MSP professor studies the music of a social movement

It was love at first listen for Nancy Morris, the chair of the Media Studies and Production Department.

It was 1976. Morris, then an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico, was spending a semester abroad in Ecuador. A passionate fan of The Beatles and other rock bands of the era, she was eager to explore the pop music of her new surroundings. When a Chilean exile asked her if she wanted to hear some of the music from his country, she was all ears.

That was her introduction to New Song, a genre of music that was the rallying cry for the supporters of Salvador Allende’s 1970 presidential campaign. With roots in the folk music of the Andes, New Song spreads messages of social change, empowerment and human rights. Think of it as the Chilean version of American rock songs that protested the Vietnam War.

The place of New Song in Chilean society was severely altered in 1973 when General Augusto Pinochet took over the country through a military coup. During his 17 years in power, New Song was censored and its musicians were forced from the country. But their exile only helped spread their message.

“Outside of Chile, exiled musicians toured the world, exposing audiences on all continents to their music, and promoting opposition to the dictatorship,” Morris says. “Many of the exiles moved back to Chile with the country’s return to democracy in 1990, and they continue with their music and social activism, along with their younger counterparts.”

Morris wrote her undergraduate honors thesis on New Song, and has now returned her research focus to the genre.

Fulbright Scholar
During the fall 2012 semester, Morris went to Chile as a Fulbright Scholar to research New Song and teach at the University of Chile. She continued her work in the following semester on sabbatical, resulting in “New Song in Chile: Half a century of musical activism,” the lead chapter in a new book, The Militant Song

Morris attended several New Song concerts in Chile as part of her research.

Movement in Latin America: Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina edited by Temple sociologist Pablo Vila. Her research also was the basis for a presentation at the Latin American Studies Association’s 31st International Congress 2013 in Washington, D.C., entitled, “Music as Memory Agent: Chilean New Song.”

Because New Song is such an integral part of the history of Chile, Morris said her goal was to fill in some of the missing links of the story before all of its important players pass on

“We study mediated culture because it helps us understand society and because it has some influence on society, and we want to understand how that works,” she says.

Lasting impact of media
Throughout her five months in South America, Morris experienced first-hand the lasting impact of New Song in modern Chile. She attended a dozen live performances, from a crammed dinner club with an audience of 50, to a 70,000-seat arena.

Morris said New Song is still a part of Chile because of its thoughtful and purposeful creation, a lesson she hopes to impart to her students.

“We want to teach students who are being trained to make the media to be thoughtful about what they make,” she says.

It’s especially important for those who make music, Morris believes. “I think of it as a locus of social memory. Music carries memory without having to go to a certain place.”

New Song artist Victor Jara was killed in Chile’s 1973 military coup.