My story: Valentina Montoya Martínez

Jan 15, 2014 Comments Off on My story: Valentina Montoya Martínez by

Translated by Jessica Sequeira


Valentina Montoya Martínez is a Chilean singer living in Scotland. She has performed widely with her group ‘Valentina y las Voces del Sur’, introducing many people to Chilean music. In addition, Valentina has recently ventured into tango with her album ‘La Pasionaria’, which she recorded with the acclaimed Scottish chamber ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber. This is her story.

 Valentina Montoya

I was born in Santiago de Chile, but I have lived the majority of my life outside my native country, though my heart has always been in Chile. I lived the early stage of my childhood in the country, but because my parents had engaged in militant activity in a leftist party all their life, my father was imprisoned and tortured like thousands of others by the military junta in 1973. Eventually he was freed, and I left for exile along with my mother and sister.

The morning I left my country was bittersweet. I remember that I didn’t enjoy my breakfast and that I felt a kind of emptiness. Everyone always thought it would be a three-year exile, that in a period not very far off, I would return to see my father – who chose to remain in Chile, to show them that despite the tortures suffered in the concentration camp, he wouldn’t also be denied the right to live in his country – and my grandfather.

Entering this country wasn’t at all easy. They brought us to a room and left us there six hours, saying that the girls (my sister and I) had to return to Chile because we didn’t have a document. In the end a member of the Joint Working Group for Refugees for Chile arrived, sponsoring us, and miraculously the documents materialised. The bad moment and the exhaustion were replaced by an entertaining trip to the place we were staying, and I remember seeing the Thames for the first time and the lights of the city shining on the water.

As the time passed, I began to rethink everything about what it had meant for me to leave Chile, because before we had lived with the expectation of returning, and all the political and cultural activities that our community engaged in kept us united, with a firm purpose. We created art with leather and wood, canvasses and murals. We listened to the music of Mercedes Sosa, Víctor Jara, Isabel Parra, Los Chalchaleros, Violeta Parra, tango singers. It was our form of being ‘there’, our form of maintaining continuity with our roots.

My mother bought me a guitar when I was eleven years old. Many musicians came to our home and one of them taught me my first chords. Songbooks came to us from Chile and I began to sing with a couple of friends. Later we formed Chacabuco, a small folkloric group, with some young Chileans.

Years later I went to the Edinburgh Festival where I fell in love with David Russell, a talented Scottish guitarist; we created our duo that at the start was called Amor Brujo and that now is called Valentina y Voces del Sur. We went to work recording Chilean songs in the studio of a gorgeous country house, where he lived at the time, and playing in bars and cafés. Later we began to amplify the repertoire and included songs from other regions of Latin America, beginning to compose our own material based on folkloric genres.

David and I made our debut in Edinburgh in a pioneering space for alternative culture at the time called Bongo Club. It was also there that I saw the chamber orchestra Mr McFall’s Chamber for the first time, playing tango. I was drawn to it, given that my cultural world also included that style of music. From there an artistic collaboration emerged that has lasted for years and in which my role is to sing tango. With them I participated in my first professional recording, on the tango disc ‘Revolucionario’. And it was with them that I sang the role of María in Piazzolla’s opera, ‘María de Buenos Aires’, in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall in spring 2013. Our CD was launched that same night.

We produced our ‘Senderos’, our first album, ourselves and it represents the great effort of collecting folkloric songs from abroad and giving them new life on a different continent. Soon we’ll launch another disc of our own songs, ‘Little Book of Love and Exile’, which emerged out of attending the Ikarus Festival for Dialogue Between Cultures in Ikaria, by invitation of the Greek producer and filmmaker Vangelis Fampas. That’s how it came about that later we returned to record in Atenas and in Ikaria. ‘Luces del puerto’ is one of the main songs on the disc, written by David, my partner, and the lyrics are mine. The video was recorded in Greece. (See link.)

Valentina Montoya

Obviously I’ve encountered difficulties, obstacles, and unfriendly people but also, luckily, I’ve also crossed paths with people who care. I couldn’t say that everything has always been this way or that way. Doors have been closed and others have opened. It is important to emphasise, however, that to defend my own singing and its reason for being has been an incessant battle, not only as a foreigner but also as a woman. The Chilean song is for me an expression of my origins. It’s also the space or place where what I most love lives, my father, my memories, the reasons that I arrived in this country, my history; my garden. It’s been for me like a clear water to drink, something that nourishes my soul.

To be an artist in the diaspora means a variety of things. The first thing that comes to mind is that it means one is always going in search of a lost paradise, and other people in the same situation; it means giving shape one and a thousand times to what embodies our culture and identifying the factors that have been brought to foreign lands. It also implies reconfiguring the ideas of one’s own native country and including new visions of it, given that in many and significant ways, the Chile left behind is very different from the Chile of today.

I feel that every day I’m starting something new. Every morning gives me the possibility of starting a new project, a new collaboration. Every moment, every place can be a source of inspiration and every day one learns something.

Right now I’m working on two new projects, one in music and one in film. The idea is to compose and record a series of songs that relate to the experience of my father in the concentration camp Chacabuco. I plan to collaborate with an English singer, the tenor Nicholas Mulroy, with whom I had the joy of singing for the presentation of ‘María de Buenos Aires’. My other project is in large part new territory for me. In 2011 I wrote a film script called ‘Doña Soledad’. It’s a tango film, a love story with a social conscience, set in Edinburgh. The idea is to use songs from our CD ‘La Pasionaria’ as part of the sound track and film it in Edinburgh. At the moment I’m looking for a director and exploring the possibility of working with the Greek director Vangelis Fampas  (producer of our CD ‘Luces del puerto’) or an Argentine director, Ezequiel Cadailhon. The options are open! Filmmakers, write to me!

I invite you to listen to the result of so many years, the album ‘La Pasionaria’ ( as well as the pre-release of ‘Luces del puerto’, one of the main songs on our future album ‘Little Book of Love and Exile’.


VL English

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