Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso by Sting

Canvas the stars
Harness the moonlight
So she can safely go
Round the Cape Horn to Valparaiso
Houses in Valparaiso
Seventy-five miles Northwest of Chile's capital city, Santiago, lies the seaport city of Valparaiso. Known as “Little San Francisco” and “Jewel of the Pacific,” this city is particularly popular amongst European immigrants and has become an important cultural centre for the Southwest Pacific. Since the opening of the Panama Canal, Valparaiso is no longer the busy seaport it once was in the 19th Century, but it remains a city integral to Chilean culture and is the third largest Chilean city in terms of population. Susceptible to earthquakes, this World Heritage site is home to the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication, Chile's first public library, and one of the world's 100 most endangered historical treasures: funicular cable cars. What was once a Picunches Indian village has become a labyrinth of cobbled walkways, sporting a rich architectural and cultural history, thanks to Spanish colonisation and an influx of immigrants during the California Gold Rush. Until 1914, when the Panama Canal was opened, Valparaiso enjoyed a gold age as a required stopover for all ships travelling around the Cape Horn up the west coast of South America. It is the spirit of Valparaiso’s golden age that is poignantly captured in Sting's song, “Valparaiso.”

British singer song-writer, Gordon Matthew Sumner, more widely known by his stage name, Sting, is famous for his smooth contemporary vocals, and music that blends folk and jazz, with just a dash of rock and ska from his days with The Police. Sting's fifth album, Mercury Falling, released in 1996, is no different. Considered by many as the album which marked Sting's transition from jazz-rock to adult contemporary, Mercury Falling is still imbued with folksy, oceanic reminiscences, most poignantly distilled in the tenth track of the album, “Valparaiso.”
Funicular cable car, Valparaiso
Inspired by all things nautical and oceanic, Sting released The Soul Cages, which, while granting Sting the necessary catharsis after his father passed away, also reveals his attachment to the sea. Growing up in Newcastle, Sting witnessed first-hand the demise of the shipbuilding industry in a community very much bound to the sea. “Valparaiso” reiterates Sting's relationship with the ocean, and particularly ships, as evidenced by the lyrics. The song itself is a melancholy one, opening with pipes that immediately conjure an atmosphere of loneliness and longing. The slow rhythm and Sting's signature lilting voice lends this slow jig an almost lullaby-like quality, while Dominic Miller injects the piece with some Spanish flair on guitar. Towards the end of the over-5-minute-long ballad, Sting leads a minute long jam on his acoustic bass, incorporating folksy percussion elements, which provide a fading ending far brighter than the start.

Given the oceanic references and the dirge-like quality of the song, it's no wonder it was used during the closing credits of the 1996 Ridley Scott film, White Squall. This film is a fictional account of the brigantine Albatross, a school-ship that sank in 1961 during an alleged weather phenomenon known as a white squall. Given the tragic loss of several students and instructors, as depicted in the film, Sting's “Valparaiso” was certainly a fitting choice, used as the credits roll over the image of the survivors hiking through wild, island terrain.

Mercury Falling, like most of Sting's work, reflects thematic sensitivity, musical sophistication, and lyrics that are both simple and allegorical. “Valparaiso” sees the culmination of these facets in a song that is both an autobiographical reference, as well as a nod to the seafaring community in remembrance of a seaport that was once the heart of the Pacific shipping industry, and which remains the soul of the Chilean West coat. ~ Suzanne van Rooyen

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include
Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.

Comments: 3

  • Andrea L from Moses Lake, WaDoes anyone know which movie this might be in the soundtrack for? I heard this song at the end of the movie, and I thought I bought the soundtrack just for it, but now I can't figure out what movie it was.
  • Dave Z from PennsylvaniaIs it my imagination, or does the main melody of Sting's song "Valparaiso" bear an uncanny resemblance to the main theme of the classical violin composition "Lark Ascending" by Ralph Vaughan Williams?
  • Can from TurkeyI was searching for Sting's Valparaiso song. Why he wrote this song? Has he been there? There are more thane one Valparaiso in the world. Is İt chile's city or not?
    I found some details from your article ... thanks
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