(b Chillan, 28 Sept 1932; dSantiago, 15 Sept 1973). Chilean singer-songwriter and theatre director. He learnt his first repertory of folksongs from his mother Amanda, who was a folk singer. He moved with his family from the countryside to a Santiago shanty town when he was 11. His brief study in a seminary and later membership of the choir of the University of Chile, where he became a student in the theatre school, introduced him to a wider repertory including Gregorian chant, classical chorale and scored music as well as playing the organ. At 20 Jara became a keen member and later director of the seminal folk group Cuncumén. In 1966 he was invited to join what became the crucible of Chilean nueva canción (new song), the Peña de los Parra, the Santiago folk night club organized by Angel and Isabel Parra. Jara acknowledged the influence of their mother, the folklorist Violeta Parra. In 1969 he became joint winner of the First Festival of Chilean New Song with Plegaria a un labrador, backed by the group Quilapayún. He had worked for a time as their artistic director, helping mould their characteristic performance style, something he also did with Inti Illimani; both became key nueva canción groups.
In 1970 Jara gave up a notable and successful career as a theatre director with a distinct international perspective to devote himself to full-time musical activity, working at Santiago's Technical University and from 1971 travelling all over Chile and Latin America as a cultural ambassador of the government of President Salvador Allende. Jara was a passionate and vibrant cultural activist of the Chilean left, and many of his performances and songs were directed towards students and workers. A charismatic and popular figure, he was murdered following the military coup d'état of 11 September 1973. His music and commitment to the ordinary people of his country and their cause has brought him to worldwide audiences.
Jara's songs mingle the archaic flavour and modality of old rural musical traditions with deceptively simple melodies and modern harmonic colour. An intuitive master of the guitar with a natural knowledge of classical techniques, his vocal and instrumental work established a new model of folkloric elaboration expanding the range of influences in Chilean popular music. His whole repertory is seminal, in many ways a personal map of developments in Chile from the 1960s until his untimely death, notably El derecho de vivir en paz (1971); Manifiesto (1972); and Vientos del pueblo (1974). Of his 104 compositions registered with the Chilean Society for Authors' Rights the following deserve special mention: Paloma quiero contarte (1961); El cigarrito (1964); El arado (1965); El aparecido (1967); Te recuerdo Amanda (1968); Angelita Huenumán (1969); Plegaria a un labrador (1969); and Luchín (1972). The latter was part of his cycle of songs La población (1972), composed with the involvement of a number of Santiago shanty towns.