June 03, 2017

A column by Jorge Valqui

I’ve just come back from a concert by Rodrigo Tobar, and I’ve left with the unreal feeling of someone who thinks he has lived several lives.

In one of them, I happened by chance to arrive at a concert in a remote village in Germany (a neighbouring one to ours) and discovered part of my true past with the music performed there.

I met Rodrigo Tobar, a Chilean from La Ligua, in the Valparaíso region, at the end of the eighties, both of us having just arrived in Germany.

He had passed through Cologne on a tour with his band Ortiga at that time and had ended up staying – like me – in this city.

(The region where we live does not officially belong to Cologne, but what do official boundaries matter in the face of the power of cardiac geography?)

As has happened to me with almost all the Chileans I have met here in Germany – I am Peruvian -, I was in tune immediately.

-Eagle! -he greeted me, calling me with extreme sympathy, one afternoon more than twenty years ago; I no longer know why, although I seem to remember something from a horoscope.

(Since we are in the age of the Internet, I google the word ‘eagle’ and associate it with ‘horoscope’.

The result astounds me. At the end, I laugh like someone who, having thought he had met his double in the street, realizes that he has only been looking at his image in a mirror).

Then I lost sight of him for many years.

I saw him again at one of his concerts about ten years ago, but I didn’t dare bother him at the end of it.

(I am one of those who, out of infinite shame, make the mistake of not congratulating musicians after their performance).

A year and a half ago I met him in the supermarket of a neighboring village. (He uses the cute name of village to define the small localities of this semi-rural region near Colonia).

-Eagle! -I heard behind me.

I hadn’t seen him for twenty long years (except for the time when I attended the concert I mentioned and saw him from afar), but I knew immediately who he was.

There is always one person in our lives who calls us in a way that only he knows and uses, and which allows us to distinguish him from all the others.

-Eagle! -I greeted him back, like that first time at the end of the eighties when we left the university canteen.

Rodrigo wore his hair the same way I had worn it a couple of years before: the outdated African look of the seventies, perhaps more in the style of Roberto Carlos.

(Those were the demands of those times, just as today no one seems to be anyone if they don’t have a Facebook profile).

(I don’t. That is to say, I am nobody.)

It took me a moment to recognize him.

The hair was still there, intact, vital.

His features were almost the same.

But his hair had lost its tint.

The contrast was striking, not only because of his well-preserved features, but for another reason that has to do with human vanity.

Many prefer to hide their greying hair when it is no longer possible to conceal it.

He, on the other hand, showed his grey hair with a pride that shocked me because it revealed my own weakness: I use hairspray or hair gel to hide mine.

On that occasion he told me that he lived in a village next to ours and that he was still dedicated to music.

I think we arranged to meet, but I don’t know any more.

As attempts at friendship can always be immense, but no greater than the daily routine and idleness, we lost sight of each other again.

Then, just a fortnight ago, I attended a literary evening in Ehrenfeld and met his brother Lorenzo.

-What about the Eagle? -I asked him.

-We have a concert in Pulheim in two weeks, he informed me.

-I’m in.

And I have just arrived from that concert.

I read the following in an interview I just found online.

“I think there have been times when we have done very well with tours and performances in important stages, on TV and radio and at renowned festivals, but we have also experienced moments of existential and musical anxiety”.

I laugh again at what seems to me to be a coincidence.

I mentioned at the beginning of these lines the feeling of having lived several lives awakened by his music, and with his words he refers to the same thing: the multiplicity of our existences.

At the end of this Pulheim concert, the enthusiasm and applause of the audience forced the group to return to the stage a couple of times for an encore.

Rodrigo’s compositions have the Machado-like freshness of the troubadour who knows there is no path, that one makes one’s way by singing.

His art has reminded me that music has more power than mere commercial value and that music elaborated and listened to with perfect attention unravels and touches many more fibres than decorative music or music designed for quick consumption.

Rodrigo and Lorenzo had performed this time exclusively with their children (two per head, four in total) and the audience appreciated it with long minutes of standing ovations at the end.

I particularly liked one song, Jacarandá.

On the way out, I bumped into his brother Lorenzo – the second head of the band – and we greeted each other warmly as usual.

Again, I didn’t dare go over to greet Rodrigo amid so many people waiting to do so.

(We’ll meet and see each other again one of these days in a supermarket nearby).

Arriving home, I wrote these lines while listening to the song that serves as the presentation of his digital portal:


What a coincidence, the same song that I had not dared to request as an encore.

Next time I see him, I’ll tell him about it.

I will tell him that his music has helped me to recover the convergence of my various lives.

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