They acquired widespread popularity in Chile for their song "Venceremos" (We shall win!) which became the anthem of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. At the moment of September 11, 1973's Chilean coup they were on tour in Europe and were unable to return to their country where their music was proscribed by the ruling military junta. In Europe their music took on a multifarious character, incorporating elements of European baroque and other traditional music forms to their rich and colourful Latin American rhythms - creating a distinctive fusion of modern world music. They are perhaps the best internationally known members of the nueva canción movement.
Owing to personal problems, in 2001 they split in two bands (as Quilapayún): Inti-Illimani "Histórico" (directed by Horacio Salinas, with H. Salinas, J. Seves, H. Durán, Jorge Ball, Fernando Julio, Danilo Donoso and Camilo Salinas) and Inti-Illimani "Nuevo" (Jorge and Marcelo Coulón, Manuel Meriño, Daniel Cantillana, Efrén Viera and César Jara)