Mercedes Sosa: song with no boundaries.With a powerful voice that catapulted her to international stardom, this popular Argentine singer remains grounded in the emotions and daily struggles of common people
She has been called the doyenne doy·enne
A woman who is the eldest or senior member of a group.
[French, feminine of doyen, senior member; see doyen.]
Noun 1. of Latin American folksingers, la gigante de la nueva cancion, and la voz Many media outlets use the name La Voz (Spanish: "The Voice"), including:
Argentina's Mercedes Sosa Mercedes Sosa (born 9 July 1935) is an Argentine singer immensely popular throughout Latin America. With her roots in Argentine folk music, she became one of the preeminent exponents of nueva canción. Sosa is greatly admired for the depth and beauty of her contralto voice. , now in the thirtieth year of her professional career, has played the biggest houses of Europe and the Americas and recorded hundreds of son's that run the gamut from traditional folk music folk music: see folk song.
Music held to be typical of a nation or ethnic group, known to all segments of its society, and preserved usually by oral tradition. Knowledge of the history and development of folk music is largely conjectural. through jazz and rock to popular masses and epic hymns. But what still matters most to her are la gente del pueblo, her solidarity with their struggle, her conviction that goodness will prevail even in the direst of times. This is the essence of her music whether she delivers it with stentorian sten·to·ri·an
Extremely loud: a stentorian voice. See Synonyms at loud.
[After Stentor, a loud-voiced Greek herald in the Iliad. bombast and a driving beat or the quiet tenderness of a lullaby. Either way people listen intently.
From the outset was there a presentiment pre·sen·ti·ment
A sense that something is about to occur; a premonition.
[Obsolete French, from presentir, to feel beforehand, from Latin of this quest for Verb 1. quest for - go in search of or hunt for; "pursue a hobby"
quest after, go after, pursue
look for, search, seek - try to locate or discover, or try to establish the existence of; "The police are searching for clues"; "They are searching for the freedom? Perhaps. Afterall, sixty years ago, Sosa was born on July 9, which is Independence Day in Argentina. And did the locale play a role, as well? Undoubtedly. Tucuman, her birthplace, remains the cultural heart and soul of Argentina's northwest; it is known for its civic pride and political activism. Sosa's paternal grandparents grandparents npl → abuelos mpl
grandparents grand npl → grands-parents mpl
grandparents grand npl , from Santiago del Estero Santiago del Estero, city (1991 pop. including La Banda 264,273), capital of Santiago del Estero prov., N Argentina. It is a transportation hub of the Argentine Chaco and a commercial center for cattle raised in the region. , were of Quechua stock, whereas her maternal grandmother was French. "That's where I get my pale skin, the French side of the family," the singer explains. "My deceased sister, Cocha, had green eyes." Sosa began as a dancer, especially a dance teacher, and even now, her ample proportions notwithstanding, as she sings she moves about the stage with agility and grace. "I always enjoyed singing for friends. I still do. At age twenty I won a contest, the prize being a two-month contract with a local radio station. I made my professional debut in 1965 at a regional folk music festival in Cosquin, a small town near Cordoba cor·do·ba
See Table at currency.
[American Spanish córdoba, after Francisco Fernández de Córdoba (1475?-1526?), Spanish explorer.]
Noun 1. . That's when la nueva cancion [the new song movement] really got going."
Until the 1960s, regional folk music usually meant sentimental paeans to the landscape and romanticized images of quaint country folk going about their business. The songs rarely acknowledged the limited horizons defined by poverty, ignorance, poor health, and periodic violence that characterized the harsh life of most campesinos. In keeping with the times, the so-called new songs changed all that. In form and instrumentation they remained faithful to the folk tradition, but with new candor they talked about real social issues: human rights, enduring peace, a decent standard of living for everyone. Were they protest songs? "I've never liked that label," Sosa states pointedly. "They were honest songs about the way things really are."
Throughout the seventies, Sosa developed a devoted following performing what became nueva cancion standards: compositions by Argentina's Atahualpa Yupanqui Atahualpa Yupanqui (22 January 1908 - 23 May 1992) was an Argentine singer, songwriter, guitarist, and writer. He is considered the most important Argentine folk musician of the 20th century. , Eduardo Falu, and Horacio Guarany, as well as those of the Chileans Violeta Parra Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval (October 14, 1917 – February 5, 1967) was a notable Chilean folklorist and visual artist. She set the basis for "New Song," La Nueva Canción chilena, a renewal and a reinvention of Chilean folk music which would absorb and extend its and Victor Jara. On occasion she wrote her own songs, but for the most part her reputation grew out of an ability to perform material of others in such a personal way that the words and music seemed to be her own. Unlike many of the other old-guard nueva cancionistas who were also guitarists, Sosa depended on others for accompaniment, although occasionally she would join in using a traditional drum, or bombo leguero, which became something of a trademark. But it was the Sosa voice that people came to hear. She was blessed with an earthy, warm contralto contralto (kəntrăl`tō), female voice of lowest pitch. Originally, the term denoted a second voice set against (contra) a high voice (alto); thus, a second high voice. , one that seems to soar effortlessly even above the largest chorus or orchestra. Other trademarks were her crystal-clear intonation, impeccable phrasing, and unerring un·err·ing
Committing no mistakes; consistently accurate.
un·erring·ly adv. sense of the emotional content of the words. In another life Sosa might have tackled the Wagnerian repertoire, because even as a young singer she had the necessary vocal skill, stamina, and power. But it was her destiny to embrace the folk idiom, chart a course far removed from the opera house, and that meant bagualas, carnavalitos, milongas, zambas, chayas, malambos, and other traditional song forms.
Near the end of the seventies, as Sosa's songs took on more bite by dealing with themes like agrarian reform agrarian reform, redistribution of the agricultural resources of a country. Traditionally, agrarian, or land, reform is confined to the redistribution of land; in a broader sense it includes related changes in agricultural institutions, including credit, taxation, , human rights, and democracy, she ran into trouble. This was threatening stuff to the military regime then in power, and she became a target for harassment and intimidation. During one concert in the resort town of La Plata La Plata (lä plä`tä), city (1991 pop. 640,344), capital of Buenos Aires prov., E central Argentina, 5 mi (8.1 km) inland from Ensenada, its port on the Río de la Plata. , security forces arrested Sosa, her son, the band, the entire audience. The singer, dressed in Argentina's national colors of blue and white, was body searched on stage, although afterwards an embarrassed policeman kissed her hand and whispered, "forgive me, Dona Mercedes. They have ordered me to do this." By 1978 repeated cycles of arrest and release, bomb threats during her concerts, and eventually a decree by the military governor of Buenos Aires Buenos Aires (bwā`nəs ī`rēz, âr`ēz, Span. bwā`nōs ī`rās), city and federal district (1991 pop. completely outlawing her performances made it impossible for Sosa to continue. Denied her livelihood yet not content to serve "as some decoration or ornament for the left" (her words), she took up residence in Madrid for what proved to be three years in exile.
Adjusting to life in Spain was difficult, all the more so because she had lost her husband to cancer just before leaving her homeland. Still, she did her best not to mourn but rather went to work experimenting with a new form of music she hoped would appeal to European audiences. "I had started as a folklorista and at first had no interest in classical music or jazz. But somewhat earlier my husband had taken me to a concert by Oscar Peterson For the United States Navy sailor and Medal of Honor recipient, see .
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, CC, CQ, O.Ont. (b. August 15, 1925, Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian jazz pianist and composer. , and after that I started listening to jazz. Then the Moscow Philharmonic came to Buenos Aires and again, I didn't want to try it, but Macitel [a friend] nudged me, and I went and I loved it. So eventually, I didn't abandon folk music, but I began singing some of the jazz-inflected compositions in Portuguese by Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque, and other Brazilian pop masters. I'm still experimenting, searching. These days I'm trying things in Greek, which is quite hard, also a Japanese lullaby, which is easier because it's so phonetic. My career has been a continual search not for applause but a personal musical quest involving change, taking chances!"
Soon after her arrival in Spain, and not sure when she might return to Argentina, the expatriate bought a house in Madrid and purchased a little car so she could drive herself to musical engagements in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium. In 1979 she appeared in the first Amnesty International Amnesty International (AI,) human-rights organization founded in 1961 by Englishman Peter Benenson; it campaigns internationally against the detention of prisoners of conscience, for the fair trial of political prisoners, to abolish the death penalty and torture of concert at Royal Albert Hall in London. She also performed in Israel and flew to Canada, Colombia, and Brazil, where she was offered permanent residency. But Sosa experienced a mounting sense of "disease," not because her throat was acting up or some other physical problem. It was "rather a problem of morale," she told Larry Rohter of the New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times. "When you are in exile, you take your suitcase, but there are things that don't fit. There are things in your mind like colors and smells and childhood attitudes, and there is also the pain and the death you saw. You can't deny those things because to do so can make you ill."
In 1982, of her own volition vo·li·tion
1. The act or an instance of making a conscious choice or decision.
2. A conscious choice or decision.
3. The power or faculty of choosing; the will. , the singer returned to her homeland. "They said, 'who gave you permission?'" the singer recalls, "and I said I was a citizen and didn't need permission." Fortunately, the military regime fell soon after, and a civilian government under Raul Alfonsin took its place. Then, rather triumphantly and in rapid succession, Sosa gave thirteen concerts at the Teatro Opera in Buenos Aires to standing-room-only audiences, her old fans as well as newcomers hungry to share her sense of restored faith, optimism, and hope. Gone were the somber themes about survival and enduring, and in their place she performed Maria Elena Walsh's celebration of rebirth, "Como la cigarra" [Like the Cicada cicada (sĭkā`də), large, noise-producing insect of the order Homoptera, with a stout body, a wide, blunt head, protruding eyes, and two pairs of membranous wings. ] and Julio Numhauser's "Todo cambia" [Everything Changes], which became an unofficial anthem for those heady times. Sosa's rendering of "Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazon" [I Come to Offer My Heart], by Fito Paez, also captured a mood then widespread, that of healing and coming together: "Who says that everything is lost? I come to offer my heart. So much blood has been carried away by the river, I come to offer my heart."
To commemorate these concerts, the singer issued a double album, Mercedes Sosa Live in Argentina. Sosa emerged as a folk hero, a symbol of resilience, maternal courage, and integrity as an artist. It was also a period of great personal growth for the folksinger folk·sing·er or folk sing·er
A singer of folksongs.
folk singing n. from Tucuman as she continued to explore different musical forms, especially those of a younger generation rooted in jazz, rock, and related popular idioms. In 1986 she invited a rising star, Leon Gieco, to tour with her. Repeatedly they brought crowds to their feet stomping and clapping as the two singers hammered out the words to Gieco's "Solo le pido a Dios" [All I Ask of God] with its Dylanesque harmonica harmonica.
1 The simplest of the musical instruments employing free reeds, known also as the mouth organ or French harp. It was probably invented in 1829 by Friedrich Buschmann of Berlin, who called his instrument the Mundäoline. accompaniment. Sosa also hit the road or, more accurately, the airports, as she and the best of Argentina's new breed of folkrockers and balladeers toured the Americas and Europe. "At one point I feared we wouldn't be understood, that the poetry of the songs wouldn't come across, because we always sang in Spanish. So we introduced a translator. But the audience became paralyzed par·a·lyze
tr.v. par·a·lyzed, par·a·lyz·ing, par·a·lyz·es
1. To affect with paralysis; cause to be paralytic.
2. To make unable to move or act: paralyzed by fear. , frozen, so I said no, it's only going to be castellano!"
The universal language of music did prevail as foreigners came to know the inspired compositions of her companions, Paez, Heredia, Teresa Parodi, and Antonio Tarrago Ros. "At the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam it was incredible, mostly young people, tremendously enthusiastic, three and four encores," Sosa remembers with a smile. "Afterwards my feet were so swollen I couldn't get my shoes off, but it didn't matter."
During 1987-88 Sosa did a series of concerts in the United States, appearing for the first time at major venues like Carnegie Hall in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. as well as college campuses. Sold-out crowds embraced her at every turn. "I have never seen anything like her, the New York Times quoted Joan Baez, who had performed with Sosa in Buenos Aires and Europe. "She is a brilliant singer with tremendous charisma, who is both a voice and a persona. She may not look like Tina Turner, but from the stage she can really hold an audience."
In October 1988 Sosa returned to her homeland and joined an Amnesty International musical caravan that included Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, and Sting (with whom she sang "They Dance Alone," his homage to Argentina's desaparecidos). In 1991 she packed the Estadio Parque Luna in Buenos Aires with fans who came to witness her extravaganza, Sin fronteras, which included appearances by fellow Argentines Parodi and Silvina Garre, Colombia's Leonor Gonzalez Mina Leonor Gonzalez Mina was a prominent vocalist in the cumbia genre of Colombian music. Her songs include Mi Buenaventura, Navidad Negra, and Yo Me Llamo Cumbia. , Venezuela's Lilia Vera, Brazil's Beth Carvalho, and Mexico's Amparo Ochoa. Equally memorable was the marathon performance by Sosa and many other artists the same year at the soccer stadium of Ferrocarril Oeste. To the tens of thousands gathered she dedicated the concert to the now-famous mothers of the Plaza de Mayo The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Spanish: Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo) is an association of Argentine mothers whose children "disappeared" under the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. , or as Sosa went on to say, "tambien las abuelitas de Plaza de Mayo The Plaza de Mayo (Spanish for May Square) is the main square in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, at ," who had risked their lives in the name of justice. Although much of the program was devoted to songs by the current generation - Nascimento, Heredia, Gieco, Paez, Numhauser, and Cuba's Silvio Rodriguez, there were the standards, too. Parra's enduring "Gracias a la vida" and Yupanqui's "Los Hermanos," the words of which - "I have so many brothers, and I can count each one, and a very beautiful sister, whose name is Liberty" - also took on special meaning.
Success in no way has corrupted Argentina's grand lady of song. She lives in a comfortable apartment overlooking the broadest avenue in the world, the Avenida 9 de julio in downtown Buenos Aires, but there is nothing pretentious about her life-style nor ostentatious os·ten·ta·tious
Characterized by or given to ostentation; pretentious. See Synonyms at showy.
os about the furnishings in her home. In the entry area is a photograph of Neruda embracing Picasso, which the poet inscribed in·scribe
tr.v. in·scribed, in·scrib·ing, in·scribes
a. To write, print, carve, or engrave (words or letters) on or in a surface.
b. To mark or engrave (a surface) with words or letters. to Sosa, also a drawing of the singer by her good friend, Joan Baez. Sosa is particularly attached to some traditional pieces of silverwork silverwork, utilitarian objects and works of art created from silver. Silverwork includes ecclesiastical and domestic plate, flatware, jewelry, buttons, buckles, boxes, toilet articles, weapons, furniture, and horse trappings. by the Mapuches of the southern Andes, also a print by David Alfaro Siqueiros, which the artist gave her during the inauguration of his last mural for Mexico City's Hotel de Mexico. "In his honor I sang a song, 'Por Candido Portinari,' the great Brazilian painter who also created murals and was in touch with the people." Sosa pauses and then reflects, "Family, that's what matters to me! I don't give a hoot Verb 1. give a hoot - show no concern or interest; always used in the negative; "I don't give a hoot"; "She doesn't give a damn about her job"
care a hang, give a damn, give a hang about owning an airplane or a swimming I just want to live in peace. All that lawn cutting! No! Paradise is nature, living in the country."
Also dear to Sosa's heart are her own recordings. Stacked near the stereo are dozens of tapes and compact discs that she studies often, critically, and with great concentration. But sometimes she interrupts with the hint of a tear in her eye: "Ah, that was in Tucuman. They really loved me," or "That's my other son, Cacho. He's a barber. Beautiful voice." Then her eyes wander to a magazine and a photograph of Astor Piazzolla, "Ay, el pichuco, what a good boy. He was a person who loved the idea . . . the idea of Buenos Aires. I saw him one night at the Teatro Colon, such a great composer and musician. He worked so hard even without popular support. Only the young people supported his experiments with the traditional tango. But then I've struggled, too, to reach the ordinary people, people in the slums, and I could never make it. It's been a tremendous desperation of mine."
Sosa is genuinely saddened by what she perceives to be a growing inner solitude within the young people of today. She fears they only see loud music and drugs as the answer. "Reading, knowing one's roots, history: that's how we come to know ourselves," she states emphatically. "Some years ago, I recorded the "Terceto autoctono" [Autochthonous autochthonous /au·toch·tho·nous/ (aw-tok´thah-nus)
1. originating in the same area in which it is found.
2. denoting a tissue graft to a new site on the same individual. Tercet] of Cesar Vallejo from Las Heraldas Negras [The Black Heralds], and this young couple, deeply puzzled, asked me what he was looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. ." At this point, Sosa begins to sing the first stanza: "En puno labrado se aterciopela, yen cruz en cada labio se aperfile. Es fiesta! El ritmo del arado vuela; y es un chantre de bronce cada esquila." [The laboring fist becomes soft as velvet, and traces a cross on every lip. It's fiesta! The rhythm of the plow takes flight; and every cowbell is a bronze precentor precentor (prēsĕn`tər) [Lat.,=one who sings first], the director of the music of a cathedral or a monastic church and also a cantor. .] She stops singing: "Vallejo is difficult, but that's no excuse. Of course, if you don't speak Spanish it's impossible to comprehend his metaphors, the mix of religious beliefs with pagan ones." Then Sosa laughs and tells a story about a music critic from a Buenos Aires daily who lauded her recording of the verses of "Carlos Vallejos." "Carlos Vallejos! No one knows the names of the authors, the composers! They don't even put the composers' names on the recordings anymore! Where would we be without them!"
During concerts Sosa always sings from the printed page. "I'm not sure why because I have a good memory," she explains. To prove it, she launches into a passage from the Romance de la muerte de Juan Lavalle, an epic saga about an Argentine military hero set to music which she recorded years ago with guitarist Eduardo Falu and author Ernesto Sabato. Unfortunately, the phone rings, and the splendid, private miniconcert that can be part of a conversation with Sosa comes to a halt. It is Ariel Ramirez on the line, composer of Misa criolla, the folk mass that became an enduring bestseller in the late sixties. Sosa shifts gears effortlessly and at full volume over the phone line intones several passages from the Misa, testing and discussing different levels of pitch. Returning to the sofa, she explains that Sony wants to issue a new version, an enormous production with full orchestra and several choral groups from Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. "I'm restudying the libretto libretto (ləbrĕt`ō) [Ital.,=little book], the text of an opera or an oratorio. Although a play usually emphasizes an integrated plot, a libretto is most often a loose plot connecting a series of episodes. already," she explains. "Singing above a thousand or more voices plus all the instruments will not be easy!"
In October and November 1995 Sosa performed in ten cities throughout the United States and Canada. The tour, which she called Gestos de amor, or Gestures of Love, was organized by Nestor Rodriguez Lacoren, her agent in New York, also the author of La nueva mujer-poemas (1989), a versified homage to Sosa composed during the 1987-88 tour. As always, her own son, Fabian, served as her manager. She also relied on the veteran sidemen who have worked with her for years: Nicolas Brizuela on guitar, Gustavo Spatocco on keyboards, Ernesto Lobo on drums, and Carlos Genoni on bass. Each concert was vintage Sosa, a solid offering of the standards her adoring fans have come to expect as well as new material or revised interpretations that the artist in Sosa demands. A high point of the tour was a special ceremony in New York, at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall Avery Fisher Hall, located in New York City, is a part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex. It is the home of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The hall contains 2,738 seats. , at which UNIFEM UNIFEM United Nations Development Fund for Women , the United Nations Development Fund for Women The United Nations Development Fund for Women, commonly known as UNIFEM, provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies that promote women’s human rights, political participation and economic security. , presented Sosa with their Anniversary Award. Afterwards, in an interview with Katherine Monk of the Vancouver Sun, Sosa said: "I accepted the prize with a great deal of responsibility. It's important that the north and the south understand each other more than ever. I'm also proud because the prize is on behalf of women."
Using her music to build bridges between people and their disparate viewpoints has been Sosa's mission during her entire career. As a native of Argentina's northwest, she has persuaded the urban Europeans of Buenos Aires and many other cities to heed the nobility and wisdom of the Quechua, the Guarani gua·ra·ni
n. pl. guarani or gua·ra·nis
See Table at currency.
[Spanish guaraní, Guarani; see Guarani.]
Noun 1. , and other indigenous peoples of the Americas. In the face of repression, when the state has presumed to limit and define the very thought processes of its citizenry, stubbornly Sosa has demanded free expression of ideas even at risk to her own life. By living what she believes and presenting a model for others to follow, she has encouraged women to claim their rightful share of all forms of human endeavor. Also, she has argued the cause of those too poverty stricken or ignorant to speak for themselves, reminding us that true prosperity is a collective state of being, not for a select few.
A former professor of art, Caleb Bach is currently working on a book. He is a regular contributor to Americas. The author would like to acknowledge the gracious assistance of Nestor Rodriguez Lacoren in the preparation of this article.