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A Chilean brass band brings street protest energy to Somerville's HONK! Fest

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Banda Rim Bam Bum (Courtesy HONK! Fest)
Banda Rim Bam Bum (Courtesy HONK! Fest)

Somerville’s HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands is back in full force, with a complete lineup of events throughout the weekend for the first time since 2019. The bold and brassy gathering of musicians with social and political causes was limited in size and scope the past two years because of the pandemic.

Santiago's Banda Rim Bam Bum helped kick off the festival on Thursday, Oct. 6, with a performance at the Cambridge Public Library. The 18-piece brass band filled the lecture hall with upbeat, ear-splittingly loud music, and occasionally broke into song. Afterward, band members took questions from the audience about the Estallido Social, or Social Outburst, that upended Chilean politics in 2019.

Banda Rim Bam Bum joined in the massive demonstrations that erupted three years ago in response to subway fare hikes in Santiago. For many Chileans, it seemed like conditions might finally improve after decades of free market policies that saw the privatization of social security, a rising cost of living and extreme wealth inequality.

"That year, the reaction of the people, ourselves, showed that [change] maybe was possible. It was like a hope," said saxophone player Catalina Scheleff in an interview after the Cambridge performance.

Since then, Chileans voted overwhelmingly to rewrite the constitution adopted during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in the 1980s. But progressives were dealt a blow when a draft of a new constitution was rejected in a September referendum. Now it's back to the drawing board — and a likely compromise on a new constitution.

"We want to believe, we have to believe, that it is possible, that we can change the constitution, that we can give rights, fair rights, to all people in Chile," Scheleff said.

She believes music has a part to play in street protests.

"It's the moment when you are there and you look around, and it's so, so full of people thinking like you and hoping for a better world," Scheleff said. "It touches you."

This weekend, Banda Rim Bam Bum will hit the streets of Somerville and Cambridge with 20 other street bands as part of HONK! Fest. The event includes a parade Sunday, Oct. 10, from Davis Square to Harvard Square.

This segment aired on October 7, 2022.

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Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for WBUR.

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