El Grito De La Tierra (The Cry Of The Earth)
Reflection about the state of things is a natural process but truly accessing the feeling of returning home is important (in whatever form that takes). For some of us to take a breath is a fleeting act surrounded by uncertainty. It’s often a chance to connect to something we once thought irreconcilable. Sometimes we get hints of home channelled through the things that raised us. For some, it’s family or friends but for many of us music shaped the world around us. It taught us about self-expression, local issues, and how they connect to us.
For some communities, there are those figures that become etched in your memory. For a lot of Latinx households, Mercedes Sosa was one of those etched figures.
Para Cantarle A Mi Gente (To Sing To My People)
The 1950s and 1960s gave birth to a rich era known as nuevo cancionero. Steeped in the revolutionary and social justice movements of the time across Iberian America, nuevo cancionero, bonded with folk music to create a style with authentic emotion at its core accompanied by ties to the land its people. Themes of poverty, imperialism, and humanitarian relief often held space between the folk-driven style.
Each region that carried the movement has its own history and origin, but in Argentina, the movement was codified by a group of 14 artists and poets on 11 February 1963. They signed the Manifiesto Fundacional de Nuevo Cancionero with the goal to challenge mainstream Argentine national music’s commercialism and seek critical spaces that encouraged stronger senses of community.
Traigo Un Pueblo En Mi Voz (I Bring A Town In My Voice)
Born July 1935 and raised in the capital of the Tucumán province in Argentina, Haydée Mercedes Sosa grew up with a large family experiencing poverty from a young age. This along with various aspects of her life in Argentina laid the groundwork for the exploration through her career. Attempts to hide her music career from her family, things evolved when at age 15, Sosa won a local amateur-hour radio competition. The grand prize for the contest was a two-month contract to perform for the station, giving her an early glimpse at a career in the music industry. Opportunities came steadily as she built a reputation across Argentina, allowing her to release her first album La Voz de la Zafra in 1959.
By the next decade, the nuevo cancionero movement was in full swing with Sosa as one of its prominent musical figures. The further along her career progressed, the more (as with many music movements weaved throughout history) it caught the attention of local government authorities. At that point in Argentina’s history, the military was under the rule of Jorge Videla, a senior commander with the army. Staging a military junta in 1976 held the country in a tight hold on the communities across Argentina.
Anything in opposition of Videla’s vision was watched closely and disrupted as they deemed fit. Nuevo cancionero artists were among the roughly 30,000 victims of forced disappearances under the Videla rule. At first, Sosa’s music was suppressed across the country, but as her popularity grew and she continued to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, she became known as “the voice of the voiceless ones”. This movement behind her only escalated the level of the army’s harassment towards Sosa and her family with increasing threats and provocation. Her music was eventually banned from radio play and television broadcasting. Navigating her way through constant censorship and focusing on her live concerts, Sosa performing at a concert in La Plata was interrupted in the middle of her set, subsequently searched, and arrested (along with the 350 attendees). After years of sustained aggression and death threats, Sosa fled from Argentina in 1979, forcing her to travel to Paris and Madrid over the course of the following three years.
Beginning to build a profile across Europe, Sosa’s calling to Argentina never faded. Back home, the dictatorship remained in power but had begun its decay during her absence. After three years, she decided to return to Argentina, performing a set of comeback performances in Buenos Aires to a warm and welcoming Argentine people.
“I didn’t choose to sing for people…life chose me to sing”
— Mercedes Sosa
A Que Florezca Mi Pueblo (Let My People Bloom)
A career that spanned over five decades was filled with a connection that has been passed on through multiple generations of Latin Americans. Sosa released 40 albums through her lifetime that spoke to fearlessness, love, and the complicated political turmoil that held the region for so many years.
When news of her death became public, folks from Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil travelled to pay their respects. Even without the ease of digital platforms, Sosa’s sound weaved through South American borders at the same speed. A mural was erected on the street that day where people from visiting cities expressed their admiration for Sosa.
It’s an enduring question when we talk about the musings of legacy. We can never know how far we can reach someone let alone what kind of lasting effect we have the capacity to create. Sosa always kept her community at the centre of it all. Someone who guided a generation of Latin Americans through difficult times. Through exile and threats against her life, she held her people close and tried her best to make you feel at home.