I had the privilege tonight of finally hearing Mercedes Sosa live at a concert at the Winspear Centre. I’ve been a fan for years; not only of her music, but also of how she has represented the hopeful struggles of the people of Argentina towards democratic freedom. The passion in her voice transcends language, and it is not necessary to understand Spanish in order to feel the emotion of her words.

Mercedes Sosa was born in Argentina in 1935, into a poor Indian family. She became inspired to sing about the downtrodden, and made her first recording in 1965 including the poetry of Victor Jara and Pablo Neruda. Shortly thereafter, the government of Argentina began to censor her work, culminating in 1979 with her arrest during a concert. She might have become one of the more than 30,000 ‘disaparecidos’, but instead was sent into exile – a fate she calls the “worst punishment a human being can face:. leaving Argentina, my family and friends, was like dying” (Edmonton Journal, March 21/02)

The first half of the concert was very introspective and thoughtful. She immediately drew the audience in with her haunting voice; and only a few songs into the concert treated us to her signature song – Violetta Parra’s Gracias A La Vida (thank you to life). When Mercedes sings the final stanza “y el canto de ustedes que es mi propio canto” in her rich, deep contralto, it sends chills down your spine. The literal translation is “your song is my own song”, but it carries with it a much deeper meaning – “I sing for you and have become your voice because your song (and your pain) is my own”

She included a song in Arabic, a tribute written by a young man who had watched a friend murdered in front of him. Then she spoke of Argentina, the terrible difficulties they now face economically, and brought tears to my eyes with a song dedicated to “La Patria” (my country).

The second half of the concert Mercedes really let go with more Latin uptempo songs, complex rhythms that had parts of the audience clapping in harmony. Her musical sense of timing, and that of her accompanists was impeccable, but not always easy to follow for those accustomed to standard “western” rhythms. When she invited all of Latin America to “bailar” (dance), she listed each Latin American country in turn, eliciting cheers from audience members when their homeland was mentioned. She followed this up with “Todo Cambio”, entertaining the audience by dancing around the stage and waving a scarf in the traditional Argentinean style.

My only disappointment was that I did not hear more of her older music like “Razon de Vivir” or “Te Recuerdo Amanda”, and that the wait for her encore was excessive (the audience chanted “Sosa Sosa” and applauded for a good 5 minutes, the lights went up and we were all finally leaving when she re-entered the stage. We ran back in a hurry).

It was an experience I will treasure. For students taking GLST308, or any Latin American study course, or for anyone who just loves music – I recommend becoming familiar with the music of Mercedes Sosa.