La Negra exiled. March 22, 1979.

During the difficulties of these past years, music has been my oasis of escape. I still love tango, but I gave up my teenage dream of playing bandoneón for a more recent love: the guitar and Nuevo Cancionero (o Nueva canción, como dirían nuestros vecinos chilenos). Don’t get me wrong—nothing can beat the heart-pounding rhythm of tango, the physical experience of the dance floor, the viscerally thrilling tension and poise of it all. But as my political consciousness has grown, driven to the left after 1976 by the repressive government, I’ve become more and more attracted to the socially committed and folk-inspired songs of Atahualpa Yupanqui (as slightly cringe-inducing as his faux-indigenous adopted name may be), Mercedes Sosa, and others. Music, an ephemeral miracle of human communication beyond language, seems to be a safe haven for their revolutionary lyrics: only in their songs can they truly say what they want to, escaping from the regime’s wide-reaching perversion of language. Inspired by their example and by this sense of possibility, I’ve begun to write some songs of my own. I’m currently too embarrassed to play them for anyone besides my brother Pablo, but maybe if I eventually work up the courage (or write something I’m truly proud of, which has yet to happen) I can post some lyrics here.

My favorite album by La Negra

My favorite album by La Negra

Why do I bring up all of this music in the first place? Several weeks ago, I attended a Mercedes Sosa concert in La Plata. I though that seeing my hero perform live would be a dream come true. Instead, the experience ended as if a nightmare. The regime did the unthinkable, breaching the sacred haven of this musical space and stopping the concert. The military henchman humiliated La Negra by searching her on stage, before arresting her and hundreds of the students in the audience. That I was one of the few who escaped their handcuffs might have had something to do with how nonthreatening I look, but the police tactics just seem so random and cruel. It could have just as easily been me getting shoved roughly into the back of one of their vans. But never mind me—what happened to Sosa? The next day, international outrage forced the military to release her, but this catastrophe was nevertheless the final straw for her. Last week she fled to Europe. Tragically and self destructively, Argentina purged has itself one of its greatest cultural treasures. Deep down, I want to believe that the world will remember her arrest as wrong, will remember this whole regime as fundamentally wrong. But why can’t enough people see it now? Or, even if they do, what will it take to make things right!?

1 thought on “La Negra exiled. March 22, 1979.

  1. ssvolk says:

    In Argentina as in Chile, if there’s one area that the milicos show they have some intelligence is in getting rid of popular singers. More then los políticos, the singers connect to the people and pose a significant threat. I was so upset to hear about Sosa’s exile — I couldn’t attend the concert myself — but I imagine that she will be a great person to tell the world about what is happening here in Argentina.

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