Mercedes Sosa, the Voice of the Voiceless Ones

It was the album Mercedes Sosa en Argentina that first introduced me to the famed singer. A live recording that took place in 1983 at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires when the singer returned home after years of exile. An unforgettable recording that celebrates as much the singers return as Argentina’s democracy after years of brutal dictatorship. Who was to know then that years later, I would record Como la Cigarraone of the so many songs that made Mercedes Sosa famous.

Later, I attended a concert of Mercedes Sosa at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (Netherlands) and remember her interpretation of “Los Mareados” quite vividly. The opening notes of the song must have taken the sound engineer by surprise because all of a sudden the speakers blew out with a terrible noise. At the time Sosa’s manager was a good friend of mine, and it was he who introduced me to this wonderful singer. I met Mercedes only briefly, but I’ll never forget the way she tirelessly and humbly interacted with her fans.

Mercedes Sosa and first husband Manuel Óscar Matus were key players in the mid-60s Nueva Canción Movement.  Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009) was best known as the “voice of the voiceless ones” and lovingly referred to as “la negra”.  Sosa’s signature song became Gracias a la Vida, which she recorded in 1971 as a tribute to Chilean poet Violeta Parra. A supporter of Perón in her youth, she favored leftist causes throughout her life. Sosa was a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nueva Canción Movement
The new song movement of Latin America saw its beginnings in Cuba’s revolutionary nueva trova movement in the early 1960s as artists began to reflect the ideology of anti-imperialism. As life in Cuba changed, events in South America lead to the birth of nueva canción in Chile and Argentina, where musicians sang about the injustice and oppression in their homeland as well as the plight of the exploited indigenous populations. By the 1970s, many saw this music as a platform for protest, and the musicians would suffer the consequences of rising up against the imposed dictatorial regimes.

In Chile, the movement began in the 1960s with artists such as Victor Jara and Violeta Parra, who began to draw attention to the plight of the indigenous populations of their country. The same occurred in Argentina, with pioneers such as Atahualpa Yupanqui and Mercedes Sosa blending ancient Andean musical traditions with socially conscious lyrics. Nueva Canción in many ways reflected the solidarity between Latin Americans from various countries, and offered cries for peace and social justice on a worldwide humanitarian level. Also, nueva canción echoed the anti-American sentiment resulting from the Vietnam War, and the genre became a suitable platform for expressing anti-imperialist views.

In a career consisting of four decades, Mercedes Sosa worked with performers across several genres and generations. To name a few; Nana Mouskouri, Maria Farantouri, Andrea Bocelli,  Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Milton Nascimento, Caetano Veloso, Joan Manuel Serrat, Chico Buarque, Gal Costa, Joan Baez, Luciano Pavarotti, Martha Argerich and Sting.