“Leave footprints not scars”
Country of origin: Chile.
Occupation: Musician and construction worker. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Melbourne. Biggest surprise when arriving to Australia: Not being able to understand the language.
By Cristy Abela
Alejandro Vargas is one of the most talented and accomplished musicians in the Latin American/Australian music scene. His contributions to Victoria in the music scene include a very long list of appearances as composer, performer and producer. He was recognised with “Merito en el exterior” (overseas merits) by the Chilean Government in 2010, for his work on “Melbourne helps Chile Committee” after the 2010 earthquake.
Contributions to Victoria
Member of the first Andean music group in Australia “Apurima“.
Created awareness of the Latin American music in Australia through his lectures about Latin music and rhythms at Universities, Secondary and Primary Schools and the Victorian College of the Arts.
Strengthened social cohesion by establishing the Chilean community of Victoria as an association (alongside Alejandro Arellano) and as an active member of Chile Canta y Danza Inc.
Tell us your story
In 1975 we (three brothers and two sisters the eldest being 17 and the youngest 4) came to Australia with our parents after the Chilean military coup. We arrived not knowing what we were going to do here as we did not speak English. Even though we were young, we had been playing music since a very early age. At the age of 6 I was able to play guitar and accordion, so together with my mother and brother we joined the Chilean Folkloric Dancing group that was part of the Melbourne Chilean Club. We represented Chile around Victoria in festivals and shows organized by the different City Councils and Latin groups. In 1977 we met Hernan Arriagada, a quena player that had just arrived in Melbourne from Chile, so we decided to form the music group “Apurima”, becoming the first Andean music group in Australia. We toured extensively throughout Victoria, New South Wales, Canberra and South Australia. We attended most of the celebrations by Latin Americans in Victoria, performed in most festivals and were the support act for the biggest Latin American artists that travelled to Australia included Mercedes Sosa, Horacio Guarani, Leon Gieco, Los Olimareños, Alfredo Zitarrosa, Numa Moraes, Daniel Viglietti, Illapu, Tito Fernandez and Coco Legrand.
In 1984 I became the manager in Australia for ILLAPU and presented them with Hocking and Vigo at the Perth International Festival in 1986. Followed by 12 shows in Perth, Thebarton Theatre in Adelaide, Melbourne Concert Hall and Sydney Town hall. Later in the same year ILLAPU touredwith Interarts Promotions all around Australia for four weeks, SBS and Media World filmed their sold out Melbourne concert and which later won the Peace Award with the film. In 1987 I joined ILLAPU in Mexico to organize their Mexican Launch and I also had the opportunity to practise with the band as a sixth member.
Back in Melbourne I joined Ensamble Latinoamericano, we produced La Cantata De Santa Maria De Iquique, a story told through music of one of the biggest massacres in Latin America, which occurred in 1907 in Iquique, North of Chile. I worked with different groups around Melbourne for few years, in 1990 I joined Rumberos, an 8 piece Rumba and Salsa Band that played professionally around Victoria. In 1991 I was asked by the African National Council in Victoria to form an ensemble to represent Latin America for Nelson Mandela’s visit to Melbourne. It was an amazing experience, played at the Melbourne Entertainment Centre for 8,000 people and was shown on SBS the day after. In 1992 I started teaching music as I play twelve different instruments between strings, winds and percussion. I have lectured about Latin music and rhythms at Universities, Secondary and Primary Schools and the Victorian College of the Arts. I was invited in several occasions and by different groups and Choirs to be the Charango player for The Misa Criolla. I have recorded and produced with different bands and still continue to work closely with ILLAPU. I am an active member of Chile Canta y Danza Inc. a group that organizes events to preserve the Chilean folkloric roots.
Language - The language barrier was the biggest issue as we did not speak a word of English; however, I think that we were fighters, we were taught to fight for what we believed in, and we believed that the language was a barrier could be broken through our music.
Awareness - At the start the Australian audience had no idea what our instruments were or what we were singing about. Also getting the instruments from overseas or the strings we needed for our particular instruments was challenging.
Making new friends - School was so different, as a child one tends to assimilate faster but it takes its toll understanding how things work. You need to be strong to keep away from the bad seeds and try to run your life and not succumb to peer pressure.
Punctuality - We learnt here that punctuality comes together with being professional, it’s important to respect people’s time. In Latin America punctuality is something a lot of people struggle with.
Valuing people not appearances - Coming into a multicultural country made us understand this. It’s important to respect everyone, no matter of their race, colour or belief.
Context - Sometimes I find immense contrasts and sometimes not so much. We think that we are different but in the end we are all the same, we all value our heritage, our homeland and our traditions. It’s just about communicating your needs and beliefs without being patronizing or expecting everybody to follow you.
Piece of advice
Follow your call - If you do things that you want to do, you cannot go wrong and you won’t have the need for recognition. You will do those things for the passion you have for them and/or because you found a need to solve.
Be loyal - Always remember where you started and who was there for you, recognize those you meet on the way up, as they may be there on your way down...I say: leave footprints not scars!
Be you - Be genuine and be truly you, try and be the best version of yourself. You will face adversities, but when you are true to yourself it is easier to find a way out.
In the next few years Alejandro sees himself as a musician and playing until his fingers give up. If you wish to contact Alejandro email us at firstname.lastname@example.org