Music Has No Borders

“Dude, I have a huge stack of records you should probably take a look at, tons from Tía Viví, Dad, Mom, and Bobe. There’s probably some stuff in there you can take with you,” Alberto advised.

“It’s fine bro. We’re gonna go record shopping on Saturday.”

“Dude. Just look!”

“I’m good for now. Trust me.”

My brother should not have tickled the monster’s belly.

It was a suspiciously quiet Saturday before Christmas in San Diego, a plebian commercial district just south of downtown Santiago. Nestled between dozens of light bulb and hardware stores and glass-paneled bargain t-shirts stands, an antiquated mini-mall awaited. About a year prior, Alberto brought me to a hidden gem of a record store on its second floor, unmarked from the outside but on the inside, flowing with waves of vinyl. That day, I scored the first Yes record with its original artwork and Shel Silverstein reciting Where the Sidewalk Ends. This year, I returned with more determination and more cash.

The store was closed. This forced us into the lazily titled “Discos” on the other side of the mall. Their vinyl selection was limited, and within their single wall of wax, I was only able to find a couple that interested me.

The Adventures of Astral Pirates by Lenny White

Rhapsody in White by The Love Unlimited Orchestra.

Not quite what I was looking for on my international record hunt.

“¿Que buscas?” the store clerk could sense my disappointment.

[in broken Spanish] “I’m looking for Seru Giran or Soda Stereo.” I was going big.

“No. No lo tengo. Pero tengo esto.” He shows me The Last Waltz. I huffed. Did I go record shopping in Santiago, Chile for The Last freaking Waltz?. I lied and said I already owned it.

“Do you have Congreso?” I asked.

The clerk chuckled with a “not anymore”.

“Do you have anything else?” I begged the clerk. He opened up the cabinet beneath the single row of stacks and pulled out a pile for me to leaf through. My fingers twitched.

This pile was richer. Here’s what I absconded with:

20 Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desesperada as read by Pablo Neruda

Canciones Revolucionarias: 1868-1986, Cien Años de Lucha

Though this record starts off a little sludgy and dramatic, Canciones Revolucionarias blooms during Amarndo Pico’s performance of Marin Varnoa’s “Mi Patria”. With its constant major chord key changes and hope-filled melodies full of adventure, I was fully immersed. My body stiffened as if expecting a commander. My fist pounded on my chest. During the chorus, my roommate Jared excited by the key change exclaimed, “It’s always the tenor!” While some of the songs sound transcribed from 78s, there are some excellent examples of recording quality. Crystalline guitars quiver. A joyous orchestra spread wide across a soundstage. An invaluable find.

Tonadas by Violeta Parra

Homenaje a Violeta Parra by Mercedes Sosa

Argentinean vocal powerhouse Mercedes Sosa showcases a variety of South American musical song styles ranging from milonga to cueca to sirilla all while paying tribute to the music of Violeta Parra, Chilean political activist, creative tour de force and cultural matriarch. Some artificial reverb on three of the tracks serve as an example of what her recorded voice became known as, a powerful omnipresence booming from the top of the Andes, but the songs without the reverb on Homenaje a Violeta Parra demonstrate Sosa’s softer side establishing a deeper connection with the feminine Violeta Parra. This record is probably in the best condition of all the records purchased at “Discos”.

Cancons Tradicionals by Joan Manuel Serrat

When my stack was complete, the clerk offered 100.000 Chilean Pesos for the records, which equaled $211.02. I couldn’t afford that, even with a little Hannukah money under my belt. We removed one of the more unique items: a collection of radio broadcasts from the day of Pinochet’s overthrow of Allende. This calmed my brother’s nerves. The broadcast annals felt more like Nazi memorabilia than a record collector’s item to him. My distance to this historic event didn’t make me feel the same, but it dropped the price of my records by 20.000 pesos to 80.000, or $168.82. Seven records for $168? That’s $24 a piece. I need to get better at my bargaining skills in Spanish.

While Alberto and I glanced at the tapes inside of “Discos”, we received a phone call from my dad who had discovered another record store. He didn’t have a record player, but he was down to play the game.

The unnamed thrift store he found was home to books piled upon records piled upon dust piled upon books. Unlike the first store where the clerk kept his gems locked away, this store invited you to dig. I felt like a Pokemon released into battle. My only power was the ability find records. ARIVINYL – I CHOOSE YOU.

I planted myself on the ground. A cloud of dust surrounded my head. I coughed. The stack I pulled out first was just one third of the three big stacks on the front of the shelf in front of three bigger stacks behind it. Stacks on stacks on stacks.

After filtering through two shelves, my hands were covered in dust, fingertips blackened. Lines of grime streaked my face like an NFL linebacker, the Chilean sun breaking through the storefront and beating on my neck. I stood up and paced, handed some stacks to Alberto as if he understood my different mental designations. I should have been more clear that The Isley Brothers Live was in the MUST KEEP stack, and the Mustafa Kandirali goes in the hot chicks on the cover pile. We eventually reduced the many piles to one.

I let Alberto handle negotiations this time. Despite his MBA from Emory, he didn’t do much better. We paid 60.000 pesos for the following records:

Balas y Cadenas by Big Brother & the Holding Company

Do you think R. Crumb re-illustrated all the text in Spanish as well?

Universal Love by MFSB

This record had a sticker on it instructing me to “Get Sexy with this Album”. Don’t tempt me.

Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett

Greatest Hits XIV by Hot Chocolate

Side 1 surprisingly featured some very ‘70s rock à la Steve Winwood’s Traffic. Side 2 hosts “You Sexy Thing”.

Les Paul Hoy by Les Paul.

This record actually had Chet Atkins The Guitar Genius inside, a fair trade.

Tequila by Wes Montgomery

Patria by Quilapayun

Quilapayun makes a guest appearance on Side 2 of the Mercedes Sosa record purchased at “Discos”.

Leña Gruesa and Judas by Quelentaro

Side 1 is only one track(!), a politicized Chilean-folk music epic.

A Arte De Vinicius de Moraes by Vinicius de Moraes

Mustafa Kandirali by Mustafa Kandirali

Mustafa Kandirali: the king of Turkish clarinet! The actual record inside was something different, and I do not know what it is because it was all in Arabic.

Viva by Pooh

My brother screamed, “Look what I found!” He showed me the cover.


“Yes. Pooh.”

Har har har.

This record turned out to be some form of diet-prog Italian pop. As if the band name was not enough to give any English speaker an immature chuckle, the label on the vinyl titles the band “I Pooh” meaning “the Pooh”.

The Real Me by W.A.S.P.

My biggest problem when it comes to record collection is once I buy one LP from an artist, even if I don’t care about them, I have to get the rest whenever I see them. Usually the less I care for their music, the more I desire their LPs. Here 80s shock-rockers W.A.S.P. cover The Who’s “The Real Me” while smothered in arena-rock reverb.

Command Stereo Check Out by Command Records

An audiophile classic! Time to pull out the volt-meter ie borrow one from JA.

Sonetos de la Muerte by Gabriela Mistral as performed by the Orquesta Sinfonica de Chile conducted by Victor Tevah

Fifteen LPs total for $126.61. A little better, but some of these LPs were in considerably terrible condition.

On Christmas Eve, Alberto cooked a not-so-traditional dinner for Debbie (my sister), Dad, and Tía Viví (his sister). Dinner consisted of red cabbage sauteed with lemon juice, indian curry, and cumin, pan-grilled chicken, and cous-cous perfumed with orange peel and mushrooms. To drink, we had a Pinot Noir from Chilean reserve Cono Sur and for desert a banana and manjar (condensed milk) ice-cream that was devoured in under five minutes. After eating, Alberto broke out the vinyl, much of which used to belong to my father and his sister. I was worried about this moment. He was about to unleash the (poke)monster.

We played some traditional Chilean folkloric music. Alberto asked, “Do you really like this crap?”

“Absolutely,” I responded.

“You have no filter. Take them home with you.”

I started forming a pile.

Sol Aborigen by Los Corazas

Folklore by Conjunto Cuncumen

Voces de Tradicion by Los Huasos Quincheros

Chile en una Tonada by Los Huasos Quincheros

Boleros de Todos Los Tiempos by Los Huasos Quincheros with Vicente Bianchi and his Orchestra

I separated a few classical records aside, including a gorgeous release from Nonesuch The Baroque Lute, a recording drenched in natural ambiance. After hearing it, Alberto swiped it from my pile: “There’s no way you’re taking this one!” I did manage to snag a few though.

Las Guitarras de Sergio y Eduardo Abreu by Sergio and Eduardo Abreu

Rimsky Korsakov’s Capricho Español and Tchaikovsky’s Capricho Italiano as conducted by Mario Rossi

My dad started singing along. This was strange. We had never heard him sing to anything other than a Phil Collins live CD, a VH1 Divas album, and his large collection of Jewish music.

“Ha! You didn’t know I listened to this. I bet you thought it was your mother’s," he interjected.

Honestly, I did.

Berühmte Melodien von Johann Strauss as performed by Salzburger Mozarteum-Orchester conducted by Alfred Scholz

Arias de Operas by Jussi Björling

Dad parked himself at the kitchen table completing Sudoku puzzles while we filtered through Tía Viví’s pop records.

XXII Fesitval De La Cancion De San Remo

We moved onto the Judaica collection, belonging primarily to my father from his youth including records such as Songs of the Yom Kippur War and an intense and severe Deutsche Grammophon release Cantos Judios (Jewish Songs). When we played Songs of the Yom Kippur War, my dad's eyes opened wide, and he grinned. As he continued with his number puzzle, he sang along quietly to every single word with Israeli legendaries Yehoram Gaon and Chava Alberstein. Many contemporary Jewish youth only associate with Israel as a nation we are asked to put just as much faith in as an invisible God above, but for Jewish youth around the world in the 1950s such as my father, it represented much more. After a time of intense religious persecution, here was a fountain of culture and strength coming from a heritage and people that were previously lambasted and murdered. For my father, Israel and these records were a symbol of hope and independence.

Festival De La Cancion Israeli 1966 by Various Artists

Sabra by Yaffa Yarkoni

Musica de Israel by Kalaniot

T’Filo L’Dovid by Cantor David Werdyger

Ladino Folk Songs sung by Raphael Yair Elnadav and accompanied by The Salonika Trio

I never quite understood why my father listened to only Judaica CDs. Except for a few Ladino titles that feature exciting percussion sequences and idiosyncratic time signatures, they always came across as too grave, and while my father is certainly a grave person, he does have ability to smile and joke every once in a while. He does not attend synagogue (at all), and I don’t think he feels the CDs are a replacement for going to temple. So on this day, I finally began to understand why he still buys every single Judaica CD he can. They represent courage, honor, and art. They represent of a new found nation built on the strength of few. They represent my father and the values he grew up cherishing as the son of Turkish immigrant in a predominantly Catholic country: independence through individuality and hard-work. It has nothing to do with Judaism. It has to do with him and his constant desire to be free.

There is a Jewish adage stated at the end of every Passover meal stating, "Next year in Jerusalem" implying that the Jewish people are never free until they are in Israel together. For my father, these records represented the gaining of that freedom, and he held on to it as a motivating force for his entire life as he expanded his music collection.

I walked away from my brother's apartment with another fresh stack of vinyl and a new perspective on the man who raised me with those same values. While my father's proclivity to Judaica at one point seemed like a fanatic obsession with guilt and God, he revealed that it instead reflected his passion for freedom of the spirit and the art which celebrates it.

Allen Fant's picture

Amen! Preach it brother.

deckeda's picture

Thanks for sharing that, Ariel. We can't always predict where learning and understanding might come from, can we?

Ariel Bitran's picture

the more immerse myself into the music, this hobby, and my job, i'm finding much deeper connections to people in the world around me who matter, new or old in acquaintance.