Though founded in 1969 by Sergio Gonzalez, the band's roots go back to 1964 when he and his brothers Patricio and Fernando, along with bassist Fernando Hurtado, began playing in a series of garage rock bands covering American rock & roll songs. In 1969, however, they had matured and begun to experiment with various folk instruments and song forms from their native Chile. Enlisting new lead vocalist Francisco Sazo from Los Sicodélicos, they became Congreso. After two years of relentless experimentation juxtaposing pop melodies with varied textural backdrops that included Andean flutes and stringed instruments (most notably the charango), their self-titled album was issued in 1971, and included a song composed for Pablo Neruda's "Maestranzas de Noche" and "El Condor Pasa," later covered by Simon & Garfunkel. The album -- and a burgeoning concert audience -- won them the Best New Artist award at the Festival of the New Chilean Song.
In the aftermath, the Gonzalez brothers all entered the Institute of Music of the Universidad Católica to study harmony and composition. While their studies left them no time to record, they did find time to play live. While recording their second album in 1973, the infamous Chilean military coup d'état took place and a military dictatorship restricted all forms of artistic expression. The album's release was postponed until 1975, with limited distribution. As musicians, writers, painters, and artists of all stripes fled the country, Congreso chose to stay. In 1977 they issued another self-titled effort, which offered coded song fragments criticizing the military junta. Misa de los Andes was issued in even greater obscurity two years later, leading to the amicable departure of three of Congreso's members -- including Sazo -- signaling almost constant personnel changes. Singer, songwriter, and bassist Jorge Campos replaced Hurtado.
While Congreso still played live, they were busy integrating new members and didn't record again until 1986's Estoy Que Me Muero. In 1987, in the middle of a tour, they introduced a brave new direction with the release of the double cassette offering Gira al Sur, which startled audiences with its focus on adding dance rhythms from the U.S. and the Caribbean. After General Augusto Pinochet was deposed in 1988, the nation returned to democracy, creating an avenue for Congreso to gain exposure. A year later they directly referenced the dark legacy of the junta in Para los Arqueólogos del Futuro, while offering songs of hope for a new history beyond the nation's trauma. Appearing as it did in the wake of a new openness throughout Latin America, the album achieved gold status. The following year they released the chart-topping Aire Puro and were featured headliners for the historic Desde Chile... Un Abrazo a la Esperanza concert sponsored by Amnesty International.
The band followed with two concept records in a row, which didn't achieve the same commercial popularity but resonated with critics and are now regarded as classics. Pichanga (1991) was developed from poems by Nicanor Parra based on the Convention on Children's Rights, and their ballet Los Fuegos del Hielo (1992) concerned the extinction of various indigenous peoples from Chile's southern region -- it was performed throughout South America and in Spain. After a two-year hiatus as the group members pursued individual projects, Congreso returned with the 1994 live recording 25 Años de Música, which included a slew of guest performances from former bandmembers and artists such as Isabel Parra, Inti-Illimani, Eduardo Gatti, and Leon Gieco. In 1997 the band issued two albums almost simultaneously in Por Amor al Viento and Mediodía. Given their contentious relationships with "official" music labels, only the latter saw mass release, and it would be their last for four years: after sporadic touring, Congreso's members went on hiatus to pursue more solo projects. The band returned to action in 2001 with the album La Loca Sin Zapatos, which included a cover of Victor Jara's "Angelita Huenuman." Given the limited returns from their albums in Chile, Congreso launched a U.S. tour on the university and festival circuits and garnered distribution for their entire catalog. They gave workshops and hosted jam sessions as well as taught master classes. The live album Congreso de Exportación was recorded in 2003 at the Chilean capital's Teatro Oriente. Regardless of exile and limited access to their recordings, and despite almost total disinterest from the national mass media, Congreso found that their following remained undiminished. After 20 years, Campos left the band for a solo career in 2006 and Federico Faure was named as his replacement. In 2007 they performed a memorable concert at the Estación Mapocho Cultural Center, which brought together all the members who had once been part of Congreso since their inception in 1969 (except Campos). In July of 2010 they released Con los Ojos en la Calle, which included guest spots from Brazilians Lenine and Ed Motta and Chilean singer/songwriter Magdalena Matthey. The following year Congreso performed for two nights at the Matucana 100 Cultural Center. The set list was based on an Internet vote, and the concert was recorded and filmed for a DVD production entitled Congreso a la Carta.
January 2014 saw release of the album Symphonico Congreso, comprising live performances of catalog material with the Teatro Municipal de Santiago directed by Eduardo Browne in concert at the Antofagasta en las Ruinas de Huanchaca, and with the Orquesta Concepción Universidad. In April of that year, Congreso performed the entirety of their album Pajaros de Arcilla on its 30th anniversary. The album was never released in Chile despite being considered one of the group's classics. Continuing with reinterpretation, the group presented the 1975 album Terra Incógnita in July 2016 on the occasion of its re-release. During concerts they announced the forthcoming studio album La Canción Que Te Debe, which saw release in November of 2017. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi