Interview: The El Mar Mi Alma Soundtrack
Big Sky Wire
Interview by Michele Lockwood
Stephen Jones and Tatiana Velasco are the creative couple behind El Mar, Mi Alma (The Sea, My Soul) the beautifully composed Chilean surf documentary that toured the world last year scoring a handful of awards. They’ve recently released the film’s soundtrack on iTunes and there is no doubt as to why- it easily stands alone as a work of art in itself, infectiously inciting the soulful passion of the Chilean people. But you don’t have to take my word for it you can get your own earful here: https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/mar-mi-alma-original-motion/id667531602
CW: For those who have yet to see El Mar, Mi Alma, can you give a short synopsis of the film and how it came to be?
Tatiana: El Mar, Mi Alma is a visual love song to the surf blessed land of Chile and the ocean that defines it. The film was born from a fusion of energy and personally for me, it marks the culmination of a long journey. I arrived in Australia at the age of 6 with my parents, fleeing the repressive political situation in Chile: arriving at the Villawood migrant centre in Sydney’s southwest. In Australia today, Chileans make up the highest percentage of Latinos residing in the nation; most of who left Chile during the troubled years throughout the 70s till the late 80s. Although I grew up in the suburbs of Sydney's southwest my family and I returned as often as we could to Chile. The ocean was the only real tangible connection between my estranged homeland and my life in Australia, which I now call home.
Romantically El Mar, Mi Alma pays homage to the Australian surf film genre and extends this well-established tradition onto a new coastline. Most importantly, it translates a real sense of Chilean culture delicately through song and vision with signed posted references to Chile's historical past and present struggles, filled with aspiration for a sustainable future. This element of hope is guided gently along through surfing and the ghostlike presence of Chile's literary giant and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda. The film echoes the Nerudian philosophy that,“The quintessential search of modern man is to seek harmony with the natural world and to realise a human utopia.”
The soundtrack is a very powerful component of the film’s overall strength and appeal; it really serves in capturing the beauty of Chilean culture. Manuel Garcia’s voice is so soulful; can you tell us about him and the other artists who contributed to creating the sound for the film?
Stephen: Manuel's music has its feet firmly rooted in the nueva canción. Nueva canción largely draws upon Andean music, música negra, Spanish music, and other Latin American folklore, including the Chilean cueca, a rural song form. However, a most important source for the nueva canción is the nueva trova, the music closely associated with the Cuban revolution. Nueva trova began as an oppositional form of expression in aesthetic terms and sometimes in political terms.
The '73 Chilean coup impacted the genre's growth in Chile, the country where it was most popular, because the whole musical movement was forced to go underground. During the days of the coup, Victor Jara, a well-known singer songwriter and maybe the most popular figure of nueva canción, was tortured and killed by the new rightist military regime under General Augusto Pinochet. Other groups, such as Inti-Illimani, Illapu and Quilapayún went into exile and found safety outside the country. The military government under General Pinochet ruled until 1989 and went as far as to ban many traditional Andean instruments, in order to suppress the nueva canción movement. Following the deposition of Pinochet, the Estadio Chile in Santiago where Victor Jara was murdered bears his name. In fact, around the time we met Manuel he’d just been entrusted with the legacy of Victor Jara and commissioned to perform his work as part of a symphony.
Did you have specific artists in mind while you were filming? Were any of the songs written specifically for El Mar, Mi Alma? How did the soundtrack evolve?
Stephen: The evolution of the soundtrack happened over a couple of years. None of it was premeditated. Some of the music was written and recorded specifically for the film and some of it not, which in some instances required dealing with major labels. It all evolved post shoot from late 2008 till late 2010.
After filming, Tatiana and I stayed in Chile for a few months. During that time we spent many nights playing music with family and friends. I can recall the moment we first heard Manuel Garcia; it was on a weekend surf trip down the coast, a bunch of us were staying at a cabin in Matanza and had been up most the night eating, drinking and partying. Tati and I had just gone to bed when someone put Manuel’s music on, his voice came resonating down the hall to our room, it took me to another place, the songs were the most beautiful I’d ever heard. I instantly knew this had to be the music in the film.
Tatiana got Manuel’s phone number through a family friend and called him. He invited us as his guests to his concert at the Teatro Caupolican in Santiago. The show was incredible, so moving. It was there after his live performance that we fell in love with him. The following day we met for coffee at a small cafe in Barrio Brazil, a bohemian and historical end of the city. We’d recently had the 16mm film processed in Santiago; I had the rushes on my laptop. We opened the laptop to show Manuel some of the imagery. I started with some of the first images we’d shot around the desert port town of Arica and the mountains adjacent to the coast. It was a moment of synchronicity, quite staggering. As we looked at these beautiful shots of the town and port Manuel tells us it’s where he grew up. As a young boy he used to sit at the very place in one of the shots, playing his improvised guitar he’d made from fishing line. Then, in the next shot was his childhood neighbour walking through frame. We were blown away. At that point Manuel fell in love with us and our project. It was a done deal.
In addition to inclusions from his album “Panico” Manuel put to song poems by Pablo Neruda. With permission from the Neruda Foundation, Tatiana approached Manuel to see if he would interpret Neruda's poetry for the film - to further illustrate the philosophy of the film and guide the journey. He composed and recorded three songs with Spanish singer songwriter Silvia Tómas. “Oda Al Mar”, “Farewell” and “El Puerto Puerto”. The first two are in the film; the other is on the bonus extras and will possibly be released as a single in the near future. Jack Johnson, supportive of the environmental campaign we’d done in Chile, had come to know Neruda’s work during his university years when studying film in California through the Academy Award winning film “Ill Postino”. We spoke with Jack to ask whether he’d like to collaborate on one of the Neruda songs. He heard “Farewell” and said that although he couldn’t promise anything, to send him the track and the translated text and he'd see what he could do. A short time later we received his mix accompanied by his friend, Hawaiian, Paula Fuga, completing the very special bilingualisation of Neruda’s poetry for the film.
Whilst still in Chile post shoot we were hanging around a lot with Tatiana’s cousins, who happen to be incredibly talented musicians. They carry their instruments wherever they go. If they need money for the bus they busk for 10 minutes and away they go. They had a band called Congrio Fuerte, we’d watch them play a lot. They said they’d written some material for the film. Manuel offered us to record with them at Alerce, the studio and historical home of the nueva cancion and traditional folk music in Chile. One of those tracks “Mozaico” is in the film and another “La Caleta de los Sueños” is on the bonus extras. We also used two of their previous recordings “Chincol” and “Perro Azul”.
Early in the edit I cut a sequence of Dave Rastovich surfing some northern Chile slabs to the upbeat flamenco song, “Entre Dos Aguas” by Paco de Lucia. It worked so well, I got stuck on it and decided we had to use it. Unfortunately we had to fork out a rather large sum for the rights. Also around that time I was constantly listening to the 1975 vinyl recording of ‘Canto de Pueblos Andinos’ by Inti-Illimani, one of Tatiana’s dads albums. It’s a beautiful record. We edited the opening and closing sequence with instrumental songs from this album.
How has this film personally changed your lives?
Tatiana: It’s definitely changed the direction our lives are now heading. At the time we decided it was important for us to take this road as filmmakers, but self-funding this film or any film is a ballsy move, it was a huge risk, investing all this time and money. In retrospect it may not have been the best financial decision. To be perfectly honest, it’s been super tough financially and the pressure has been taxing.
Although we're extremely proud of what we’ve produced and what the film has achieved in screening around the globe, getting theatrical release in Australia and New Zealand, and being the first surf genre film to receive theatrical release in Chile, that hasn't helped us cover our production costs nor pay the rent. Perhaps if we'd never set out on this adventure we'd be better off financially today, but we took the risk wholeheartedly, to a follow our dreams, and that’s got to count for something.
With our company Rebel Waltz Films we're committed to furthering the pursuit of film and television production in a professional and creative fashion. Hopefully we can continue pushing the boundaries of genres and produce entertaining and informative screen content well into the future.
Big Sky is the property on which Andrew Kidman and Michele Lockwood live with their two children in Northern New South Wales. Once a week they speak to writers, photographers, surfers, artists and musicians for Coastalwatch's Big Sky Wire. To follow Andrew Kidman's film celebrating 40 years of Morning of The Earth, head to the Spirit of Akasha blog and to check out Michele Lockwood's blog click through here.
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