Gracias a la vida – Step by step (Part 2) – Learning Spanish language with “the sound of music”.
(Thanks to Life)
Gracias a la vida, Thanks to Life, is a powerful and enduring song, one of the most covered songs in Latin American history. It was composed by the legendary Chilean songwriter Violeta Parra (4.10.1917 – 5.02.1967), a pioneer of a Latin American movement known as La Nueva Canción, The New Song. In addition, her contribution to Latin American art and particularly to folklore has been invaluable.
The song Gracias a la vida became a theme tune for a distinct period of my life. A time in which, I reunited with my family after a long absence, a moment of great joy. Have you ever experienced a song that captures exactly the mood and a moment of a time in your life?
It’s perhaps the unique combination of music and lyrics, the distinctive voice of the singer, all meeting and combining with your personal circumstances to create the perfect soundtrack to one’s life. Somehow it becomes a private relationship between the words, the melody and you. Has this happened to you?
Gracias a la vida, a song or an anthem?
Why does a melody, accompanied by the right words, become a hymn for many? Gracias a la vida is one of the most covered songs in Latin American history – each version with its own unique interpretation.Violeta Parra reinforced the importance of the sound and words and without idealising life, she positioned herself and her singing with the voice of her people. Here are two verses from the lyric:
Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto:
me ha dado el sonido y el abecedario;
con él las palabras que pienso y declaro
madre, amigo, hermano, y luz alumbrando
la ruta del alma del que estoy amando.
Thanks to life, that has given me so much:
it has given me sound, and the alphabet
and with these the words that I think and declare:
mother, friend, brother, and light illuminating
the path of the soul of the one I love. 
Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto:
me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto,
así yo distingo dicha de quebranto,
los dos materiales que forman mi canto,
y el canto de ustedes, que es el mismo canto
y el canto de todos, que es mi propio canto.
Thanks to life, which has given me so much:
That has given me laughter and tears,
this way I distinguish joy from pain
the two materials that made my song,
and your song, which is the same song
and the song of everyone, which is my own song. 
Many performers have interpreted this anthem via diverse musical genres: from Flamenco to Salsa and various remixes; and it has also been translated into many languages.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
I would reiterate that frequent exposure to Spanish is essential in order to become familiar with its sounds and expressions. Students should be eager to integrate Spanish into their everyday life when starting to learn the Spanish language to achieve effective learning. Listening to Spanish lyrics from native Spanish speakers was suggested as one of the many options Spanish language students have today (See: Step by step. Part 1, 2 May 2014).
Listening, reading the lyrics, practising the phonetics and even singing along with them will help to improve pronunciation. This is an entertaining way of learning by repetition. For those who enjoy listening to different versions of the same song, here are some examples that may appeal to you:
The following link takes you to a version, with subtitles, sung by Mercedes Sosa, an Argentinean singer, perhaps one of the most heard interpretations of this song: click here.
American singer Joan Baez’ version begins with a brief introduction. She starts singing at 2.14: click here.
On 27 February 2010, there was a terrible earthquake in Chile. It is considered one of the strongest registered in history. The energy released was equivalent to 100,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. Despite Violeta Parra no longer being with us, her voice was there to sing and help the victims. A group of singers united their voices: Beto Cuevas (Chilian), Laura Pausini (Italian), Ferh Olvera (Mexican), Shakira (Colombian), Juanes (Colombian), Miguel Bosse (Panama/Colombia) producing a new version of Gracias a la vida. The single was named: Voces unidas por Chile. To hear this version please: click here.
Gracias a la vida, and to Violeta Parra, who gave so much and received too little recognition for her work whilst she was alive. So, before we leave, I would like to suggest that you listen to the original track sung by Violeta Parra: click here.
The song Gracias a la vida provides a great opportunity to discover which of the many versions is your particular favourite. Surf on YouTube and try to find the four best versions for you. Have you found any other interesting versions that you would you like to share with us? Please add your comments below.
Violeta se fue a los cielos, Violeta Went to Heaven: if there is a heaven, she must be there now. However, Violeta Went to Heaven (2011) is the name of a film that portrays her life, based on a biography written by her son Ángel Parra, who is also a singer/songwriter. The film was directed by Andrés Wood. Violeta Parra is wonderfully portrayed by Chilean actress Francisca Gavilán. This film gives us an insight into the passionate, charming, somehow naive and eccentric life of a great contributor of Latin American folklore. To view the trailer in Spanish with subtitles: click here, or see it below:
Trailer of Violeta Went to Heaven
To see the film in full (only available in Spanish): click here
 Free translation.
This is a follow up article Step by step – Learning Spanish language with “the sound of music” (Part 1), published 2 May 2014.