putting food in your mouth without letting it drop.”

At age 25, he is one of the symbols of the biggest wave of protests since end of the country’s 1973-1990 dictatorship and has found in the band a tool to express his innate optimism, although he acknowledged that he will “turn the page” completely when the trial of Claudio Crespo, the security officer who shot him, is held.

“Being optimistic is a defense mechanism,” he said.

What started out as a protest by students against the increase in metro ticket prices turned into a massive clamor for more social rights, and the resulting violence left about 30 people dead and thousands injured, including many with eye trauma.

Looting, the erection of barricades and the destruction of minor urban infrastructure – like public benches and the like – were also part of the mayhem.

Vicente Muñoz, the youngest member of the band, said he considers himself a “survivor” because he “only” lost his left eye a few days after Gatica was injured.

After exhaustive psychological therapy, he has now achieved more self-confidence and has returned to his dramatic arts studies, something that he has also contributed to the band, which this past weekend performed at the Gabriela Mistral Center (GAM), in Santiago.

“It was very complicated to think how I was going to show my face, which is not the same as it was. I don’t have the same gestures and my soul has changed,” he told EFE.

With the music, he too has learned to channel his rage. In fact, his favorite song is “Litio” (Lithium), the most positive of all the group’s numbers and the one that least appeals to hatred.

“What we’re seeking to do with this music is to get closer to our vision, or – better said – to our lack of vision. It’s an exercise of empathy both for us and for others,” he said.

What does continue to sadden him, though, is the result of last September’s plebiscite, when more than 62 percent of Chilean voters rejected the proposal for a new Constitution.

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