Legends of Argentine Music, Part One

Gringo in Buenos AiresMusic6 Comments

If you’ve never heard of Argentine tango singing sensation of yesteryear, Carlos Gardel, then clearly you’ve either been in Buenos Aires for less than a day and a half or you’ve been walking around with your eyes shut and your hands clamped tightly over your ears. El Zorzal Criollo (which means the “Creole Thrush” – no, I have no idea what that means either, it sounds like an STD) is just that famous in Argentina. Hey, he even has a subte station named after him!

That’s Mr. Gardel. You probably already know all about him. But how much do you know about the other legends of Argentine music: people like Charly García, Mercedes Sosa, Fito Páez and the smoldering “Argentine Elvis,” Sandro? Not much? Well don’t worry, because by the end of the second part of this article you’ll know so much that’ll you’ll be able to edit their Wikipedia pages! (*Note: this promise should not be taken seriously. Editing Wikipedia pages is a complex and dangerous business best left to the professionals.)

Ok. First Charly García. Charly was born in 1951 and formed the folk-rock band “Sui Generis” with friend Carlos Alberto “Nito” Mestre when the pair were still in their teens. Sui Generis quickly became popular with teenagers in Argentina and they had big success with their second LP, Confesiones de Invierno (“Winter Confessions”), which was released in 1973. Sui Generis then morphed into more of a rock band. They broke up in 1976 after playing huge farewell gigs at Luna Park Stadium in Buenos Aires.

Cross dressing Charly

After Sui Generis Charly García went on to form “Serú Girán,” who enjoyed huge popularity in the late 1970s. After they broke up he began a solo career (in 1982).

The ups and downs of Charly García’s various bands, his life and his career are simply too convoluted to go into at length, but check out if you can two of the most famous songs from his solo era: Yendo de la cama al living, which is a metaphorical song about repression, and Yo no quiero volverme tan loco, which is about teenage rebellion.

Charly García is still going strong today at the age of 58. He celebrated his 58th birthday with a concert in at Velez Sarfield’s Stadium in October 2009 and is still of the same tour right now.

The second of our Argentine music legends is Mercedes Sosa, who died last year (2009) at the age of 74. Described as an “electrifying voice of conscience,” she was nevertheless something of an unlikely star – a short, stout, dark-skinned woman who dressed in peasant clothing – but she possessed an amazing voice and charisma to spare.

Mercedes Sosa

Mercedes Sosa was a folk singer whose songs had always championed the poor and repressed, so in the early years of the military junta in Argentina (1976 to 1983) she became an icon. She criticized the government and held sold-out concerts that were in effect anti-regime rallies with a soundtrack. Unfortunately this led to the banning of the playing of her songs on the radio, death threats, bomb threats against her concerts, and eventually a ban on her live performances. As a result, in 1979 she was forced to leave Argentina and live in exile in Europe. She returned in 1982 however, and by this time she was simply too famous for the regime to touch. She gave a series of concerts at Teatro Colón to celebrate her return home.

After the military regime fell in 1983, Mercedes Sosa’s fame continued to grow and she toured the world, recording and performing with artists including Sting, Pavarotti and Shakira (…who definitely would have made a strange pair on stage together).

If you’d like to listen to some of Ms Sosa’s work, try the albums Romance de la Muerte de Juan Lavalle (“Ballad of the Death of Juan Lavalle”) and/or Mujeres Argentinas (“Argentinean Women”), as these are the two albums from the 1960s that really established her as an artist.

(Cont’d in Part Two with Fito Páez and Sandro.)