Quilapayún originated in 1965 when Julio Numhauser, and the brothers Julio and Eduardo Carrasco formed a folk music trio which they simply called “the three bearded men” (viz. Quila-Payún) in the mapuche language (viz. Mapudungun – the language of the people native to the region that is now the south of Chile, the Araucanians). Their first public performances were at the Universidad de Chile in Valparaíso organized by their first musical director, Ángel Parra (The son of Violeta Parra). In 1966 Patricio Castillo joined the group and they began performing and winning notoriety for their Andean music as well as their black ponchos which became the group's trademark. During this time they won their first prize, La Guitarra de Oro (The Golden Guitar) in the Primer Festival Nacional del Folkore “Chile Múltiple”. (First National Festival of Folklore), they also made their first recording, appearing in one song of Angel Parra, El Pueblo (The People).
In one of these performances of 1966 in Valparaíso the group met with Víctor Jara with whom the group maintained a close and productive artistic association with for many years. At the request of the group Victor Jara becomes Quilapayún’s musical director and he worked on the groups discipline, their stage performances and the stylistics and thematic of the groups music and songs. Jara presents them to the record label Odeon Records, where they would record 5 LPs. Their first album, Quilapayún was basically an Andean music album but they included songs of Ángel Parra, Víctor Jara and new compositions of Eduardo Carrasco such as La Paloma and El canto del cuculi.
In 1967 they recorded an album together with Víctor Jara, Canciones Folklóricas de América (Folk songs of America). During this time Julio Namhausser left the group over discrepancies on the style of music the group was pursuing and was replaced by Guillermo “Willy” Oddó. During 1967 they also toured the USSR, Italy, France and other parts of Europe and recorded an LP with the Chilean painter and poet Juan Capra.
In 1968, Quilapayún participated in the launch of a new record label of La Jota (Chile’s Communist Party Youth Organization) and here they record their LP “X Vietnam” which included songs from the Spanish Revolution; to the surprise of many commercial record labels its release became a nation-wide success. This album established the group's thematic and aesthetics and created great interest and a following among progressive youth. From the success of this album the label DICAP (Discoteca del Cantar Popular) appeared, which became the springboard of the Nueva Canción Chilena (New Chilean Song) movement. The DICAP label would record up to 60 musical productions until the military coup of September 11, 1973, which banned and literally destroyed the record label. During 1968 Julio Carrasco left the group for political differences, and was replaced by Hernán Gomez, and Rodolfo Parada.
In 1969 they recorded the ‘Basta’ LP, which included an eclectic and highly political collection of songs from different parts of the world, establishing the fundamental element of the New Chilean Song: its Internationalism. This album was released with a lengthy statement made by the group about the nature of their work and their commitment to the socialist cause:
In 1969 they also appeared supporting Víctor Jara in his album, Pongo En Tus Manos Abiertas (I place in your open hands) in songs such as ‘A Cochabamba Me Voy’, ‘El Martillo’ and Movil Oil Special. They also joined Jara at the Primer Festival de la Nueva Cancion Chilena (First Festival of the New Chilean Song) where they jointly interpreted ‘Plegaria a un Labrador’ (Prayer to a Laborer) which ultimately won the festivals award. After three years Víctor Jara and Quilapayún assumed different paths and Eduardo Carrasco became the group's director.
They were forced into exile in France after the right-wing military coup of 1973. The group settled in the city of Colombes, France for more than a decade. Their major works include Santa María de Iquique (1970), an album of spoken history, songs, and instrumentals about a notorious massacre in the city of Iquique, and the song "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido" (Spanish: "The people, united, will never be defeated"), written by famed Chilean songwriter and playwright Sergio Ortega.