This was not the first album to be released by the Chilean folk group Inti-Illimani, which had originally formed while its members were college students more than six years before Viva Chile! came out in 1973. But it was the first of the group's albums to emerge from a new life as exiles in Rome; so, literally, this spirited music of revolution and rebellion was recorded within a short stroll from the type of hearty lunchtime pasta that is more likely to inspire a siesta. The decisive summarization of thoughts that sometimes occurs as a preamble to dreamland is a nice way to describe the choice of both repertoire and final program sequence. Viva Chile! lays bare the musical roots of this ensemble, in large part a style of folk music from the Andes that has unfortunately become a trifle stereotyped due to overexposure. In the case of Inti-Illimani, the growth from this original starting point has been lush, extending into a challenging form of expression known as nuevo cancion, or new song. Rich emotions and musical surprises bloom almost constantly from these pieces. In combination with politics, as in "Venceremos" or "Cueca de la C.U.T.," it becomes a garden that any lover of protest songs will want to sit in and meditate. Sniffing along while the military industrial complex is overthrown is hardly the only sweet bouquet provided, however. From the very start of the album, intricate and terrifically mixed percussion breaks provide some of the finest moments. "Cueca de la C.U.T." is simply amazing, sounding like small drunken men have invaded the speaker box with wooden mallets. Instrumental pieces involving various combinations of stringed instruments such as guitar, tiple, and charango are also part of the program, a style that the group seems to have downplayed in later releases. "Ramis," "Tatati," and "Subida" are short and simple treats; "Longuita" utilizes a picking style that sounds like country & western, though it is uncertain what country. "Venceremos" is the big vocal hit, an anthem among anthems, and as is typical in the effective sequencing, it is sandwiched between two of the instrumentals. As mentioned in passing, a distinct Andes style involving pan pipes, known as zampona and a certain kind of repetitive melody has been transformed from obscure ethnic music into ghastly kitsch courtesy of Paul Simon and "El Condor Pasa." This style is used somewhat heavily as this album begins, then passes away into a kind of distant mist as the program becomes more political. It is truly sad that someone else's recording career can so jeopardize the experience of understanding a beautiful musical concept, but that's showbiz. Some listeners will have to toil mightily, hefting aside pounds of prejudice and unfortunate indoctrination in order to truly understand what this group is all about. As hard as that is bound to be, it might be of some assistance to present the following image, complete with the caveat that it is presented only a short time after reading a flattering account of Simon's sure and knowing ways while collaborating in the studio with a bunch of vintage gospel entertainers. The traditional Indian music utilized by Inti-Illimani, whose name means Sun God in the Aymaran Indian language, is of a much finer vintage than those old Simon & Garfunkel records in the den. The zampona flutes and various drums and rattles, each carefully used to create maximum impact, have an individual and combined intensity, would be literally be described as muy grande in Spanish, that is really way too big for a Paul Simon record -- a giant, gleaming zampona being inserted in a place where the sun don't shine, where the Sun God never visited.
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AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne