With all the music happenings in town I have been disconnected for a while from what is going outside of our dear China, so I just read the news about the death of Mercedes Sosa. All the work we are doing to keep track of what is closer to us has made us leave for later many articles we want to write about those artists and albums we most love, and one in my mind since long ago was about her.
Mercedes Sosa was maybe the greatest singer in Latin America, her incomparable voice is familiar to many generations of music lovers in South and Central America, and those lands are full of music lovers. Mercedes opened the door of folkloric music to rock and jazz, when Latin rock was still looked down by the elders and conservatives, making them realize that actually the musicians behind that loud music were real musicians.
Mercedes took the songs from Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, and helped “Canto Nuevo” become a stronger song of war for all Latin America, when during the 80s almost all of Latin America were affected by heavy political and economic stress. Mercedes was kind and soft, but never too weak to stand up for her ideas. “La Negra”, as she was fondly called, is one of the artists that makes Latin America proud of its creativity and vision.
She died at age 74, short after releasing her newest album “Cantora”, a double disc set featuring Sosa on duets with some of the best musicians of Latin America. She recorded more than 60 albums. She sang all her life. It was not necessary to know her to know she loved to sing.
Mercedes once said, “We were looking for a different poetic language, and musically we looked at jazz. We spoke from truth and poverty, but didn’t forget about the landscape, because we didn’t want to grow apart from the people. They called us communists because any revolutionary act provokes fear and culture is the most important revolution. Governments don’t last. Culture is the greatest power.”
Mercedes had an amazing gift to interpret the feelings behind a song. She also had a great talent for choosing beautiful songs, with lyrics that call for deep connection with the simplest things in life. “Gracias a la Vida”, a song composed by Violeta Parra, became one of the standards of Sosa. Among her most popular songs is “Inconsciente Colectivo” (which happens to be maybe my favorite song ever), composed by my forever-loved rock star Charly Garcia (one article about him will come as soon as we pass the rush hour of music here). When I listened to Mercedes sing this song for the first time, I was profoundly moved and I still feel overwhelmed when I hear it. Those were complicated times in Chile and Argentina, and Mercedes took the song of one of the greatest minds and hearts of modern Latin music and sang it as the hymn that would finally bring us freedom. These are some of the moments when music became significant to me.
Mercedes was full of talent, full of the intensity hiding behind the mundane. Mercedes had the power to express feelings with tone and breath. Mercedes could sing without words about humanity, so when she used words they were more powerful. But her power was kind, the soft sound of her deep voice would keep you listening comfortable and warm on her side. Mercedes was beautiful. Aesthetically-speaking, she was a classic Latin-Indian woman, wrapped in ponchos and cotton dresses, simple and easy-going. Mercedes understood the responsibilities of her gift, and she used it with benevolent ecstasy. She transcended, the dream of every impassioned folk singer.
I had to write about her. I truly love the people that have brought music to me, who have opened my mind and my heart. I’m thankful to them. Some musicians have shown me more than music itself, but the art of music. Mercedes Sosa gave me the full trip in music, and I needed to show my respect for her.
If you have some time, take a minute to listen to Mercedes singing any song. If you want an advice for a song, go for my favorite: “Inconsciente Colectivo”