Flora and Fauna

Chilean roots musician Pascuala Ilabaca performs in Eugene

Pascuala Ilabaca

Chile follows trends in popular music from the U.S. and Europe, according to songwriter and composer Pascuala Ilabaca. Ilabaca’s home country — where around one-third of the people live in the capital city, Santiago — strives for modernity, she says, more so than other areas of Latin America. Western-style hip hop, trap music and neo-soul dominate most Chilean playlists.

That’s what makes Ilabaca’s music transgressive: It’s rooted in the traditional and Indigenous music of Chile and elsewhere in Central and South America. Behind their 2023 EP, Alegriste, Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna, Ilabaca’s five-piece band, performs May 27 at WOW Hall.

Still, there’s plenty of pop music to be heard in Ilabaca’s work, blending Kate Bush-like experimentation with horn arrangements referencing jazz fusion and funk: rhythmic, fun, expressive and joyful. Ilabaca performances are family friendly and meant for dancing, she says.

With Alegriste, Ilabaca — a Pulsar-award winner, something like a Chilean Grammy — sought the warm, analog tone of old Janis Joplin records. She used vintage gear in the process of making the EP, recorded on tape, and the brass arrangements were captured together, live in studio rather than overdubbed. “I tried to put all the warm color in the brass,” she says.

In the 2010s, a generation of young Chilean musicians, Ilabaca included, explored their country’s musical history. “Most of the people, they don’t know Chilean music,” Ilabaca tells Eugene Weekly in a Zoom call from her home in Valparaiso, Chile. “I got more conscious about that.” 

In Chilean schools, students are taught that the country is “different from Latin America. Our traditions are more European, more cosmopolitan,” Ilabaca explains.

To help address this, Ilabaca worked within a collective, performing traditional music and touring to promote traditional sounds and styles to Chilean schoolchildren. They aimed to prove music from Chile was ”not something for old people or boring” but instead, “something cool,” Ilabaca says.

Over the years, some of those other musicians have moved on to other projects, but Ilabaca’s interest remains. 

Born in Spain and raised in Chile, she sings in Spanish and composes her music on keyboards, while reserving the most traditional work for accordion. Although Ilabaca loves the roots music of Central and South America like Peruvian waltz and ranchera — a Mexican ancestor to North American country music — she never looks backward.

As Ilabaca is well aware, some standard lyrical content of the genres she works in are plainly sexist — especially ranchera. So, while working in traditional forms, she strives to infuse her work with more modern, feminist sensibilities — a mix of past and present, she says.

As a young girl, Ilabaca also lived for a time in India with her parents, a place she has returned to later in life. India’s vastly different musical culture inspires her, such as raga, an Indian classical music form featuring long-form compositional structure with elements of improvisation.

With this, Ilabasca saw beyond the three-minute pop song formula, rejecting what she calls the “binary” approach to Western songwriting. “All the creativity inside ourselves is going to fit in a binary structure?” she asks. “That’s a problem. You need to develop your creativity. Binary vision is not enough.”

Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna perform 9 pm Saturday, May 27, at WOW Hall; $30 advance, $35 door, all ages.