Juanito, how and when exactly did Juana Fe start as a band?
Juanito Ayala (vocals): "This band is has been around for just under ten years now. Basically we were all involved in other underground bands from Santiago before we started Juana Fe. The music scene in Santiago is so small, that we all more or less knew each other already. At one point Jaime (Concha, red.) our bass player, Salva (Diablo Ibañez, red.) our guitarist and I, decided to take things to a more professional, without really knowing too much what that might entail. One of the first things we learned was that to become professionals, you had to work long and hard! (laughs)"
What can you tell us about the illustrious Barrio Brasil where you guys used to hang out or still do?
Juanito Ayala: "Barrio Brasil, is one of the most oldest neighborhoods in downtown Santiago de Chile. It's a very cultural neighborhood that really started gaining in popularity in the 1990's, with lots of artistic activity going on everywhere. The area is also known for its very active night life, lots of bars and clubs, which became artistic meeting points where concerts where taking place regularly. When we just started out, almost half of the band members were living there under the same roof, sharing a building only a couple of meters away from the Plaza Brasil. It's also the location of one of the most well known cultural and artistic center in Santiago, the Galpón Víctor Jara; an ideal place for this musical scene to develop and grow and really the only place in the area that could hold a crowd of up to five hundred people. At the parties and concerts we organized there, we did everything ourselves, from playing live over selling drinks to handling the promotion. These parties were really the first source of income for the band. Of course we weren't the only band around; you also had Mano Ajena and Banda Conmoción for example and slowly but surely people started to identify the Barrio Brasil with a whole cultural movement, a new way of experiencing music in Chile. Our music is a mix of rock with influences from Latin-American folklore and a bit of ska and reggae."
What does the Juana Fe band name stand for?
Juanito Ayala: "Juana is a very common name in Chile and "fe" means faith, so the whole name means "to have faith in Juana". Juana also represents the common woman, the women living in the ghettos, immigrant women coming from the country, single mothers raising a family. The Chilean upper class and politicians will often look down on ordinary people, using diminutives to describe them. Instead of call a woman Juana, they'd rather call her Juanita. Former President Ricardo Lagos (lawyer, economist and social democrat politician, who served as president of Chile from 2000 to 2006, red.) was known for doing this all the time, but in reality what they are doing is looking down on the strength of the women struggling in poverty. Calling women like that Juanita is paternalistic and that's why we put Juana in our band name; in a way we're saying we're having more faith in those women than in politicians. Juana represents the struggle of regular people."
Can I call Juana Fe a political band?
Juanito Ayala: "Yes, we are a political band; we don't separate music and politics. Doing rock music is almost a political statement in itself, because it's a style of music that generates encounters, allows people to meet and look in each other's eyes. Music can also be used as a vehicle to tell stories that nobody else wants to tell. Chile has a long tradition of music linked to politics; in the sixties you had Violeta Parra (Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval, 4 October 1917 - 5 February 1967, was a notable Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist. She set the basis for the Nueva Canción Chilena, a renewal and a reinvention of Chilean folk music, red.), and in the 1970s you had Victor Jara (Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez, September 28, 1932 - September 16, 1973, was a Chilean teacher, theatre director, poet, singer-songwriter, political activist and member of the Communist Party of Chile. Jara played a pivotal role among neo-folkloric artists who established the Nueva Canción Chilena movement which led to a revolution in the popular music of his country under the Salvador Allende government. Shortly after the Chilean coup of 11 September 1973, he was arrested, tortured and ultimately shot to death with 44 bullet shots by machine gun fire, red.), whose work was very important in the establishment of the Nueva Cancion Chilena, a cultural movement supporting Salvador Allende, transposing his program and message to music."
What does 'La Makinita' ("the little machine", red.) represent?
Juanito Ayala: "'La Makinita' is our third album. If you're a band that plays music with a political message, like we do, things aren't easy. You have to remember we're from a corner of South-America where political violence has manifested itself the hard way. After the murder of Victor Jara, who was the quintessential political artist, many musicians had to leave Chile because of military persecution. Basically if you had long hair and played some kind of Andean instrument, you could be arrested and possibly disappear. This doesn't happen anymore, but it illustrates where we've come from. With 'La Makinita' we're taking a stand; we're saying: "This is our project and with it we've created our own money making machine!" As a musician I'm still part of the system somehow, because if I want to live from my music, people have to like it. As a musician you have to find a way of doing that without becoming a sellout. In doing this album we've discovered that we are an artisanal hands-on band and that we're definitely not part of the corporate music industry. We're craftsmen and our songs are no made in serial work, but are done with care and dedication. 'La Makinita' is our manifesto, stating that Juana Fe is our little machine!"
You dedicated the album to Lucio Urtubia. Who is he?
Juanito Ayala: "Lucio Urtubia is an anarchist and being fed up of seeing his friends get caught or die in bank robberies, he thought to himself: "If money is the problem, why risk our lives for it? Let's just make it ourselves!". He worked as a forger of passports for a while, supplying libertarians travelling through Europe in the politically turbulent 1960s and 70s and he started printing money too; they reproduced just about anything you could imagine really. At one point they decided to reproduce the dollar and try to bring the American economy to collapse. There's a story that Urtubia showed two dollar bills to Che Guevara one day, challenging him to recognize the fake one. I think both are real Che replied. Unfortunately when Urtubia proposed to produce these dollars in Cuba, Che refused. After this defeat Urtubia then decided to start forging the flagship product of the City Bank, one of the the most important American banks at that time, and started to reproduce their traveler's cheques. Eventually City Bank came close to collapse; Urtubia was caught in a setup. However, his cheques were still in circulation and that impacted of the bank in such a way they decided to negotiate the exchange of his freedom against the original printing plates. Urtubia is a great example of how art can become an actual weapon. As artists we're no soldiers; we're not taking up weapons and we don't fight violence with violence, because we believe the only resistance that can really generate social change is cultural resistance. Urtubia is a brilliant example of that way of fighting things and by dedicating this album to him; we tried to bring his name back from anonymity again."
The truly splendid album design of 'La Makinita' is the work of an artist called Pablo De La Fuente. Where did you find him?
Juanito Ayala: "He is a true genius! Pablo works in a theatre company called La Patriotico Interesante, performing street theatre; very interesting work. He is their stage designer, illustrates the artwork for their publicity and so on. Apart from that he also does the artwork for us and a couple of other bands; designing the artwork for our album sleeves, posters, merchandise and so on. We're virtually neighbors and had wanted to work with one another for a long time, so for 'La Makinita' we finally did and I guess you could say he's put the visuals to our message."
Do you think the future music of Juana Fe will be influenced by all the travelling you guys are doing now?
Juanito Ayala: "Sure, four years of travelling through Europe has given us a new view on Latin-America. Latin-America is a mix of three cultures: Native American, European and African, so coming to Europe is a connection with that part of our history. Our ancestors migrated from here. It's also great to be able to meet immigrants from African and Arabian decent here, playing their instruments and listening to their music; in Chile those kinds of influences are rather scarce. Another thing we were amazed by is the number of Latin-American exiles we encountered here. There's also a lot of is history here in Europe and that has definitely enriched us as well, although I think it's works both ways, because travelling through Europe we are showing a different image of Latin-America as well. Musically speaking a lot of people still think Latin-America is only about salsa or cumbia. Juana Fe is here to tell you, you can dance and reason at the same time!"